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.


The way it was / the way it is

A family affair. A wedding on a gorgeous (almost) autumn day, Duchess County, New York. A distant cousin walks up to me. “You know who I am — right?” She says her name at the very moment I recall it. “You look the same as you always did,” she tells me. I smile at the compliment.

The truth be known, I feel far from ageless. If anything, seeing the distant cousin, and all the others I see only at these few-and-far-between family events, both joyful and sorrow-filled, has a way of heightening the sense of something long gone. We talk about the grandparents who were cousins, and the affection our own mothers had for each other. We used to see each other (a little) more.

Nothing is the way it was, I remark. Everything just is what it is.

The father of the bride (a close cousin of mine) walks with a cane.  One cousin of the bride has flown in from L.A. (with his girlfriend); other cousins, from Ohio, came a few days early to visit with family.  Friends and family from the tri-state area got an early start for a ceremony scheduled for 1 p.m. on the lawn of Mills Mansion, an historic site that overlooks the Hudson.  With weather as perfect as it is, who could even complain that the ceremony would end up taking place more than an hour late? Whatever it was that delayed the bride will turn out to be well worth waiting for when we see a white Rolls Royce pull up, delivering the princess of the day. My daughter, also in from the West Coast, sits next to me. What more can I ask?

Maybe this is what we mean by ‘stolen moments.’ In another time, an earlier one, this very same celebration of a marriage would have been just another link in the chain of family events, an assumption across generations. Yes, there would be a touch of acrimony (former husbands and wives bristling at being in the same room, siblings holding their rivalry in check)  thankfully overshadowed by the joy of it all.

Just a month ago a death in family brought at least some of these same cousins together. I felt a little more saddened by my reason for not attending the funeral than the fact of not being there.

What happens when the yoke of obligation gives way, the glue of ritual thinned to a paste more water than starch?

‘Bittersweet’ has long been a favorite word of mine. Today there is no bitter, only sweet. Yes, there is a sense of something not here, except in a ghostly way, reflected in the tears I see filling the eyes of a cousin who I can only imagine is thinking about her mother, the grandmother of the bride, long gone.  The very same cousin who, reflecting on the good time had by all — laughing, sharing photos from our iPhones, doing shots with our (now grown) children, dancing to Sister Sledge (not to mention the hora)  — becomes wistful: why can’t we do this more often? Her heart, always in the right place, would love nothing more. I grant her this much: yes, I feel the tug of nostalgia, but more, perhaps, as a room to visit from time to time than a house in which to dwell.