Last month’s prompt invited readers to explore the psychological depth that fairy tales can reveal by writing a personal essay that retells a fairy tale in contemporary terms and reveals lessons for mothers today.
Cinderella, My Inner Girl
by Ursula Ferreira
Once upon a time there was a little girl named Cinderella. When her mother died, her father did his best, but still he thought that a girl should have a mother.
Her father remarried, and Cinderella had a new mother and sisters. But the Stepmother was cruel — for no one had loved her as a little girl — and she was jealous of the beauty of Cinderella’s heart. When Cinderella’s father died, she was banished to the servant’s quarters and forced to do the heaviest work of the household.
On the day of my ninth birthday party, my mother moved out of the house. When she left the roller-skating rink she said nothing, the news of the divorce already announced weeks ago. At dinner that night I sat with my father and younger sister; after only a few bites I ran to the bathroom, sobs choking my throat.
My father did remarry; luckily, my stepmother was a kind person, and my stepsister became as much my sister as the one from birth. But inside I had already begun to carry the burden of my heart, revealing to no one, not even myself, the weight of my sadness.
Cinderella was lonely and tired. She missed her mother and father. But what she could not imagine was that the worst part of the Stepmother’s cruelty was actually self-inflicted, for the Stepmother could allow no kindness, no tender words, to pass between herself and another.
When I was nineteen my mother died of colon cancer. As I walked out of the church after the funeral, my stepfather laid a hand on my shoulder. I sharply shrugged him off, to walk proud and alone out the door. There was no bridge for that grief, the mother lost and the girl pushed tighter into a corner.
Every morning when she woke up, Cinderella would open her windows to gaze out at the castle where the Prince lived.
Fourteen years later I sit with my daughter in our living room in Portugal. As we watch Cinderella, the movie, on my laptop, I gaze out the picture window at the fairy tale landscape. A romantic palace sits on top of the hill of Sintra, painted in yellow and dusty rose. Below it is a castle, standing sentry among the dense trees. What magic in life do I seek here to return to myself, to protect in my daughter? The birth of my daughter reflected back to me an image of female tenderness that I had not allowed myself to cherish before. As she grows I cannot deny the openness of her soul; I peek at visions of my young self in her eyes.
One day there was to be a royal ball, but the jealous Stepmother would not let Cinderella go. Heartbroken, she ran into the garden, weeping for a lost chance at love. I don’t know why the magic happened. Perhaps it is only after we let ourselves feel all of our pain, as well as our joy, that we let in the Mystery. Finally the girl’s heart broke open, and in that moment her Fairy Godmother appeared. Cinderella’s rags were transformed into the beautiful robes of a princess.
I longed for love to touch me. And in the face of my lover I wanted to see the certainty of my own worth, my innate desirability. Only after the man I thought was ‘the one’ left me with nothing but doubt did I begin the slow journey inward.
By the time Cinderella arrived at the ball, the Prince was bored. But the moment Cinderella walked through the door, he awoke as if out of a dream and crossed the room to ask her to dance. For many hours they talked, sharing the secrets of their hearts. They fell in love.
In a cranio-sacral class we worked together. Beneath any possible confusion of words, his touch moved my soul, and something arose in me, unafraid. Through a magic neither of us can explain, my touch unlocked the same in him, and love was revealed.
The clock began to strike midnight; the spell was breaking. Desperate, the Prince ran after Cinderella, for he didn’t even know her name. And although she knew the love in her heart — and in his — was true, she feared what he would think if he saw her in rags. All that she left behind was one glass slipper.
The next morning the sound of the royal trumpet woke Cinderella from her dreams; down in the courtyard a messenger had arrived, with a royal decree saying that the maiden whose foot fit the slipper would become the Prince’s bride. Hurriedly she made her way downstairs, but when the Stepmother saw the hope on Cinderella’s face she locked her in the tower.
Sometimes we are smart enough to commit ourselves to love when we meet it: I married the man who had touched me so deeply. But the rags of the heart are not easy to share with another. Still locked in a corner of my heart, the inner girl wreaked havoc on my relationship with my daughter and left me tongue-tied with my husband.
At the last minute, Cinderella escaped and came running down the stairs. As the messenger approached, the Stepmother tripped him, sending the delicate glass slipper to shatter on the floor. The lovely Cinderella only smiled: ‘But you see, I have the other one . . .’
Cinderella lived happily ever after. But she lived happily ever after because she chose someone that she could grow into a woman with, just as he could grow into a man with her. Their daughters and sons grew with strength and openness, love and honesty, until the ends of their days.
Little girls of flesh, and soul, are strong. My daughter will kick and scream to be heard as fast as she will smile and offer a hug when she is happy. The girl inside my soul dragged me down into the rags of my heart. She showed me the other slipper.
Ursula Ferreira is an American writer, doula, cranio-sacral therapist, women’s sexuality educator, and mother living in Portugal. A life-long interest in women’s cycles of life has guided her to continue exploring the mysteries of birth, sexuality, bodywork, and feminine spirituality. She’d like to thank Eve Ensler for inspiring her to honor the girl inside.
Notes from Cassie Premo Steele: “Finding the Perfect Fit”
This month, the submission I received from Ursula Ferreira came to me almost as is — a near-perfect fit!
So I started thinking about how it might be helpful to open up a bit about the process behind this decision.
What determines the difference between being the stepsister who tries to squeeze her foot into the shoe and being the one who has the perfect fit?
In the writing world, we often say publication is about the luck of the draw, or who you know, or the mood of the editor at the time of submission. We console ourselves by saying this.
But I’d like to help you, as a mother writer, move from consolation to the actual winning of the prize.
Read through this checklist and ask yourself if you are setting your writing up for the perfect fit:
~ Send the requested genre. If the call for submissions says to send a short story, send a short story. If it says to send an essay, send an essay.
~ Say who you are. Editors are humans, and we want to know a bit about the human sending the writing. Always include a short bio statement (about 50 words) that gives the editor (and your future readers) a personal sense of who and where you are.
~ Send something neat and clean. Is the text unified and legible? Is the font uniform?
~ Send something easy to read. This is a bit different from the point above, but it’s worth noting that most editors work online these days, so you want to make sure that your font is easy to read on a screen, and you may want to double-space between paragraphs to give the eye a bit of rest.
~ Send it the way it was requested. If the call for submissions says to put the text in the body of the email, do that. If it says to send it as a separate document, do that.
~ Send it with a title. The title is the first impression that the editor gets of you and your work.
~ Send it on time. If the deadline is Monday, don’t send it Tuesday. Or even Monday past midnight. Remember Cinderella?
These can seem like petty, minor things when you’re first starting out. You may want to say, “My writing is what matters, not the format.”
But just as Cinderella needed a new dress and a coach and horsemen, writers need to make sure their work is dressed for the occasion. This is a sign to an editor that you know who you are as a writer, you take yourself seriously, and you are confident enough in your work to make the extra effort to show this.
The difference between being the resentful stepsister and being the one the prince remembers is largely up to you. Would you go to the formal ball dressed in a swimsuit? Would you refuse to introduce yourself to the host? Would you mumble with your mouth full at the refreshment table? Would you show up for the ball the day after?
Deep down, you are a princess. You deserve a glass slipper. You deserve happily ever after.