February 2, 2006
Out of the Picture
Summer's over, and I just got round 10 of Beth's camp pictures. She's made new friends, and seems to be learning a ton. She has that youthful exuberance. Adorable, no?
Well, sort of.
Beth is not cute. She's not small. And she's not particularly -- well -- that young. Beth is my 32-year-old former friend from college. She's a wife and homemaker. And -- more to the point -- she's the mother of Sammy.
For the past few years, Beth's been documenting her experience for me and an undisclosed number of recipients. Gone are the days when she sent pictures of dresses and beaches; now it's onesies and playgrounds. Each month, I get an electronic update of little Sammy smiling, crawling, bouncing, bathing, clapping, eating, playing, pooping, swinging, singing, sitting, sleeping.
And for the past 10 months, I've responded with the requisite "CUTE!" "Wow, she looks just like you!" and "You must have your hands full." On cue, over and over again, I've cooed over the pudginess of her baby's cheeks.
Here before me is digital proof -- over and over again that Beth (and others like her) has moved on. It's like I'm reading the same inscription with each new album:
"Dear XX, Isn't my life swell? We're super busy with other people, so I don't really have time or care to hear about your life if it doesn't involve me or my child. You understand, right? Hope you'll still send me gifts when my kid turns 1! See you next month! KIT, YY."
See, while Beth gleefully went off to Camp Wedding-Marriage-Mommy (WMM), I've stayed put in Camp Single-Dating-Old Friend (SDOF). Like getting picked last for the kickball team or being the last to couple-off, I'd never quite broken into the schedule of coupled events of lazy dinners nearby, or conversations obsessing over diamonds and centerpieces and -- recently -- diaper brands.
And yet, just clicking through my snapfish.com library, you'd think I was wedding and baby-obsessed. I am barraged by an overwhelming selection of shared albums from Beth, and Allison, and Josh and Nicole ... friends who've not only moved away -- from New York to Connecticut, California, uptown, the 'burbs, wherever it may be -- but who've moved on. I click through pictures of babies and people I don't -- and might never -- know. True, technology has made it simple to KIT (keep in touch). But it's also become an impersonal show-and-tell for haves to impose their joy on the have-nots.
Still, I've fussed over Beth (and others') "crowning" achievements, one after another, starting with that "successful" boyfriend: "I love him if you do" (let's do dinner); "OMG, your ring is gorgeous" (here's a gift); "I'd be honored to wear a $350 pink dress" and "you're the most beautiful bride ever" (here's a check); "love the house" (here's a plant).
I've smiled in all the appropriate photos. I've attended the functions.
But what I'm realizing (a bit late) is that by the time I wed, Beth will celebrate her 10th anniversary; when my kids are in diapers, she'll be a soccer mom; when I finally buy a house, she'll be on her second. Our kids will never be friends. And it's likely that, in the long haul, neither will we.
Of course I've accepted that my existence has become de facto second fiddle. I understood when Beth didn't show for my 30th because she was due in two weeks. I realized that to some, my reconstructive knee surgery (as an athlete), buying a studio apartment (alone), getting published (as a side job) and changing careers (for something I enjoy) -- all of which changed my life forever -- never quite equaled a marriage, buying a new house, pregnancy and raising a child.
In hindsight, it seems that for its minimal return on investment: the money, time and energy invested in others' weddings, dresses, visits and gifts could have bulked up my apartment's down payment, paid for my own fancy vacations and my own diamonds. Instead of getting the serving tray and wasting time at rehearsal dinners, I could have been feeding the hungry, attending charity events or enjoying more fat-free smoothies.
Sure, the pictures are sort of nice. And perhaps I should be sending my own monthly SDOF camp updates. Perhaps I should be visually recording all the new restaurants that I try with the new friends I've had to make. I'd include snapshots of my dating experiences and everything new that I'm learning at work. I suppose my inscription might read a bit differently though:
"Dear YY, Isn't my bridesmaid costume a hoot? Sorry for not calling -- but life has been busy. Listen, if you could just refund me that money for your engagement, wedding and other assorted gifts, that'd be great! I could use a new couch. Oh, and your kid's cute. See you next month! SWAK, XX"
Don't get me wrong: I know WMM camp, while seeming fun, is expensive and certainly not always a picnic. Still seems to me the SDOF campers are just destined to get shafted. See, while the married can relax with their fancy china and 400-thread sheets, I'm on constant hyperdrive, hand-me-downs and a futon. My sheets are not CK, and I don't rehearse dinner -- I just have it.
Funny, I often hear people say they felt empty before they found love and had kids. I guess that was before e-mail. According to my inbox, life is very, very full.
Dara Lehon, a freelance writer living in New York City, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.