No fairy-tale ending for this Cinderella

2009-04-15 00:00

Cinderella’s stepmom, according to the fairy tale, was one mean woman. She made her stepchild the donkey of the family, the one who did all the chores and was responsible for everything, including the wellbeing of her siblings. Of course, like every fairy tale there was a happy ending and a prince took her away.

However, I know of another Cinderella. This one did not get away. She went away for short intervals at a time to seek her fortune but always had to go back home because something went wrong, either in her life or her family’s. The further she went away, the worse the troubles became. Cindy could not keep up with all the problems. One day, she realised something. Her role in life had been decided by more individuals than she could count. This proved a bigger disappointment than her awful childhood in a new home so many years ago.

Cinderella lived in the deep end and had learnt not to be surprised by disappointment, but to turn it into victory. She was adept at surviving, but had encountered many challenges due to her tenacity. A lot of people were jealous of her successes, as if she did not deserve the accolades, which made her life a constant battle outside the home. Resources had to be organised at short notice and she had had to survive on a lot less than her peers. Her family knew she would be fine, so they did not support her adequately, but got into more debt. This meant that in times of emergency, there was seldom anyone to help.

Her advice was selectively taken, but her family’s problems were hers to bear. Cinderella discovered that just as she had graduated academically, the abuse had also graduated. Over and above doing chores and cleaning up after everyone, she was now expected to fulfil the family’s dreams of a certain standard of living. It was expected that before Cinderella could start living her life, she first had to repay the debt of being raised, a debt she thought she had been paying off during all those years of emotional neglect and dutifulness. And yet all the emotional wounds that took as many years to heal as the physical ones took hours, did not deter her from feeling sympathy for her stepmother.

Her stepmother was wounded herself and had had no resources to heal herself all those years ago. She fed her children only physically, expecting school and the church to automatically instil other values and ethics. Ironically, she taught Cinderella through what Cinderella calls: “enough tough love for a whole lifetime”, how to be responsible and to survive. This had made Cinderella a responsible adult in her early teens. Her siblings were adept at reaping the benefits of her blood, sweat and tears. On the days she would venture a “No, I can’t,” or a “Why only me?” to her stepmother, she would be called things she’d heard ghetto alcoholics call each other or risk a silencing strike to the face.

Cinderella’s plight reminded her of a donkey bruised because the owner had been running late and demanded that it gallop like a horse. The siblings were the horses that were never ridden, except in exceptional instances. Consequently, they began to burden their mother whose proximity to Cinderella made her carry the burden right along with her.

Cinderella’s story resonates with a lot of young adults whose parents, neighbours and extended family fail to appreciate one thing. Living through your children can never be justified, even if things did not go the way you planned. Circumstances are certainly different and not all parents have attitudes to adjust, but if the slipper fits … wear it.

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