And They Lived Happily Ever After

My wife and I met while she was an undergraduate and I was a graduate student. Many of our dates were spent at Denny’s eating French fries and studying to all hours. Even when we went places, we tended to study along the way, with us quizzing one another from flashcards. We got married a week after I received my master’s degree from UCLA and so we lived happily ever after.

What follows the phrase, “and they lived happily ever after,” is, of course, a story in itself. Achieving a goal, having a dream come true, graduating, winning the girl—these are all wonderful things. But then you go to bed and you get up the next morning and the cat is complaining that its dish is empty. Then you discover you forgot to get more shampoo and so you end up washing your hair with bar soap, which is a sliver and you realize you need to get more of that, too.

When you get the dream job, the one you’ve worked your whole life for, you soon discover that it is, in fact, still a job. There’s a joy in looking forward to the dream, a joy in talking about the dream, a joy in celebrating the dream, that in the cold light of day simply turns into hard work. We all know that life is not the movies, but too often we spend an inordinate amount of time reaching for the fantasy and finding ourselves disappointed with the reality. Real life lacks a sound track, there are funny smells in the house, and you have various bodily functions that must be taken care of, including burping, that are messy and inconvenient and unromantic.

My oldest daughter is in college, planning on becoming a psychologist. My middle daughter, a sophomore in high school, has decided that she would like to be a pediatrician. My youngest daughter is still trying to figure out what she wants to do, but has expressed some interest in veterinary medicine.

I’m happy to see that my children are developing goals for themselves, that they are recognizing the value of their educations and are focusing in directions that they see as beneficial for themselves over the long term. Soon they too will be “living happily ever after.”

Given that all our children are adopted out of not the best sort of circumstances, clearly it is primarily environment—how we have raised them, rather than genetics—which has made most of the difference for them. Thankfully, too, they are learning to recognize, finally, the opportunity they’ve gotten as a consequence of having been adopted. Their lives are turning out radically different than how they otherwise might have been.

Since we know environment matters, as a teacher, my wife tries her best to help her students each year. On occasion, she has been successful at changing the direction of a child’s life. But all too often, her best efforts seem to be for naught. Too many children have home situations where there is drug use, abuse, neglect, and a general lack of financial and parental support—where the mother has multiple children, each by a different father, while the current man about the house has no biological or legal relationship for any of the children.

Another of the biggest predictors for success in school for children is the educational level of the parents. The more schooling the parents have had, the better the children do in school. Children with two parents who love them and stay involved with them do much better in school than those who don’t. They also tend to do better throughout their lives.

So every day, my wife heads off to try to educate these children from all sorts of life situations. She likes her work, but she also gets frustrated with the attempts by administrators and politicians to micromanage the classroom. Sometimes it isn’t so much fun to be at school. It’s just a job.

My wife and I have been married more than twenty-eight years now. We were childless for ten years before we began adopting our three daughters. My wife is in the career she always dreamed of, teaching third grade. Meanwhile, my latest book came out in November, I have another being reissued on Wednesday, and my agent is busy trying to sell three more. I’ve finally become a professional writer. But morning still comes too early, and it’s a whirlwind sometimes taking children to soccer games and choir practices, doctor and dentist appointments and all the rest. But when we sit back and take a look around, we really have lived happily ever after.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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