September 21, 2013 by lucieromarin
The vexed question of friendship between the married-with-children and the unmarried-and-childless in the Catholic loop will certainly remain vexed for some time. Parents will struggle with the childless individuals who say, “When are you going to have your next baby? I mean, three is nice, but you could have a few more,” (I’m not kidding; there are people who say this) and childless people will struggle with the parents who wonder aloud what singles could possibly have in life to complain about and are they free to babysit (again) on Saturday night.
What are we to do? If you’re single and childless, struggling with disappointment or baby-hunger and wondering what your place really is in your community, the temptation is to one of two extremes, which are either total detachment from families or the kind of involvement that is never explicitly described as second-class or substitutionary, but which is secretly known by all involved to be so. In other words, you can sterilise your heart, or you can undermine your sense of self-worth. Which is it to be?
A married friend showed me that it need not be either. Once, I overheard her say of me to another married woman, “She’s like a fairy godmother.” Another time, a wholly unexpected card – written in a beautiful calligraphic script – arrived in my mailbox, addressed to, ‘The Fairy Queene.’
This was so kind – and creative, too! And it made me realise that, for those of us who want to be part of our friends’ lives, but who don’t want to be the only single person at Mothers’ Group, or for those of us who want to be able to show a kindness, but feel hurt by that kindness being taken for granted, and for those of us who want to acknowledge that the lives of the married and the single are very different, but not so different that we can’t respect or appreciate each other – for all such people, the role of Fairy Godmother is perfect!
First, it’s a relationship between equals – or, at least, between people who aren’t judging each other. I didn’t have to knit her the perfect baby-blanket (her words, not mine!), but I did. She didn’t have to spend time with a calligraphy pen to thank me for it, but she did. I warmed her bub; she cheered my heart. (Really, it’s amazing what a real thank-you can do, especially if it arrives in the mail after a lousy day at work.)
Second, it really is about service, rather than about vocation or state-in-life. Though I don’t suppose many men would like to think of themselves as fairy godmothers, they are, in fact, just as capable of the discreet sprinkling of magic dust as women are. (Fairy godfathers? Still sounds weird.) When St Nicholas left dowry money on the windowsills of those poor women, he wasn’t indulging them; he was saving them from lives of poverty and prostitution. I know a man whose dream of marriage and family was, inexplicably, never fulfilled; so, he used his income to support single mothers whose baby-rejecting boyfriends or husbands had dumped them. The support reached them through intermediaries; they’ll never know it was him. And no one else will ever know, just by looking at him, what he’s doing for them.
Similarly, Fairy Parenthood is not about one state in life (single woman) looking out for another state in life (married woman.) A brief glance through fairytales and folklore teaches this. It’s not just about single-and-female Cinderella; the poor and desperate male-and-married shoemaker also needed the help of the elves.
Here’s another thing. I remember a dinner at which someone said, “That school – it’s being founded by two elderly spinsters, I think.” Elderly spinsters? Leaving aside the question of why age or marital status has anything to do with the ability to found a school, or why people even use the word ‘spinsters’ anymore, you have to admit that it brings a certain image to mind. Imagine a ‘spinster’ – doesn’t she look tired and pinched and slightly badly-dressed? (I’m not defending the stereotype; I’m just exploiting it). However, you imagine a fairy godmother, and I bet she’s not only in a gorgeous skirt; she also wears a peaceful, kind expression on her face. She’s not angry, not bitter, not heart-sterile, not obsessed with her career, not judging anyone, and not feeling judged. She’s just doing her magic-dust thing, because that’s what she does – same as St Nicholas.
So – no more spinsters! No more ‘excellent women,’ scrubbing the rectory floor in second-hand tweed, while the warmth of a Saturday afternoon passes them by! Aspire to the life of the Fairy Godmother! Enjoy magically appearing in the lives of others, carrying benevolence in one hand and gratitude in the other, while your resplendent and glorious skirt flows about you, scented with magic…then disappear again into your obviously mysterious and poetical personal life.
And the guys can aspire to Santa-hood, I suppose! There’s something to be said for it. St Nicholas is a wonder-worker, and Santa, you must admit, has a pretty awesome sleigh.
**Update** I should add, of course, that if tweed and rectory-scrubbing is actually your thing, then don’t let me stop you! That others might want to apply a disparaging label to your life isn’t actually a good reason to change it. You could reply by asking such a person what he is doing for other people, other than labelling them.