My son is getting married and, even though he is 6’4? and thirty years old, I still see him as my little boy. Despite his size and his new-found love, he will nevertheless always be my child, and one with whom I have an intense and unique connection. This somewhat confusing situation is probably true for every mother on the planet.
The wedding of a child brings up a host of emotions for everyone. Not only is my son bringing into our family our first daughter-in-law, but a new family is merging with ours. And this means taking a little time to get to know one another, discover our various roles, and settle in. Even when you very much like your son’s prospective “in-laws,” you wonder how all this will work out for your side of the equation. And so must they.
This weekend, an engagement party in San Francisco will celebrate the upcoming nuptials. Among many others, my son’s prospective mother-in-law, father-in-law, sister-in-law and her husband will all attend, even though they live close to a seven hour plane ride away. Because I would like to participate directly in the festivities as a host, I am throwing a small dinner party before the larger “main event,” as a way of welcoming her family into ours. My ex-husband and his wife will also join us, having spent holidays at our home in the past, as those of you who read my Thanksgiving newsletter may remember.
Small quandaries presented themselves as I dealt with the details of this dinner, including the fact that our dining room table was too small to seat all twelve of us. My husband generously offered to build an extension so that we could all sit, with familial intimacy, at the same table where no one had to straddle a leg, or to eat from their lap buffet-style. As a truly “handy” sort of guy, he relished the project, despite the fact that we could have got a new glass dining table and 6 chairs to accommodate everyone.
The dogs watched in bewilderment as he sawed, hammered and the wood chips flew. Meanwhile, I worked hard to create a menu that would take into account twelve people’s different likes, dislikes and dietary needs. I am crossing my fingers that everyone will be happy with the meal, and enjoy my heartfelt and loving efforts.
But my biggest dilemma arose out of a religious issue. I had brought up both my boys in the Jewish faith, to which I had converted at the time of my first marriage, and all those accompanying rituals had enriched their early lives. Side by side with celebrating Passover and Rosh Hashanah, came my pleasure in the weekly cooking and observing of the traditional Friday night Sabbath dinner.
However, having moved beyond the immediate sphere of that former family–as I have now married a man who is not Jewish, and as my children have gone on to their own adult lives–I have unintentionally allowed these ties with my past and my religion to drop.
My son’s fiancé comes from a very conservative Jewish background. Faith defines her family’s lives in many ways. Our first dinner together falls on a Friday, and I find myself wishing to honor their traditions as well as hearkening back, for my son, to the rituals of his childhood, which included Hebrew school and the challenge of fulfilling the demanding requirements in order to become bar mitzvah.
At first, I worried: would my efforts be seen as fraudulent, considering that I no longer light the Sabbath candles or make the requisite egg twist challah bread each week. After much thought, I decided that when a son marries it is natural to look back to his childhood, which a mother naturally shapes and shares, and to want to remember it again as he moves forward into a future in which he will create his own rituals with his wife and, hopefully, my grandchildren.
And I then recalled the lyrics to Peter Allen’s well-known song, “All That Jazz:”
Everything old is new again.
Don’t throw the past away.
We’re all gonna need it some rainy day.
Dreams can once again come true.
When everything old is new again.
Humming this tune in my head, I realized that my son’s new life will undoubtedly be enriched by many Shabbat dinners, either in his own home or in the home of his in-laws, and I want everyone, but especially him, to know how happy we are about this. Chanting the blessing as I light the candles, and once again baking the challah, are gifts I will offer to them all on Friday night.
And so I reminisce about what was and celebrate what will be–that which philosophers and psychologists call the cycle of life–captured in a small, but important, event. I hope it will provide an abundance of riches for everyone gathered together, as we sit down at our newly constructed family table.