‘Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs. Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters,” Jane Austen writes in “Pride and Prejudice.” If not quite with the gleeful triumph of a Mrs. Bennet, still with a sense of personal accomplishment, I married off both my children last summer.
I like that my children are married. True to my own Austenian worldview, when my kids were infants, before I had any sense of how these babies would evolve and grow, I wondered and worried about who they would marry. I looked forward to the “happily ever after” even before I’d read through the story. And certainly it’s not just secular culture that inculcated that expectation: When our children were born, we were greeted with the community blessing of “L’Torah, ul’Chuppah ul’Maasim Tovim” (Torah, Wedding, and Good Deeds). Clearly a wedding was somewhere in the offing. And now, here they are, knots tied, strings neatly bound, and the reality is as good as it gets.
Not that my husband or I had anything to do with the who or when of our children’s choices. We just stayed out of their way — easy enough, since we were told very little about the burgeoning relationships while they were in progress. Which is as it should be, especially in relationships. As parents, we already have too much power over our children. My own parents were able to influence my feelings with a word or a glance till the day they died. Unfortunately, I have the same unwilling impact on my own children, despite their disavowal and my complete unsuitability for that authoritative role. I could never have chosen the appropriate spouse for either of my children. It’s easy to understand why, according to the Midrash, since after finishing Creation, God finds full-time work making matches.
Happily, my children managed for themselves, and that’s how we came to two weddings in two months. Planning serial weddings can be challenging, but frankly by the second, I’d become a wedding pro, and regretted only that there wasn’t a third child who could use the benefit of my newfound expertise. That was actually the case for Teaneck, N.J., physician Gila Leiter, three of whose four daughters (including one set of twins) got married within a short space of time. To further complicate matters, two of the weddings were in Israel, and one in New Jersey — I can only imagine the logistics involved.
And it’s not like I did the cooking or the sewing. Not so for Maureen Ash, whose son and daughter got married seven weeks apart. A nurse who lives in Teaneck, she not only planned the two weddings but sewed the seven dresses required for the events, three for her son’s wedding, and four for her daughter’s, including the bridal gown. And just to throw an extra spanner into the works, Ash also created the chuppah, using her deceased husband’s tallit and bow ties. She puts the rest of us serial wedding planners to shame.
From the short hindsight of a year, it seems as if each of my children has chosen well, and the happily-ever-after seems to be in effect. Our new in-law children are delightful and the two couples appear to be happy and well suited. Still, I recognize the hubris in those words. While in wedding-planning mode, I visited an endless stream of photographers. Based on the innumerable albums I saw, all brides and grooms are happy on their wedding day. But the divorce rate is at least 50 percent and I have two children. You do the math. You pray for the best.
A year later, the weddings are pretty much gone and forgotten. (OK, I confess to a secret pleasure of watching a video of the first dance, my daughter and son-in-law endlessly spinning round the room, Princess Aurora to his Prince Charming, and me the plump fairy waving my magic wand, trying to impose my own colors.) In the end, it’s all mazal, and so far, we’ve been lucky. We love our new in-law children, they’re wonderful and our children have become more wonderful because of them. We even really like our machatonim: Each of us is conscientious about praising the other’s child; other than that, the relationships require little care — holiday greetings or an occasional shared meal seems to suffice. I’m guessing that eventually (c’mon, it’s only been a year) grandchildren may create their own shared joys and jealousies but ultimately we all have the same goal: the happiness and well being of these two new couples.
An old adage suggests that “eyn m’arvin simcha b’simcha”— don’t mix one happy occasion with another. Part of me wishes we could have spaced out these celebrations so we could have reveled in each one to its fullest and kept the afterglow for a longer period of time. And it might have been nice for each of our children to have enjoyed an unmixed limelight. But, in fact, the weddings were both a benediction and a solace. My husband and I had both lost our parents within the few years before the weddings took place, and those four missing presences hovered like beneficent spirits throughout the proceedings, each holding up a corner of the chuppah for the children to begin their new lives. Our new in-law children have become our new family, and it’s been a gift watching the two couples grow together in their respective marriages. The siblings are redefining their relationship to each other, as well, as they begin their lives afresh and their new spouses change the equations. It turns out that, as with love, there’s no limit to the joy you feel in celebrating your children’s happiness, so mix and match to your heart’s content. ✦
Gloria Kestenbaum is a corporate communications consultant and freelance writer.