Some months before we were married, I accompanied my husband (then my fiancé) to get his suit taken in. The tailor fussed and fretted, measured and pinned, and then, as we were leaving, said "You two, you look like you belong to each other."
I thought about how the tailor had said "belong to each other," rather than "belong together." For though I was in love, I didn't feel that I belonged to my fiancé at all. After all, I already belonged to someone—or rather, something—else: my family. My mom and dad, sisters and brother; not this adorable but veritable stranger whom I planned to spend the rest of my life with.
Indeed, it was my younger sister who tipped the balance, psychologically speaking, in favor of the man who is now my husband. The first time she met him, she took me aside and said: "I like him. He fits in with us."
She was right. He did fit in with us, and that was just one reason why our wedding day was such a happy one. But as I stood under the huppah (the wedding canopy in Jewish ceremonies), I waited for something to click, for that moment when I would be changed, different, married. For that moment when indeed I would "belong" to my new husband, and he to me. I waited all through the reception, and then all through our honeymoon, and then all through our first, hot summer together in a cramped sublet in Washington, DC. I waited all through our first, less-than-blissful year of marriage. The year during which, incidentally, I got pregnant with our first child, an event that took us by surprise, to say the least. Birds and bees aside, I wasn't ready. Moreover, I was nauseated, anxious, and homesick. I didn't feel that I even had a home; I fought with my husband (who didn't seem to understand me anymore), I wanted my mother, and I comforted myself with narcissistic daydreams about potential "back up" husbands, just in case the one I had now turned out to be a lemon.
And then the baby was born, an enchanting, utterly lovely creation, our sun and our moon. True, he cried a lot. And yes, at times I felt like his slave. It didn't matter: I had made him -- with a little help from old-what's-his-name.
Actually, it was the birth of our firstborn that forced me to face what I'd come to think of as my dual citizenship -- one in my family of origin, where the natives knew the words to a nonsense song I'd made up when I was 5, and the other in the country to which I'd emigrated, the place where my husband and I were the only two citizens. He and I now had living, crying, pooping proof of our union, and it was my husband, and only my husband, who knew about the new, secret me -- the one with the stretch marks, gas pains, leaking breasts, as well as a heart so swollen with maternal love that at times I couldn't speak. It was my parents, though, now enthusiastic grandparents, who made it clear that my husband and I were doing things differently from the way "we" did them. But just who were they talking about when they talked about "we"?
The truth is, I don't think my parents' occasional remarks would have bugged me had I felt entirely aligned with my husband. But -- though my commitment to our marriage never wavered -- I still found myself thinking that if, God forbid, something should happen to him, well, I'd still have my family.
Then, when our son was 4 and my marriage was 5, I gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. Without my even being aware of it -- perhaps because I no longer had time to think -- I stopped worrying about that overly protective bunch in which I'd been spawned, and started feeling part of another authentic, exclusive, "we." Perhaps because it was my husband who helped me stay afloat in the chaos that had become our home, I stopped relying on my fantasy of returning to the nest. For one thing, he and I were now the no-longer-quite-so-young parents of three small children who, incidentally, thought that we were the entire universe.
More to the point, I adored our new, expanded family -- and more often than not I felt that I was the captain (and my husband, first mate) of a large and beautiful sailboat. True, our home life had become somewhat crowded and messy. And the noise level, at times, was astonishing. But it was my mess and my chaos -- in short, my family. Mine and my husband's, that is.
By the time we celebrated our twins' first birthdays, I felt stronger and more independent than I'd ever felt before. When my mother called to say that she'd be happy to make the kind of cake that "we" always had, I thanked her, but declined: I preferred my own recipe, straight from the box.
Recently Sam, my 9-year-old firstborn, looked up from his Cheerios and asked: "Who's your best friend, Mommy?" My answer? "Daddy."
For it is my husband, and only my husband, who has been my partner on the adventure of my adult life. As I looked at my son, I realized that everything about our lives -- from the minivan in the driveway to the jobs we'd settled into (that give both of us enough time with the kids) to the house we bought (with a big backyard) to the dumb, private jokes we repeatedly make -- were the direct result of the fact that we had become a family: a little corporation, headed by a partnership of two, belonging with each other, and to each other, together.
Jennifer Moses is a freelance writer.