My children have different hands.
Dixon’s are thin and delicate, with a firm grip, but not hard or clingy. They are surprisingly strong, and yet surprisingly relaxed and soft. Purposeful. And quiet. They know what they want.
Delaney’s are thicker and meaty, but with very long, tapered fingers. They are never easy and relaxed; they are always moving. When she’s in thought, they look like they’re flying. Tie her hands behind her back, and she won’t be able to speak.
All their lives, without even looking, I have known who has just put her hand in mine. They get a kick out of this. Every once in a while, they ask me to close my eyes, do a circle around me, and then stop and take my hands. Then they giggle when I tell them with unerring accuracy who’s on my left and who’s on my right.
Their personalities are a lot like their hands. Dixon looks so delicate and wistful, yet she can more than hold her own in wrestling matches against her twin sister, who has about 10 pounds and two inches on her. Delaney seems so large and bold, yet when they first started Trick or Treating, Delaney would lead Dixon up to about five feet from each door, then stop in fear, while her sister purposefully ran up to the door and rang the bell.
Before I go on, you have to know this: people notice my daughters. They are quite beautiful. They are also always bubbly and laughing. There is something inside them that radiates… something that attracts other people. I’m not kvelling, here. It’s somewhat perplexing to me, and a little disconcerting. Part of it is that there are two of them, but people gravitate to them. When we walk into stores or restaurants—even now as they are 8—people turn around and smile. Sometimes they even give them things. Still.
This came up one night at the end of 2007, a few weeks shy of their fifth birthday.
We went to a Chanukah party at our temple. It was blessedly boring. I was suffering from a massive broken heart, and I was afraid the woman I was in love with would be there that night. Thankfully, she wasn’t. My kids danced the Hora and managed to eat the hotdogs without ketchuping themselves. Then the magician showed up. He was a comedian, Second City trained, who used the audience as part of his illusions. A bunch of kids, including Dixon, sat in a semi-circle in front of the stage, eager to be part of the act. Delaney sat on my lap just behind them.
At one point the magician called up this little redheaded kid. He gave him the third degree:
“What’s your name?”
“How old are you?”
“Are you married?”
Ben was laughing too hard to answer. So the magician kept on a little bit more (“Do you have a girlfriend? Do you want a girlfriend?”) until finally enlisting the thoroughly mortified Ben in an actual magic trick. When it was done, he asked Ben to stay on stage and asked for another volunteer. He picked Dixon. Dixon and Ben were the same height. And I gave the magician props for not flinching when Dixon proudly proclaimed she was 4 3/4 years old. When she told him she was not married, he took Ben’s hand and Dixon’s hand and started to join them together.
It was a funny moment, but not as funny as the next, when the magician, who earlier had said he had a 16-year-old daughter, told Dixon, “Just kidding. Your dad will choose who you marry.”
I laughed so hard that it sounded like a bark. But the rest of the room was silent. Almost uncomfortably so. I looked around and thought, well, we had not been members of this temple for very long, maybe they didn’t know how hilariously ironic that was.
Dixon, for her part, just gave him a perplexed look, which made the whole moment even funnier for me.
Later in the show, he was looking for a girl for the final trick of the night. About four girls had not been chosen and they all had their hands up eagerly, including Delaney, who had been emboldened by her sister, but who was still sitting on my lap. I knew he wasn’t going to choose her, but he interviewed her as he interviewed the other three girls, and as he was moving on, astonishingly, he threw out something about Delaney’s dad. Dixon was ready this time. Without hesitating, she turned to the magician and said, loud enough for all 200 or so people to hear, “We don’t have a dad.”
This time I could hear a few giggles behind me. And the magician rolled very well, saying something like, “Well, that’s good!” He was a little rattled, though.
This was, for me, clearly another one of those perplexing moments where my kids were noticed on a level that was not quite apparent. He asked nobody else about their dads. Just my girls.
Later that night, we were all snuggled in their bed about to read a book. Delaney laughed at the idea of Ben and Dixon getting married, and I asked Dixon if she really thought the magician was going to marry them. “No,” she said, “but why did he keep talking about our dad? He didn’t ask anybody else about a dad.”
Did I mention that Dixon is my wise child?
The next day, I went into our local JCC, where I was on the board and where my kids went to preschool. Looking for someone in the office, I happened upon a conversation between one woman who is a member of our temple and one who is not. They stopped the moment they saw me. Breaking the uncomfortable silence, the non-member said, “So I hear Dixon told everybody last night that they don’t have a dad.”
Ah, I thought, they did get it. They just weren’t sure they should laugh. I realized then that my role in our small Jewish community over the next few years was to make sure people felt comfortable laughing at the ironies of my life. I mean, come on! That was funny!
Jump forward another week. We’re at another Chanukah party, at a friend’s whose teenage daughter babysat for us. When we got there, both my kids screamed the sitter’s name and ran downstairs to join her and her teenage friends. I spent my time making small talk, searching for food that wasn’t latkes (and, therefore, tasty), and relieved that at least the person I was hurting for wasn’t there.
An hour or so later, I went looking for my kids, who were in the basement, surrounded by a bunch of older kids, including, I noticed, Ben. They all groaned when I said it was time to leave. Even the teenagers.
Later that night, as we were in bed again, Delaney was telling the story of their arrival. When they came downstairs, Ben said, “Hey, Dixon and Delaney are here.” Cutting off the last word, Delaney turned to me abruptly and said, “Mom, why does everybody know who we are?”
I explained to them that they were popular. And I explained to them that they were notorious. And I explained what both of those words meant, and not to take either of them too seriously.
Did I mention they were not quite five?
Then Dixon turned to me and asked me if I was OK. Yes, I told her, but I guess it was time to talk. Because it was what happened at the end of the party that I will always remember. It was what happened as we came upstairs and were about to leave that showed me that everything—and I mean everything—that happens in your life happens for a reason. You just don’t always know what that reason is.
As we went to bid our goodbyes, the hostess started to introduce me to a man, then stopped, put her arm around him, said the name that had been pounding in my head and dripping from the tears streaked down my face for months and added, “You should call her.”
I stood there. Frozen. He rolled his eyes, as if to say, “What a yenta, trying to fix me up.” And I thought, “I have to move. He’s going to extend his hand in a few seconds and I have to be able to move to take it. I can’t move.” Watching the woman in question run away from me was incredibly painful. Watching her in the ensuing few months trying to desperately date anybody who wasn’t female and wasn’t me was excruciating. And here she was, in absentia, getting her friends—my friends—to try to fix her up.
I have to add that I also felt mad at this guy for a moment. When he rolled his eyes I thought, “What, you don’t think she’s good enough for you? She’s amazing. Don’t diss her!”
Kind of counterintuitive, I know.
But, in the seconds I was standing there not knowing if I could move, I felt this thin, soft, strong hand lace into mine. I knew immediately whose it was. It broke the spell, and when I looked down, Dixon was staring daggers at these people, holding my hand with fierceness. Two things struck me at that moment: 1) my children knew more than I gave them credit for; and 2) Dixon is going to be holding my hand when I die. I saw it clear as day. Delaney will be close, but Dixon will be holding my hand and looking into my eyes when I die. And she will be strong. And she will be fierce. And she will be fine.
Time has healed a lot of those wounds, and I have moved on. And I have talked to my children about how, even with the pain, falling in love is so much better than holding back; that living is the only way to live. But after all the painful cumulative experiences, I will be forever grateful for that single moment of clarity, when my daughter’s hand reached across time and age and wisdom and showed me a future that I know I could trust.