Mother of the long-distance bride-to-be

My daughter sends me a text along with a photo, shoes she is trying on. Jimmy Choo mules on sale. They’re comfortable, she texts. We wear the same size.

They’re gorgeous. One of us should have them, I text back. I’m thinking of her wedding, an outdoor, grassy affair. Special days require special accessories, not to mention lots of special attention.

She may be hesitant but I don’t miss a beat. In a flash, I’m online ordering the shoes, which will end up being for me, and which will not end up being quite right for the dress I end up buying.  Not that I’ll have any problem finding something else to where them with.

Another day, another text: Did I get the right dress?  So many choices, more than one exquisite, how can she help but second-guess?  That’s what mothers are for, to reassure. Absolutely.  That she remains unconvinced is beside the point. I cannot change her mind.  I can do little to ease her disappointments about friends who can’t come to the wedding or anxieties as the day draws nearer and nearer.

Did we invite too many people? 

Did we block enough rooms?

Should I go blonder for the wedding?  

My daughter is getting married.

She lives 3,000 miles away.  In the grand scheme of mother-daughter moments, something feels a tad wrong with this picture.

Not only does she live 3,000 miles away but the wedding will also take place 3,000 miles away.  My husband and I live in New York, she and her fiancé have made a life out in California, which makes it all the more fitting as a place to celebrate a life event. And maybe ‘wrong’ isn’t quite the right word to capture the sense of something missing from traditional rituals in times so often defined by nontraditional ways of living.  A parent really can’t ‘give away’ a bride who’s been living with her fiancé. Brides more often than not wear white for reasons that have little or nothing to do with purity/virginity.  Yet weddings, like other rituals that bind families, still have their hold on us—and largely for the right reasons.

Sentimentally speaking, a wedding is an affirmation of love (putting aside cultures in which arranged marriages are the norm).  It reminds us what it is to be young (or old) and truly in love. In a world that seems dark these days, there’s every reason to celebrate the hope infused in two individuals choosing to make a life together.  From a standpoint of tradition, a mother of a bride who lives far away is caught between unmitigated joy that her daughter has found someone she wants to share her life with and a gnawing ache about moments missed when all the showering of attention that is part and parcel of pre-wedding commiseration has to be done long-distance.

Every wedding has echoes of weddings past, calling up remnants of our tribal roots, with traditions handed down from generation to generation. It all seemed easier when family dispersal was more the exception than the norm it’s becoming. Holy or not, two individuals joined in wedlock become links in a family chain. Broken or not, families are extended through this new link in the chain of lineage.  Jewish tradition brings a ketubah into the picture, a contract signed by witnesses just prior to the ceremony attesting to the obligations a bride and groom agree to. Today’s ketubot are works of art, something even those of the non-Jewish persuasion are drawn to. Then comes the ceremony, after which we eat, we dance, we tell stories to mark the day—stories that will be handed down, stories recalled through pictures.

We cry, too.Down-the-aisle love songs have a way of tugging at my heart, hitting that nerve that sits on the edge of love and loss in the way that weddings do. That this is the wedding of my own daughter, all grown up now, moving on, only ups the emotional ante.

If I feel deprived of something, it’s the intimacy that would seem to be part of wedding planning. All those details—venue, food, flowers, music, rabbi—negotiated over the terrain of distance have me feeing one step removed.  All the texts and phone calls from my daughter have me thinking how different it was with my own mother when I planned my own wedding.

My mother, long gone, will not be at the wedding. My husband’s mother will, and that’s a blessing all its own. That it’s taking place on Mother’s Day Weekend brings an added joy. My idea of a good Mother’s Day was always simple: let me linger in the morning over coffee and whatever I feel like reading; let me not think about what we’re doing for lunch or dinner. My daughter’s first year in college brought her back for Mother’s Day, a surprise orchestrated with her father. Boston is not far from New York. California is. It’s the way we live now.

To be the mother of a bride on Mother’s Day weekend is a gift that can’t be quantified.  To be the mother of a soon-to-be-bride who lives far away requires an extra measure of attention to what is and what is not within my control. There is no planning a wedding without stresses. On the surface it’s about logistics and details, which largely fall on my daughter as the point person and which I can do little or nothing to relieve her of.  The best I can do is remind her, in conversations and texts, of what is and what is not within her control. That good friend who can’t fly because she’s seven months pregnant will indeed be missed. And maybe the wedding will be a larger affair than she wanted because so many people have such good feelings about the happy couple.

I remind her, too, to look at the big picture and the deeper significance of getting married. With any luck, it will be a picture-perfect day, with a bride exuding the kind of joy that transcends any worries about the perfect dress. Or shoes.


Why I love my daughter

I count it among one of life’s gifts to have a daughter who enjoys doing things with me. Rock concerts. Hiking when we’re on vacation (even if she leaves me in the dust). Shopping.  Enjoying the sights and streets of NYC when she comes back East. But it’s something else, as deep in what it says about character and resilience as it is funny that has me moved to write about her.

Because she lives on the West Coast and I’m in New York, it’s not uncommon for me wake to texts written by her late at night.We’d had more than one conversation about the distressing direction of health care and insurance last week. Hard to offer reassurance when things are so tenuous politically and socially, conservative right-wing Republicans have more power than they deserve, and there’s a psychopath in the White House.  And, yet, when we talk a switch in my brain automatically turns me from worried mode to mama mode, in which I remind her that things are bad, yes, but we have to consider that resistance counts for a lot. After we talk, I send a text.

So when I turned on my phone Friday morning and saw there was text from her, I was so sure it was going to be about John McCain, a villain earlier in the week. Then came Thursday night, the tension, the mystery, the anxiety.  I had trouble falling asleep, I dreaded what Friday would bring in the wake of the Senate debate on the last of the three options to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Here’s the text I woke up to.

I laughed.   Already in a better mood than I thought I’d be because of two persistent women who would not cave to party pressure augmented by a tweeting psychopath, and a man I’ve had mixed feelings about over the years, I reminded myself a small win is still a win.

I reminded myself, too, that my daughter has always been this way.  She unloads, tells me all the troubling things on her mind. Then her own neurological switch kicks in.

Survival strategies take many forms, and humor is one of the best.  Timothy Ferris makes a good case for laughter as a response to stress in an essay in his book, The Mind’s Sky: Human Intelligence in a Cosmic Context. We all need some comic relief.

I thought a little about John McCain, too.  His dramatic return in the throes of a terrible prognosis had so many seeing him as a hero. Humility in the face of death would not be a stretch when trying to understand his thumbs-down moment.  In truth, we all know the vote could have gone either way,

And I thought of two strong, remarkable women, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, who I’m thankful are not getting (too) overshadowed by the vote heard around the world.

Then there’s my daughter. The greed that fuels the climate change deniers, the heartlessness at the heart of attempts to eviscerate Obamacare get her absolutely worked up. Factor in random personal frustrations and you could have a pretty miserable individual.  But a capacity for getting on with things, coupled with a sense of humor and an admirable resilience, always ends up winning the day.

And sometimes all it takes is a puppy or two to make her smile.

Patiently waiting for a Shake Shack poochini 😉