Letting My Daughter Go
When my daughter got married at 20, I worried she was too young. But I was the one who wasn’t ready.
I couldn’t let it go. I had wisdom on this matter. No matter how mature you may be, I told Emily, having a baby right away would jeopardize your studies and career: “You have no idea how all-consuming an infant is. Nobody does, until the day you bring one home.” I urged Emily, begged her, to postpone motherhood for a couple years at least.
She looked out the car window. “OK, Mom, I heard what you said, and I’ll take it into consideration. But, the decision, really, is between me and my husband.”
We drove home in silence, the word husband ringing in my ears.
The wedding unfolded without a glitch on a sunny, picture-perfect June day, with 200 friends, family members, and a fan club of girls. I danced the hora in a cloud of disbelief; the whole event seemed like an out-of-body experience.
The morning after, to my surprise, Emily’s friends had already posted chuppah photos on Facebook. I saw the Times wedding announcement. There was no denying it: I had a married daughter.
Michael and family members arrived later at our house for a brunch. When I saw my daughter in her new shiny sheitel, I just about lost it. Who was this young woman? I tried to be a gracious host, to act normal, until it was time for Emily and Michael to head to New York for their first sheva brachos and then move into their Brooklyn apartment. I fought back the tears, until their car pulled out of the driveway.
My sister hugged me. “It’ll be OK.”
But it wasn’t. The emotions I had put on hold arrived special delivery at 3:00 in the morning. I lay awake trying to get to the root of my anxiety. Did I really think she was too young for marriage? Was I worried that her dreams would be squelched? Did I think Michael was too frum?
Unable to fall back asleep, I got up and walked down the hallway to Emily’s room. I sat on her bed, the one her father had built for her, which I knew she’d probably never sleep in again. I looked at the plaques, awards, news clippings, fan letters, and bat mitzvah mementos decorating the walls. Emily’s beloved Jewish books filled one shelf, her childhood favorites on another. A pile of magazine samples sat on her desk. How long would I keep Emily’s room the same? Then I noticed a laundry basket filled with her clothes. Were those to be donated, folded, or was I supposed to wash them? I laughed. Some things never change.
As I sat in the stillness of her room, I realized that change was what I had been fighting all along. Change, the root of our fears. Until I learned to ride that wave, I’d be stuck on shore, pining for something out of reach.
That summer, during my wedding recovery phase, I met up with an old friend at Starbucks. When she asked me how I was doing, I told the truth: “I know I should be happy, and yet … I’m just not. I’m sad. Emily won’t be home at all this summer. I’ll miss our girl time, our family trips, the three kids staying up yakking half the night. Now when she visits, it will be with … him. They’ll probably stay in the guest room!”
My friend, a Jewish mom of three girls, squeezed my hand. “You’re right. Things are never going to be the same. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be good. Emily will still need you, just in different ways.”
I sipped my tea, blinking back tears.
And then my friend said something that took me by surprise. “You need to give yourself permission to grieve.”
“Grieve?” That sounded like an awful word to pair with a “wedding.”
“Yes. No matter how wonderful it is for her, you are experiencing a loss. Let yourself feel it. Mourn for it, and then you can move on.”
During the following months, my husband and I had more opportunities to get to know our son-in-law. We observed how he managed to inspire changes in Emily that we were never able to do, like eating lunch sitting down, not falling asleep with her laptop, and exercising. As she promised, Emily continued her studies at Yeshiva University while also growing her business and giving speaking engagements. Michael, with his youthful energy and head for business, joined her team by helping with technology and marketing. This surprising and welcome turn gave me some breathing room. My daughter now had someone else who would willingly listen to her business challenges, who would brainstorm with her, who would accompany her to conferences, someone who was totally devoted and not going to quit. My status as Emily’s number one fan now had a rival—except he wasn’t, he had become part of the family.
Now, as their first anniversary approaches, I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter when and how you do it, marriage is an act of faith—there is no formula or guarantee. I can think of couples I know, religious and secular, who followed different paths to the altar: marrying young, marrying old, long courtship, short engagement, living together, or remarrying—each ending in divorce. Surely, by midlife I have learned that no one path is right.
And yet, having heard so many stories of delayed adulthood, failure-to-launch kids, and aimless twenty-somethings, I know I should count my blessings. I have a responsible daughter with dreams and goals and a life plan. So, she launched herself earlier than the typical American teenager. Can’t I live with that? Emily found a wonderful guy; he just happened to show up a few years early. My job now is to work on embracing the changes her new life brings. To accept change is the beginning of letting go, which is something every parent must do—sooner or later.
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Firgun is the ungrudging pleasure one takes in another’s good fortune, and there’s no English word for it