Growing up in a family of five children, group census was rarely reached. The odds of us all agreeing on something were slim – things like what restaurant to go to, what flavors of ice cream to get at the store, and especially what movie to rent for family movie night. So we worked in rotation. Each week one kid got to go with my dad and choose the film, and everyone else had to ‘like it, or lump it,” in my dad’s words.
Usually, no matter the kid, the selection was a Disney movie from the “Family” section like Mary Poppins or The Sound of Music. There might be some initial grunts upon the choice reveal, but everyone was usually more or less happy since we all had the same taste. The one exception was Traci’s turn, which everyone dreaded because she always chose Black Beauty.
I, of course, being the youngest by seven years, was excluded completely from said rotation. I lumped – but liked everything. I was just happy for the extended bedtime and bowls buttery microwaved popcorn.
As we got older, and more mature, we evolved past movies with cartoon main characters and had a few family staples: The Sandlot, A League of Their Own, The Princess Bride, but none was more beloved than Three Men and a Baby, a movie about a baby getting mixed up in drug hustle and completely derailing the lives of three single bachelors in New York. A far departure from animated princesses, and definitley not age-appropriate, but we watched this so many times as a family that all five of us can still quote the movie in its entirety, as we can with the sequel, Three Men and A Little Lady.
Looking back on these movie choices as a child, everything about my identity now makes sense. My on-screen heroes were Shirley Temple, Mary Bennington, Frau Maria, Gena Davis, and all the Disney princesses. It’s no wonder why I sing, dance, dress up all the time, love the 1950s, and believe in fairytales.
Last week, I came to L.A. to spend the foreseeable future with my sister and her baby boy, Elvis. My brother-in-law, Nick, has been in the ICU for the last month, and my sister was alone – managing a house renovation, a ten-month-old, and critical, daily decisions on Nick’s healthcare. She was underfed, and underslept, and overwhelmed, but being the warrior that she is, she was somehow managing it all with a jump, skip, and a smile.
As it became apparent that he was not coming home anytime soon, my family made a plan to help. Travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders were going to have to be bent. My older brother Todd was able to drive down to her from San Francisco, and I made plans to get on a plane and cross the country. Within a week, the three of us were sheltered in place in Laurel Canyon and thus began a time in our adult lives that is strangely reminiscent of childhood.
The three of us are together in the same house without spouses, jobs, or real lives for the first time in thirty years. We have little Elvis of course, and a sea of worries, anxiety, and fears revolving around Nick. But it’s just not in our DNA to be negative. There is not a doubt in me that Nick is going to wake up, and recover, and have the most monumental exit from Cedars Sinai in recent history. So we sing – from the moment we wake up until we tuck Elvis in. And we dance – at breakfast, and for our workout, and as we attempt to get spoonfuls of nourishment into Elvis’s perfect little mouth, and at 3pm every afternoon for #wakeupNick.
And we try to laugh, all day long, about everything that we possibly can, because it really is the best medicine.
We realized as Todd quoted Three Men and A Little Lady one afternoon while feeding Elvis (“try it Edward, you’ll like it”) that we have become a bizarro version of Peter, Jack, and Michael – an unlikely crew of besties taking care of a child together in the midst of a crisis.
We laughed so hard recreating the movie poster to send to our family that it was an ab workout. And as we did, I realized that what’s beautiful is, amid tragedy, and fear, and uncertainty – there is still joy. We are aware of how peculiar and awful this moment in time is, but also how special it is. There is always a silver lining in life, and for us it is this time to be siblings again, in a way we haven’t in a long time. And for us to be real friends too.
Amanda has always been my best friend from the moment I moved to New York for college. If I was in town, we spent some point of every day together – whether it was for her class, or to meet for an impromptu manicure, or to stay in on a cold winters day doing face masks and drinking hot chocolate. But last year, life took us in different directions. Nick’s job moved them to L.A., and my sudden divorce spurred a move for me as well: to Paris. As of January, we offically went from being a thirteen-minute subway ride away to being a thirteen-hour flight.
My brother, the eldest, wisest, and definitely funniest of the three of us has lived on the West Coast for the past eighteen years. As the only male sibling of the five of us, he has always felt a bit left out of the bonds and secrets of sisterhood. (Something he articulated in most comical diagram earlier this week to Amanda and I).
The age gap between Todd and I is fourteen years; the largest in the family, Given my crazy travel schedule for the last decade, I’ve only been able to spend maybe two weeks a year with him for more than half of my life. So many stories went untold, photos unshared, moments un-recounted. We’re making up for lost time.
My move to Paris in January took me away from comfort zone, and was the first selfish thing I’ve chosen in years, My whole life changed last summer when my husband left me – my job, home, and future vanished in an instant. It was the scariest day of my life at that point, and while my family said a chorus of “I’m so sorry’s” that first night – it was Nick, who wrapped me tight in a hug as I cried and said – “Annie – best day ever.”
It was such a strange thing to hear in that moment. But he saw what no one else did – that I had been drowning, but I was about to start a new life.
Now I’m in California, and while I don’t have any of the right words, I’m here to whatever I can to help bring him back to the surface too.
The hardest part of moving to Paris was leaving my family, but that was why I knew I needed to. We had each other, we always would. But everyone had their own life too – except suddenly me. I needed to create a new one; and with a blank slate to start with, why not go for your most ridiculous dream? I thought I needed to be in Paris to be happy again, alone to find myself again, and I wasn’t wrong.
It is my city, there is no doubting the way I come to life there. When I had to leave in early March because of this outbreak and the uncertainty of what it would bring, I was devastated. I feared I would lose all the parts of me I had just found; just built. But thank goodness I got back to America when I did. After a month with my family, I know now that I underestimated just how much of me could also be found in my roots.
As I spend twenty-four hours a day with my sister and brother, I realize my greatest strength and joy, and inspiration comes not from a city, or a state of mind – but from them. My family. That bond. That love.
We keep each other positive. We keep each other strong. We keep each other smiling.
Each moment is a comedy routine – from little things like ranting to each other about everything bagels – “what wrong with them – everything!,” to putting Elvis to bed as a group effort with a rap song parody and props.
Our parents raised us to always, always put our family first. We grew up with family dinners, and movie nights, and vacations, and activities every night of the week. We have always been there to support each other for anything that happened in life – good or bad – no matter what. So we’re here.
When we were little, my parent’s always told us that one day we would be each other’s best friends. Right now, all I can think is “boy, were they right.”