Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What It Means To Be The Third

One of my favorite things to do whenever I visit my father’s home is to pore through old family albums. I love looking at all the old pictures. There are multiple albums dedicated to the arrival of my oldest sister. Endless black and white shot after shot of a very new set of parents looking adoringly at their baby. There are many more of my next oldest sister, this time in color, of a set of slightly worn but still very excited and sort of new parents greeting their second child, their first baby toddling off in the distance.

And then there is me. There are a few of pictures of me as a baby. Mostly these are group shots with my sisters and me plugged in right before someone snapped the photo. There are almost no shots with that adoring fresh faced couple grinning at their new baby. I presume they were either too busy or too tired to pose. More than ever, this makes sense to me. When most of the photos of me do begin, it is around the time that my sisters became teenagers and I am approximately 7 or 8 years old. I’m assuming it is because my sisters boycotted all photography around this point, which would explain the boon in solo Jennifer shots circa 1984.
Such is the life of the third.

I have always relished my position in the family. You are born in to a well oiled machine, born to share. No one caters to what you need. You figure out somewhat independently how it works and then join in. There was no filming of my first steps, no big momentous trip to the store to buy me my first bike. My first bike was my sister’s old bike. The trip to the store was a walk outside to the garage. And by the way, I loved it. The third doesn’t expect anything else. In fact it is an honor to inherit the older kids stuff (most of the time). The third is proud to just fit in where she can.
The third is middle seats and cots in the hotel room that sleeps only four. The third gets away with stuff that the first never could because rules become much more pliable and less important over time. The third goes to sleep later and watches R rated movies that the first never would have seen at her age. It’s okay – she’s the third. She can take it.

The third is bootstraps and independence. The third teaches herself how to drive when no one else is free to do it. The third doesn’t even mind. It is all part of a crash course in grit and determination that will help shape her outlook on life. She seeks out what she needs, helps herself, and learns to love for its own sake, not because she needs something. To be the third is to be tough, but also sentimental, because she knows that she alone is the last chapter of the little kid part of her family’s story.
The third is about pure love. My parents were not nervous, first-time newbies or harried second time parents; they saw their role as somewhat uniquely defined by the care piece. There was a trust built into our relationship right from the very beginning. I would have to do a bit more on my own, but would find in them a well-worn spot in their hearts for their last surprise child.

And so it is with this new little one. You will be the third. It will be busy and far more loud and chaotic than anything your brother or sister was born into. You will be expected more than they ever were to do more, learn more on your own. You will never have less of me, but will have a different me than the one they first met. I will be lumpier and a bit wrinklier and certainly more tired, but I will have a peace and perspective with you that I could never share with them. I will have the wisdom to know how fleeting those first few months and years with you are. I will have the presence of mind to exert any energy I have left (which might not be that much) loving you just as you are, and not obsessing about milestones and matching baby bumpers and stuff that does not matter. You will be strong and you will be loved. You are the third.
Stay tuned… the newest Meer joins us at the end of January 2014 J

 

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Same Girl

Recently, one of my oldest and dearest friends celebrated her daughter’s 8th birthday. It seemed nearly impossible both to her and to me that 8 years had gone by since that adorable little chubby blonde bundle joined us. She found herself remarking on how this grown-up girl before her is the same baby from all those years ago. It seems so incomprehensible.

In many ways, I know how she feels. Yes, about her daughter but also about myself. For a reason I can’t quite articulate, in my head there is a certain age that I perpetually feel that I am. And regardless of how much time passes and how much father I get from that actual age, I still feel like that girl. I look in the mirror and I see some wrinkles and creases and lumps and bumps – the battle scars of motherhood and aging that I can, on occasion, wear with pride.  But in my head I am still that same girl from long ago: I am 24. It is 2001. I have lived in New York City for just a few weeks.
I moved there exactly 3 days before 9/11. I had no job, a room in an illegal sublet, and about 6 weeks of money before I had to pack it up and admit defeat to my parents. I was alone and single for the first time in a long time. I dyed my hair and had recently taken up vegetarianism. I knew almost no one including myself.

To say that my first weeks in the City were a bit disorienting would be a bit of an understatement, largely because my first days there were part of such a larger, historic event. Indeed my first experience with NYC would be so different probably from all those who came much before or after me. Instead of the bustling, chaotic, indifference of busy people heading in places you didn’t know to do things you didn’t understand - my first moments with New York were slow. The City that I first met, that I first learned, that I first fell in love with – it felt small. It was bound together in stunned silence and tragedy. Neighbors who knew each other and who didn’t reached out to each other. The typical bustle and business of Amsterdam Avenue that I would later become acquainted with – the constant streak of yellow from cabs and police picking up merry revelers from the Gin Mill across the street –had largely gone quiet. American flags hung outside the windows.  The hum of the City and of my neighborhood was replaced with the sounds of heaviness and bagpipes.
It was a strange first meeting – me and New York. And it changed me forever. A few weeks after 9/11, I got my first job in the City. I know exactly which street corner I was standing on when I got the call and precisely the feeling surging through me at that moment: that of pride and fear and independence. I had done this – with almost no money and no connections and a City and a girl that barely knew what to make of any of it, I was slowly putting this life together. An apartment, a job: my requisite Sunday New York Times and a cup of coffee as I looked out my kitchen window on the world below.

And those songs from that time, they still bring me back. They were on replay on my Discman (pre-iPod) as I ran around the reservoir at Central Park. Though never much of a runner, the moment I set foot on that path, I was transported into every movie about New York City I had ever watched as a child. I was free. I was actually living some version of a story that I only imagined I’d ever watch. I was Meg Ryan in the Natural History Museum. I was with Hubbell in front of the Plaza in the Way You Were. I have never felt so terrified and small and excited and alive. I was living it.
Time, as it has a way of doing, would march on. Many more huge life changing moments would happen well after this point. I would meet and marry my husband, give birth to our children, lose my mother, move and move and move and one day even stay. But through all of it, I knew she was in there, that fighter from all those years ago. This wife and mother and sometimes writer and exhausted barely functioning friend and daughter and sister – she’s the same girl. She may be older and sag in a few more places and sort of but not really be a bit wiser, but that taste of freedom, that spirit of a City and of a girl slowly roaring back to life, if I really squint, I still see her in there.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Anniversary

This morning as the summer brightness peeked in beneath the shades earlier than it should, Phil and I lay very still in our bed listening to the quiet hum of our house and our family. Soon, as always, the bed started getting crowded. Dylan’s head popped up first. Before not too long, some curls bopped along looking for a spot in the bed, Ruby wedging herself into the mix as well. And just like that we’d gone from two to four.

In some ways, that feels like so much of what the last 7 years have been like. There were first dates and excitement and laughter and indulgence. And then an engagement! And then a wedding! And suddenly… there were more of us. But that girl from 7 years ago – she just couldn’t have known what was to come. How hard it would be, how hard it is. In truth, I believe I legitimately thought that my marriage would largely play out like a sitcom. We’d occasionally bicker, but resolve the issue within a 30 minute timeframe, each admitting we were wrong, laughing and sealing it all with a kiss.
But then there was his family and my family and jobs and sleepless, stressful nights with babies. And there were days where I swear we both had our periods and all we wanted to do was be away from each other. Sometimes, we needed each other. And sometimes we needed to not need each other so much. And sometimes we laughed ourselves to sleep. And sometimes we argued and we didn’t make up and we fell asleep mad. Even though there was some cute little handmade plaque someone gave us from our wedding hanging over our bed imploring us to, “never forget to kiss each other goodnight.” Except sometimes we did forget.

But what I’ve learned and am learning over the past 7 years is that it’s okay. That a marriage, specifically our marriage, is something that we are actively building to withstand all of it. There is give in it – for the really good stuff and the really hard stuff. We can lean on it, on each other, and it won’t break.
My mother, a mother to 3 children mind you, was fond of saying that the only reason sane people ever had more than one child was because they simply forgot how hard it is to do it all in the first place. They got lost in all the joy and magic and erased from their minds the harder stuff that led up to those moments. In some ways, I think she was talking about marriage too. But you go into it with the best of intentions, thinking only of the good stuff that led you there. And then there are some bumps and hard stuff. But you step back and refocus and your mind settles more on the happiest and best parts because that’s the stuff that fuels you to keep going, keep working at it. Because you want more of it.

Because I want more time talking quietly at night on the deck after the kids go to sleep. More time embarrassing them with our karaoke and dance moves. More time making each other laugh. More time entering a room, feeling proud to be on each other’s arm. More time stubbornly closing our eyes to the rest of the world, refusing to look before we leap. More time watching you, you big, tough, all business 100% NJ guy, carefully slather peanut butter on our 3 year old daughter after she dips herself in strawberry gum, gently trying to rub it off. All the while laughing at her, at each other, all the while wondering – how did we get here?
As usual with us, I have no idea. I just know I want more. Happy anniversary philly! From me, the person who loves you more than anyone else in the universe J