Yesterday, my sister pointed out Six Fairy Tales for the Modern Woman. I said that mine is the sixth, because although we’re landlocked, I never wanted to learn to surf.

However, she noted that there’s not much mention of children, although child-raising is a perfectly valid life choice too. So, for my sister, here is the seventh fairy tale.

VII. Once upon a time, a girl reluctantly married her high school not-exactly-sweetheart because she didn’t want to raise their unexpected baby alone. This necessitated laying aside her plans for an eventual PhD, not to mention the part about becoming a permanently-single cat lady with a nicely-appointed heritage home in the university district and a grand piano in the living room. “Well,” she said to herself, “This certainly negates any possibility of Fairytale #1 coming true. Just look at the baby spit on everything. And I have no money to decorate the way I’d like.”

But over time, she realized she’d intuitively made this choice because the young man really was Prince Charming. It just took a few more kisses than the Fairytale Manual mentions. (Those old books are notorious for their missing pages.)

The girl and her sweetheart grew up together in their twenties, and they had four extremely quirky but well-loved children. They travelled the continent with their young family in their thirties. And when she had spent half her life with him (she was only 36 at the time, and he was 38), she looked at the grey in his hair and thought, “We’re not even old yet. How rich I am to have known him all this time, in all these ways.”

Then she walked into the kitchen and saw a young man, nearly grown, looking quietly at her with the intentness of a child memorizing all his mother’s expressions. She hadn’t raised her baby alone, and suddenly she was nearly done. Two young ladies were giggling and sharing secret thoughts. And a younger man hugged her round the waist as she went by.

The house she was in, they had built together. The gardens were tended by six pairs of hands. The shop was littered by the tools of all the children following after that man, whose life dream had always been to be a father and husband. And in the evenings, the children’s songs rose and drifted out the windows and into that faraway northern realm called The Land Where Rainbows Live.

Time turned on, as it tends to. She did not learn to surf at the age of 65, because she didn’t want to. The man had no interest in decorating, so she decorated the house however she wished, now that times were better. And she kept a promise she’d made to herself back in her twenties, which was to cultivate smile lines.

She suspected the wrinkles and wear-marks were caused by those children, who were always coming back to reread her face like a familiar old book from childhood. Honestly, it would make anyone a little dogeared, but it was also why her lines were happy ones. Her skin became thinner and delicate, but it reminded her of really beautiful tissue paper — or perhaps the onionskin of some sacred text, for this unexpected life had taught her that not all mystery has yet left the world.

And in her old age, her two sons smiled at her with their father’s blue eyes, and her two daughters laughed with the laughter of their father’s heart. The paper was certainly crinkled; but she was quite certain no pages were missing at all.