We were the picture-perfect family, Mommy, Daddy, and me
he hot sun beat down on my head as I wiped the sweat off my forehead yet again. While my friends talked animatedly about today’s special activity in the day camp we worked in, my mind wandered back home. Would she be there when I walked in the door? I mean really there. Or would they be there taking up all her attention? I didn’t have to wonder for too long. Before I knew it, I was home. As I walked up the familiar path to my house I wondered if it would always be this way or if things would get better and I would have her back.
I thought back to life before them. It was me and Mommy. Mommy and me. We were always there for each other. I was an only child, so I had all her attention. I basked in her love and homemade cookies.
One time, after I got back a really hard test that I practically failed, I came home not really wanting to speak to anyone, until I walked in the door and my mother’s voice melted my anger.
“Sarah’la, is that you?” Her warm voice filled me with a calming sensation.
“Yes, Ima,” I answered. And then, “What’s that smell?”
“I just made a fresh batch of cookies. Come get them while they’re still hot.”
I walked into the kitchen and sat down facing my mother. Together we ate cookies and talked for hours until my father came home.
“Where are my two favorite girls?” His voice filled the house as he walked into the kitchen and pulled up a chair. Together we ate supper, and then together we said goodnight and all went to sleep. The next morning, we ate breakfast together, and we walked out the door together on our way to begin a new day. Everything was all together. We were the picture-perfect family, Mommy, Daddy, and me.
I loved all our together times, but I always had somewhat mixed feelings. I thought I really wanted a sibling. To be “normal.” All my friends had at least one sibling — most had seven or eight siblings — but I had none. But although I wanted a sibling, I didn’t want to stop being the center of attention. My whole life as I knew it was spent as my parents only pride and joy. That I didn’t really want to change.
But change it did. Not by one but two! My mother had twins. It was the happiest day of my life. Mazel tovs flooded our home. Baked goods, suppers, and all things baby were constantly flowing through the door. It was a whirlwind of activity. Bubby and Zeidy came to visit and everything was amazing.
When I walked into school the day after the twins were born, my friends started to dance around me. I was on top of the world. My best friend, Layla, walked over and gave me a huge hug.
“Mazel tov! I’m so happy for you! Now I can finally complain to you about my siblings, and you’ll understand, instead of you giving me your whole, ‘You should be thankful you at least have siblings’ speech.”
“I know,” I answered. “It feels almost surreal. Like, me? I have siblings? What?! It still hasn’t fully set in yet.”
“Oh, it will.” She gave me a mischievous smile. “Soon you’ll be begging to come to my house for a little peace and quiet. Even with my crazy siblings.”
I was on a high until the excitement died down. Everyone left and life was supposed to go back to normal. But it didn’t. It was far from normal because I had two intruders in my life. The siblings I had once dreamed of were turning my life upside down. My once perfect home turned into a hurricane of diapers, crying, diapers, naps, diapers, bottles, and I was lost in the wind. I was an object of the past. No one cared about me; it was babies all day, every day. Everyone oohed and aahed over them. But what about me? I got 100 on my murder Chumash final, I got accepted into seminary, I exist, and I need attention. But my calls were answered in silence.
My relationship with my parents shattered right in front of my eyes. No more homemade cookies, no more showers of attention. Nothing. Washed away as if it had never existed. But I remembered my old life and I missed it. I missed my parents. It was the worst feeling being surrounded by loved ones yet feeling so alone.
After my last final of 12th grade, I came home to an empty house and a note on the fridge.
Abba and I went to take the babies to get their next set of shots. There’s supper in the fridge. Don’t wait for us. After we go to the doctor, I’m going to drop the babies off at Bubby’s house and go to a shiur and Abba’s going to learn. Love you, see you later.
That’s all I get? A measly note. What about mazel tov on finishing 12th grade? But nothing. After wandering around the house for like ten minutes I called Layla.
“Hi!” came her booming voice from the other end. “When I got home all my siblings were here and they had a whole party for me to celebrate my last official day of school. It was so much fun. What about you? Did you do anything?”
“No,” I answered blankly. “My mother left me a note saying something about the babies. I don’t really know. But whenever the excitement dies down on your end of the world, want to go out for ice cream?” I asked with anticipation.
“Sure, see you in thirty. Bye.”
Then I was graduating and only two months away from seminary. A new start with new friends and no babies. A whole year focused on my growth, my friends, me, me, me, and no one to steal away the attention.
Layla and I spent the whole summer together even though she was coming to seminary with me. We had so much fun that summer. We made a camp with five of my other friends. We laughed, stressed, ate, and shopped.
It wasn’t until a week before seminary that I really noticed mother’s absence. All my friends were spending every last minute laughing and crying with their families. But no one noticed when I went to my room and cried for hours on end, mourning the family I once had. But what could I do about it? I was leaving in five days. You can’t make up months of lost attention in five days. Can you?
During one of my breakdown sessions, my mother knocked on my door
“Can I come in?” she asked cautiously as if I was an angry bear ready to attack. Which I pretty much was.
“One sec, coming,” I answered, wiping my face and quickly putting on makeup to cover up months of pain. I opened the door to see both my parents standing there and no babies in sight.
“Yes?” I asked.
“We wanted to know if… if maybe you wanted to go out to dinner since it’s one of our last days together before you go to seminary,” my father asked hesitantly.
“Sure,” I answered, “I’ll be down in a minute.”
Could it be? No.
“One sec,” I called after my parents. “What about the babies?” I asked, studying their faces carefully.
“They’re at Bubby’s house,” my mother answered.
As I watched my parents turn to go back downstairs, I felt a feeling of comfort wash over me. Like I knew things would get better.
(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 971)
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