I am a 36 year-old mother of a 4 year-old boy, and I spent way too many hours last summer reading Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series; the best-selling, four-book romance between an extraordinary teenaged vampire and a dull teenaged human. That was the first sign that something was wrong: these books are about teenagers, for teenagers. I'm not even the mother of a teenager.
But I became obsessed with the love story between underachiever Bella and perfect-vampire boyfriend Edward, squeezing in paragraphs while my son's tub filled during the day, feigning "headaches" when my husband returned home in the evening so I could steal off to my room for a full chapter of the pair's cuddling and meaningful glances.
My husband jokingly offered one night to dress in a vampire costume to regain my attention, but I wasn't interested in a fling with the undead. As a stay-at-home mother who wonders if my chance to shine in a career has passed, I was hooked on the fantasy of being spotted by a brilliant, magical vampire who insists I am the most spectacular being he has ever met.
The Twilight books have sold millions of copies and attracted an enthusiastic fan base. The film version filled theaters upon its November release, quickly achieving blockbuster status as well. The story is especially popular with girls and young women. But as evidenced by web sites like twilightmoms.com, I am not the only adult fan.
When I hear other people talk about these books, the excitement usually focuses on Edward, who is extremely handsome, resists drinking human blood, and refuses to have sex with Bella until after marriage. Edward is immediately intrigued by Bella the first time he spots her across a crowded cafeteria. He finds her scent so appealing he wants to drink her blood in the middle of biology class.
In my imagination, Edward brushes past me in a grocery store aisle, ignores my outdated mommy shorts, and immediately recognizes my insight and creativity. My Edward doesn't have to be a vampire. A book publisher would do. Or a Mensa member who identifies my high I.Q. by the way I organize my shopping list.
I love being a mother. I made the decision to cut back my paid work to part-time and now to occasional status to help my child enter kindergarten with a backpack of self esteem and security. I know this shouldn't feel like a professional failing.
Yet I occasionally look back on my hard-earned college education and am nagged by thoughts of what I might have accomplished if I'd maintained my focus on paid work. Sometimes I imagine the money I might have made if I'd pursued a past opportunity with a start-up web site, or the awards that might decorate my wall if I'd churned out more investigative news articles before my priorities changed so drastically. Then maybe I'd feel like these days sitting on the floor setting up wooden Brio train tracks are a well-earned sabbatical. Maybe I'd stop wondering whether I ever had the potential I never got around to reaching.
My favorite fairy tale before Twilight was the one where the 1970s girl grows up to have a stunning career and a family. I feel stymied by the real-life decisions of whether to leave a child with a runny nose in daycare, or hire a nanny not because she's great but because she's the only one whose schedule matches mine. Other moms I know face similar frustrations: A former engineer knows she has lost the technical skill critical to her profession; a school administrator passes up a promising job so she can keep her summers with her child.
I didn't realize how much I had started believing I just didn't have what it takes to make it all work out. But in reading Twilight, I held my breath as Bella struggled with the idea of becoming a vampire herself, and faced familiar questions about pleasing the people she loves versus pleasing herself. I was thrilled as Bella began slowly to believe she was worthy of a vampire's affections, and discovered hints of her own supernatural talents and skills.
There were signs that I wouldn't like where all of this was going. Much of the story hinges on Bella's heightened dependence on Edward for reassurance and protection. And as the books bring Bella closer to the point where she will become Edward's vampire mate at age 17, I felt increasingly uneasy with the idea of Bella literally giving up her life for her man.
But the story took a turn I couldn't have imagined in the fourth and final book. Through a bizarre series of events, Bella gives birth to Edward's baby, a magical tot who arrives with the ability to "speak" her thoughts by merely touching her parents, and matures rapidly to an easy-going toddler in weeks. In her new roles as vampire wife and mother, Bella finds her true calling ("It was like I had been born to be a vampire," she marvels). She has time to perfect her new vampire abilities, while also maintaining a very active sex life and raising a child. Talk about a fantasy.
Perhaps I should have cheered Bella as the ultimate Super Mom. But I wanted this ordinary girl to turn to her inner strengths to find happiness; to accept the compromises of her life and make the best of them. Instead, Bella manages to have it all only because she has become immortal and does not require sleep, in addition to having a nearly need-free baby. Maybe this was Meyer's fantasy as a mother of three who began writing Twilight when her children were very young. For me, the extreme unreality only reinforced how hard meshing motherhood and professional success is for us mere humans.
But maybe that's what I needed to remember, that in real life mothers don't really have to be spectacular. We should know we are good enough. I set down the hefty tome with its sleek black jacket, I knew I'd never lose myself in Bella's world again. I was done waiting for the vampire.