At first curious about the ABC series Once Upon A Time’s clever premise – fairy tale characters cursed to our own magicless real world? – I was hooked by the heroine’s proximity to her mother. When Snow White and Prince Charming, who for 28 years haven’t aged or remembered who they really are, meet their now 28-year-old daughter Emma Swan, mother and daughter look more like sisters. I am absolutely taken with their comparable age.
And eyeliner. On the show, mother and daughter sport similarly dramatic cat eyes as they sip matching mugs of cinnamon-sprinkled cocoa. There’s something at once hip and homelike about them. They are each maiden and mother without either having to age into crone.
Before Emma believes and Snow remembers their mother-daughter relationship, the two women develop a friendship independent of family. By season two, the newly reunited mother and daughter run together through the enchanted forest with Mulan and Aurora, share what it is to love and sacrifice for a child, and tie up and taunt the roguish Captain Hook.
The reciprocity of their mother/daughter dynamic fascinates me. In one of the show’s settings, Emma knows more than Snow. In Storybrooke, Maine, she advises Snow through trumped up criminal charges. But in the enchanted forest, Snow more often leads Emma. Like when she teaches Emma how to hunt ogres. The two women by turns play the traditional roles of mother and daughter.
When I mention the series, friends who’ve seen beyond my in-progress season two ask if I’ve seen Hook yet. Evidently, the series means to hook me with a series of romances, but my eyes are on what it is to be a parent and a child. And on the fantasy of sharing youth and (youthful) adulthood with my daughters. Evidently, I’ve missed the point.
As I get older, this happens more and more often. More than any laugh line or crow’s foot, this missing the intended point tells my age. Twilight meant to catch me up in Edward v. Jacob. But when I read Stephanie Meyer’s books, I was lovestruck with the idea of never sleeping. I think I knew that vampires don’t sleep. Maybe from Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles? But the possibilities of sleeplessness didn’t resonate with me until I thought of parents not requiring sleep. In Breaking Dawn, Bella’s change to sleepless vampire accompanies childbirth. It’s in the context of new motherhood that she celebrates not needing sleep.
To think of it! I could parent by day, individualize by night! I’d be a carefully attentive mother all the day, but after hours I’d lounge about with wine and books, soak in the tub and in the quiet, and revel in my own creativity rather than tiredly browsing others’ via Pinterest. My lingering daydreams are fixed on sleeplessness rather than a hero, be it Edward or Jacob or The Hunter or Hook.
Part of the draw of Once Upon A Time, for me, is that the mother figure here isn’t dead or evil. Or at least the heroine’s isn’t. Take that, traditional fairy tales.
Part of the draw is the idea of always being there for my daughters. And of being young enough to keep up with them. My five-year-old Maia occasionally asks why my grandmother no longer lives. Or why my mother’s mother no longer lives. Over dinner a few nights ago, she offered this parable:
Maia: Momma, do you know that sometimes a salamander will crawl into the grass or onto the sidewalk and wait to be stepped on?
Me: I don’t think salamanders like to be stepped on.
Maia: Yes, when they want to die.
Me: I don’t think salamanders seek death. Animals want to live.
Maia: It’s true. But only when they’re ready. If their mothers had died and they had no one to take care of them, they’d be ready to die.
Maybe Once Upon A Time’s Snow and Emma hold my attention because I’d like to answer Maia’s salamander theory with them. I’d like promise her mother and daughter, adventuring together and protecting one another, happily ever after.