The Origins of Happily Ever After

Once upon a time there was an anguished cave mother who finally couldn't take it anymore. Every night, she’d arrive back to her cave after hunting and gathering all day long, ready to fall asleep on her cozy boulder, but every night, without fail, her little ones would insist on a story before bed. And back then, without a book to close, a goodnight story could go on and on until almost dawn.  In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for poor prehistoric mothers to miss out on sleep entirely because of little ones begging and pleading for the thousandth time, “Please Mama, tell us what happened next!!! Please, Please, Please!!” But one day, this particular anguished mother just couldn’t think of what happened next.  “But Mama,” the children cried. “You have to think of something more!!!  We need to hear what happens next so that we can fall asleep!”  And so the mother furrowed her bulging brow and tried to imagine what in the world she was going to say, and a moment later, through her lips, a very hoarse voice uttered:  “What happened next, my precious ones???  They all lived Happily. Ever. After.”

After this, she waited, saying nothing more.  She dared not to move even a finger for fear of stirring these blessed creatures.  She just held her breath and waited.  And waited.  And finally, she heard a snore.  Yes. To her utter amazement, the children were asleep. And she tiptoed with delight back to her boulder and also went to sleep.

Of course, in the back of this mother’s prehistoric brain, she knew very well there was no such thing as Happily Ever After.  All of her other stories confirmed that life wasn’t so simple as to be lived Happily Ever After.  Not even grass lived Happily Ever After.  But instead of feeling guilty, she told herself it was just a story, after all.  And it put the kids to sleep for God’s sake.  And everyone needed some rest.  And so she did it again the next night.  And the next night.  And from then on.  And slowly, this mother’s bright-eyed and bushy tail got the attention of other cave mothers in town.  And so she began to share her success.  And pretty soon the entire village began ending their stories the same way. And pretty soon, all the children were going to sleep at a decent hour.

But… there was a minor problem.

All the kids began believing that everyone was going to get their very own happily ever after, too. And the mothers became anguished once again.  Day after day, they cringed, watching their beloved little ones aspiring to such rubbish, talking to each other about what their happily ever afters were going to look like.  And so these mothers decided to get together at a secret town meeting.  “You know what,” one of the well-rested mamas said. “Maybe these little S.O.B’s really will figure out how to live happily ever after—why should we ruin a good thing??”  And before the meeting was through, all of the other mothers nervously agreed.  And so, it was settled.  Happily Ever After lived Happily Ever After.

And from that day forward, generations upon generations of children continued to regurgitate this very flawed concept to their offspring, without ever even imagining it was just a great big lie to get a poor mother some rest.  Little did those ancient mothers know that one day, the whole globe would be paved, often times burying whatever was already there, by people looking, with bleary-eyed hope, for some semblance of that Happily Ever After they really and truly believed in.  Good night.

by Jessica Kane ©2015