He was born when I was an adolescent, my older sister's first child, my first nephew, the first grandchild in the family. My sister and her husband lived five minutes away from my parents, and during those early years of her marriage I spent countless hours in her kitchen -- she advising me on how to cope with the turmoils of adolescence, and me watching her cope with the turmoils of motherhood: three boys, all under the age of five. Early marriage and early childbearing were the customs of the time.
Only seven years separate my sister and me, yet we've lived entirely different lives, reflecting the choices and options that still seem to confound women and their families. She chose to stay home and raise her children, and she has been married more than 28 years. The early years of her marriage were not financially easy, and later on, when I found myself separated, working and trying to raise a baby alone, she became a wellspring of ground beef recipes and other economies, as well as comfort.
Over the years, she and my sister-in-law and I have become particularly close. They chose the more traditional roles of housewives and mothers and I, the much less usual -- at the time, at least -- role of working. I had no choice -- and, in a way, they did not either. They did what was expected of married women at that time. And over the years, we have spent innumerable hours at family gatherings and family vacations, comparing the differences in our lives, discussing our children and our spouses, trading stories and advice -- much of it with great humor, and none of it judgmental. We'd simply made different choices, not knowing at the time the profound impact this business of choices would have.
And it was not just the question of women's choices about marriage, children and career, abandoning one for the other or trying to combine them. In the years following my nephew's birth we created so many choices about how people could live that the words "life style" became a cliche.
People could have premarital sex without stigma; they could live together. We replaced morally judgmental terms with friendly euphemisms: people who lived together became "my roommate" or "my friend." Parents tried to figure out how to accommodate grown children and "friends" when they came to visit. Couples had children without benefit of marriage; women who wanted children but no husbands called on friends and acquaintances for assistance in this project -- no strings attached. Househusbands came into being; women plunged into careers, postponing marriage and childbirth, often well into their thirties. And, of course, we divorced and divorced in record numbers, setting off a chain reaction of second marriages, "blended families" and all sorts of questions about where you seat whom at the wedding: does the father of the bride really have to bring his new wife?
None of these questions, however, arose Saturday evening when my nephew was married at the Memorial Church at Harvard. The parents of both the bride and the groom had traditional marriages and they were there, together, to share one of the most important moments in their children's lives. And their marriages, their joys and successes at them, had profoundly influenced their children.
At the rehearsal dinner the night before, the bride-to-be and my nephew had raised their glasses in a toast to their parents, to the example and inspiration they had provided. The bride-to-be spoke about the sessions they had had with their minister to discuss marriage and the candid talks they had had about how difficult it was and how many marriages simply failed. This was a couple in love -- with all the appropriate stars in their eyes -- but going into marriage with their eyes open.
They, too, have made choices. They waited until both had established careers before getting married. They chose to marry, rather than to live together. They had a traditional church service, with the bride dressed in an Elizabethan-style gown she had designed. The bride, who was in charge of renovations at Harvard's Fogg Art Museum, will be getting her doctorate in classical art and museum sciences at New York University. They originally planned for my nephew to give up his job in Boston and move with her to New York, putting her career first for now. The high-technology firm he works for gave him a big raise to stay in Boston. They are going to have a commuter marriage for a while. She is taking his name, however, rather than keeping her own.
In small and large ways, they have picked and chosen from the traditional and the experimental, what best suits them. Young people can do that now, and it was a wonderful thing to see.