In August of this year, my younger son is getting married. For this momentous event, the entire family will travel to Israel, a destination known by many as “The Holy Land.” This appellation is appropriate for every one of us, even though we come from different backgrounds and religions, because the union between my son and his fiancée is welcomed and blessed by us all–a holy event in every sense of the word.
Motherhood itself is a holy pledge of dedication, and one I undertook with determination and joy, as well as with eagerness. Little by little, and with help from my husband, I created the nest in which our two boys would grow and be nourished, just as the female bird in the photo below builds a home for her chicks with strong sticks and mud.
Being a mother fulfilled all my expectations. As I opened my heart to it, I found myself immersed in love of the most innocent nature. My younger child was perhaps the one most enjoyed during those early years, as I felt more relaxed and confident the second time around, both in my own eyes and the eyes of others, which I confess did matter to me.
During my boys’ childhoods, I banished from my mind the thought of any loss, except for the inevitable worry over extreme events, like kidnapping, illness or, even worse, death. I did not then see that there are many varieties of loss, some of which come from the often simple but occasionally complicated changes that occur as our children move into new worlds of their own and we accompany them on those journeys.
Today, on the cusp of the first marriage in our family, I find myself standing on the brink of yet another sort of loss–and another sort of joy, as well. In an unanticipated fashion, I suddenly sense that my son and I now face the possibility of a new relationship.
Perhaps the marriage of a son is different from the marriage of a daughter. As we embark together on this phase of his life, I remember the old adage that friends passed along when I gave birth to two boys and no girls: “A son is a son ’til he gets a wife, but a daughter is a daughter all her life.” I used to think this expression both untrue and simplistic (and maybe even sexist). Today, I question my own conclusion back then: is it possible that the old saw is wise, after all?
I know that I now have the chance to help my son move forward into the comfort and fulfillment that marriage can provide, and also, perhaps, into the challenge of fatherhood. His life is about to shift, onto an entirely new emotional plane. This shift is perhaps the most powerful he will ever experience, as he makes that final flight out into the world, just as a chick at last leaves the nest.
I have a role in all this, too–one silent and often overlooked: to release him from childhood ties into his life with another woman. I am not being replaced, exactly, but I am passing onto her the power of being the strongest female influence in his life.
Now she will hear of his triumphs and defeats first. She is the one who will nourish and balance him, as he becomes most fully the man I always knew he would be. With her help, he will also discover his own voice as an adult, as he moves through the coming decades and their many changes.
The dynamic between us is about to alter radically: once we were a two, and now we are a three, with me bringing up the rear. He has been my treasure for thirty years, and now I transfer care of that treasure from my hands to those of another. After years of helping to support, inspire and encourage, I must let my son go his own way with his wife by his side.
If he and I work hard enough at it, this transformation can create new ties between us, and perhaps defy the old adage: as a married man, he brings me a daughter-in-law who is quickly becoming the daughter for whom I have always wished; with luck, he will reward me with grandchildren and a fresh family role entirely.
I begin the pilgrimage every mother must make in one way or another, and come from a place of intention that is pure. Giving up control is difficult, but I have already been doing that little by little–from the moment he staggered through his first steps as a toddler, to the days he strode up onto the dais to receive his college and post-graduate degrees. I smiled and clapped with delight then; I smile and clap with a different delight now, but it is delight nevertheless.
His marriage is only eight weeks in the offing and I forge ahead into territory I have not yet charted. With wonder and determination, I now build upon the love I have felt since the moment he was put into my arms as a newborn–a love that encompasses every year past and every year to come. This is my true wedding gift to them both.