When Your Baby Gets Married

My daughter Rachel’s wedding was nothing like the weddings my friends and I had back in the daze. It was a four-day celebration on a farm in Kansas and other sites in Missouri, and it was the most meaningful and ecstatic ceremony I’ve witnessed. What made it powerful for everyone attending was the sense that these two young people are truly soul mates.

I’d been thrilled when they announced their engagement, but four days before the wedding, I woke up with tears running from my eyes. Rachel is 26, a certified music therapist, and her husband, Jay, 29, is an MD doing his residency in pediatrics. They share a passion for healing, for laughter, adventure and each other. Both speak Spanish and want to do service in Latin America. They balance each other in almost every way, so why was I in tears?

I cried at the hair salon, cried at the cleaners. I was a jumble of emotions: time passing, my baby grown, my own life closer to the end than the beginning, my own marriage and how it didn’t work and yet produced two beautiful beings, my son, Andrew, and Rachel. Fortunately, by the time I got on the plane for Kansas City, I was cried out, because what I experienced in the following days was as close as humans come to unmitigated joy.

My son, Andrew, flew in from China where he lives

When I was married in 1968, no one I knew was having a big traditional wedding with a bridal gown and hundreds of guests. We thought it was a waste of money and inappropriate when so many people in our country were going hungry. It was another convention to toss aside.

What startles me – why am I surprised? –is that our children want what we rejected. They want the gown and all the trimmings, a wedding that goes on for days, often at a “destination.”

Rachel and Jay wanted an intimate ceremony on his family’s farm, a serene and fertile landscape that’s been in Jay’s family for generations, and then a larger reception at a hotel in Kansas City that’s a two-hour drive away. This required the planning and precision of a major troop movement. Since Kansas ain’t my home, the bulk of the planning was done by Rachel and her future in-laws.

I was assigned a few tasks related to Jewishness. Jay was not raised in any religious tradition, but Rachel wanted a Jewish ceremony and Jay said he was fine with that. My assignment was to arrange for the building of a chuppa, or bridal canopy, in rural Kansas. After many fruitless queries, I finally showed a picture of a chuppah to the hardware store owner in the one-street town of Seneca, the closest “town” to the farm. “Oh,” he said, “I saw that in Meet the Fockers. I kin do that.” Relief.

Then we searched for a rabbi who was willing to fly to Kansas City and drive four hours to marry a Jew and a non-Jew, just 3 days before Rosh ha Shana, the Jewish New Year.

Rachel emailed and interviewed many before she found a perfect fit: Rabbi Chava Bahle, who brought the spirit and passion of Jewish Renewal to Baileyville, Kansas.

Rachel wanted to spend the night before her wedding alone with her eight bridesmaids in a simple, lovely cabin built by the Rilingers on their land. The next morning, I was invited to join them. I found two hair stylists imported from Kansas City running an assembly line, styling hair for all the bridesmaids plus me and lastly, Rachel. The theme was curls: one maid had corkscrew curls framing her face; others had their hair swept up with braids, curls and twists. The only bridesmaid who had naturally curly hair wanted hers straightened, of course, as did I.

I found Rachel sitting in a tank top and pajama pants, having her makeup and then hair done. She’d originally wanted her long chestnut hair half up and half down, but at the last minute, she asked the stylist to sweep it to one side in a cascade of loose curls. “Bridesmaids!” she called. “Come give me your opinion.” They let out a chorus of aahhhs and Rachel said, “I love my hair! I’m so glad I changed it.” The stylist pinned three yellow flowers, fresh picked, into the curls.

“Can I put my dress on now?” Rachel asked. It took three bridesmaids to help her into the dress and lace up the corset back. Rabbi Chava came in for the signing of the Ketubah, the marriage contract, and asked us all to join hands in a circle with Rachel. “This is sacred—the beginning of the ritual,” she said. We passed love from hand to hand around the circle, then Chava read the Ketubah aloud and asked Rachel, “Are you ready to sign?” Rachel answered, almost in a whisper, “I am soooooo ready.”

Chava left to take the Ketubah to the groom to sign, then the processional began. We stood up when Rachel and her father walked down the grassy aisle, not to Lohengrin but to Andean flute music Rachel had selected.

The two high points of the wedding for me were the declaring of vows and the couple’s first dance. Rachel and Jay had written their vows separately, so when they said the words to each other under the chuppah, they were hearing them for the first time. Locking eyes, they listened as if no other sound existed. Jay adopted a light touch, telling her why he loves her and adding that for him, love is “feeling comfortable and safe with someone but still getting weak knees when they walk into a room and smile at you.” At the end of her vows, Rachel said, “You’re all I want, everything I need, and the best friend and partner I could ever dream of. I love you. Te amo, mi amor.”

After placing rings on each other’s fingers, Chava asked each to turn to their friends and family and recite words from the Song of Songs. Jay said them quietly and warmly. When it was Rachel’s turn, she took his hand in both of hers and pumped it in the air, like a prize fighter’s, exclaiming with animated body language: “THIS is my BELOVED! And THIS is my BEST FRIEND!”

At the wedding dinner, it’s traditional for the bride and groom to be the first couple on the dance floor, but Rachel and Jay hatched a different plan. First Rachel danced with her father, Jay danced with his mother, then the couple danced to a medley of three songs: salsa, Motown, and Stevie Wonder singing, “You Can Feel it All Over!”

It was thrilling. Thrilling! It struck me at that moment that Jay resembles Fred Astaire—tall, slender, moving with a grace that seems effortless, romantic, masterful. Rachel dances with her own verve and charm—spicy and elegant. The beat is contagious, everybody starts clapping and as I clap, a strange thing happens. I feel like I’m dancing right with her. I watch her body twirl and sway and I’m twirling and swaying, the rhythm’s taking over and I almost lift off my chair.

I’ve always wanted to dance, from the time I was three; I took continual lessons in ballet, tap, modern and jazz, read books about ballerinas and pinned photos of Nureyev and Fonteyn on my bedroom walls. Now my daughter was marrying Fred Astaire!

At the end of the dance, Jay dipped Rachel and kissed her. The audience swooned. Then she stood, raised her arms and motioned for everyone to join them, and everyone did. Young and old, Jews and goys, people of different faiths and cultures. After all the sitting and eating and driving back and forth across Kansas, it felt so good to move!

Around midnight, I went to my room and collapsed, while the newlyweds and friends went out clubbing and dancing till 3. We gathered for brunch the next morning, still cruising on joy. As Stevie Wonder sang, You could feel it all over.

PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT: If you were at this wedding, please tell us, What were the high points for you? If you weren’t, what are your favorite wedding memories?

 

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71 thoughts on “When Your Baby Gets Married

  1. Prisca

    I was not at the wedding, but enjoyed every bit of it through your note on this page, How I wish I was there. Thank God everything went on smoothly to the Glory of God. I am wishing them the very best. Thanks. From Prisca Eric (Nigeria)

    Reply
  2. Pat

    Thank you for sharing – what a beautiful and thoughtful ceremony.Someday I hope my partner and I of 27 years will be allowed by the government to marry as well.

    Reply
  3. Bruce Nygren

    Sarah, I don't know why, but I also started to cry as I was reading your account. Maybe just because real Love always shoots its arrow straight into the hearts of those who know it.

    Reply
  4. Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D.

    Your photos and post about Rachel and Jay's wedding brought back wonderful memories of my daughter and son's weddings, six weeks apart, 11 years ago.

    Now I'm bubbe to 5 unbelievable grandsons – so get ready for one of the only life experiences that isn't overrated!

    Phyllis Goldberg

    Reply
  5. Jo-Lynne

    I have been reading your blog for years, but this was particularly touching. We used to live across the street from the Rilingers and I fondly remember Jay at 12 years old mowing our lawn. We wish them the best! Jo-Lynne& Joanie

    Reply
  6. Anonymous

    Mazel tov, Sara. You've a beautiful family. And what a beautiful wedding. I remember your long black hair. It was beautiful (too).
    Love, Linda Pupos Newton

    Reply
  7. Tess The Bold Life

    I'm so glad you shared these photos. I love weddings. I'll never forget how I felt when my daughter got marred. When I saw her in the gown it was like seeing her for the first time.

    I like that you acknowleged how in spite of your divorce your beautiful children came through your marriage.

    We never know how long a marriage will last. I've taught my girls to not see failure if they choose to end their relationship. They've just decided to quit growing together.

    Love it all. Congratulations to all. I'd read anything you'd write and love it.

    Reply
  8. Peter Lake, LAKE Real Estate

    All I can think is how deeply emotional this must have been for you.

    I recall when you were carrying Rachael how hard you worked — both physically and professionally.
    On your back in bed for months, but still writing, with an early IBM word processor that used 8″ floppy disks. And you were not in your early years, either.

    And it's as if a second had passed between now and then.

    Of the weddings I've been to I only remember one — my own.
    A second away, also.

    Congratulations.

    Reply
  9. kelly@kellymahanjaramillo.com

    I love reading your blog, and I never comment, because for some reason they always wind up lost in cyberspace! Arg!

    I hope this gets in – there is so much I want to say, as this post touched me in so many ways – I really was laughing and crying and reading it aloud to my husband, who himself started telling memories of the weddings that were nothing but a chore, and the ones that had him in tears.

    Yep – seeing the road narrow after a certain age, yet being invited to jump in the car at the beginning of the road for someone else had me in tears all of the time – every emotion under the sun.

    Thank you Sara, for summing it up so beautifully, and the best of love and joy for your children.

    Reply
  10. Brent Green

    I, too, have attended two formal weddings required by the children of Boomers. All the trimmings and details, as you describe. (Even a bridal shower with MEN attending!)I shared a photo of the bride two weeks ago on FB. Ironic isn't it?

    Reply
  11. Lucinda

    Message: Sooooo happy for you and the newlyweds. Rachel is beautiful, looks exactly like you. Isn't it wonderful to have such a delicious infusion of joy? Infusion, transfusion…

    Love the way you communicate; I read you even when I don't have time.

    Keep up the blogging, please.

    Reply
  12. Hindy

    I love reading whatever you send. Thanks so much! And Mazal Tov to you and your family on the marriage of your daughter.

    All the best and Shanah Tovah!

    Reply
  13. Debbie

    Hi Sara–
    I met you when you spoke in New Canaan, CT, after “Leap” came out. I wanted to give you the link to a write-up about my clothing line that was posted on the website for the Surf Expo. It mentions “Leap” being part of the inspiration!

    I still don't know how it will turn out but will never regret doing it, so thank you for your role in my endeavors. And I love the blog!

    Reply
  14. Roz

    Hi Sara, it was nice having you share your simcha. I can remember when my boys got married. Craig my oldest got married in the Bahamas, on a beautiful beach with only a few family members and the townspeople. Very simple. I spent $200.00 for the justice of the peace and I had 4 days notice of the wedding. Craig has had a house where he got married for 12 years now. He is now in the processed of getting divorced after 14 years of marriage and two girls, 12 & 14. My youngest had a wedding at the Biltmore Hotel with all the trimmings and expense. He is divorced after 8 years of marriage and now has a 21 month old boy with a girlfriend. Wait till your grandcbildren come, then you will cry with joy and smile like you never had before. Wishing you a happy and very healthly New Year.

    Reply
  15. Mindy

    Mazael Tov!! Your story warms my heart. I am a mother of a 15 year old and we are Jewish. I have been wondering away from Judaism and more to a worldly spiritual practice and belief. I am wanting to go to a seminar on Yom Kippur instead of synagogue and do not know if I will be sorry to not go to Shul for my daughters continuing experience. She doesn't really care right now, but I know this is all very formative. Am I being selfish and will I be punished in the future for not honoring Yom Kippur. Searching, searching…

    Reply
  16. Michele

    Ms. Davidson,

    I was not present at Jay and Rachel's wedding, however, Jay's mother, Palle, has been my employer for twenty years now, and kindly shared your blog with me.

    I fondly remember meeting this rather shy, sad-eyed young fourth grader, sitting all alone at a table at a staff function eons ago at the Plaza 600. That restaurant is no longer there, but those fond memories prevail for me. I remember being taken with Jay's very sad eyes, and how very mature and content he seemed, playing with his toy cars.

    I am naturally shy, and was feeling totally out-of-place at this staff evening function, and carefully positioned myself near the table where this little boy was sitting. I asked his permission to join him, and he looked up, saying “Yes.”

    We played with his cars, laughed, and just seemed content together. Throughout the years, I have followed his development as a young man, academically and professionally. When PR ( my nickname for Palle) shared with me that he was marrying Rachel, my heart soared with joy and excitement! PR has, on different occasions, spoken so joyously of your daughter, and the joy she felt that her son and your daughter might marry.

    I absolutely loved your blog, and I could not stymie my tears of joy, especially envisioning Rachel's words of commitment to Jay. As a divorcee in midlife, those most beautiful, most poignant words filled my heart; maybe, even with hope of finding love again in my life.

    I so wish the best for these two young people, in their quest for eternal love and happiness, but also their continued compassion for others. You captured well the beauty of Jay and Rachel's union in your blog, and I feel most honored having read the account of the wedding!

    Warmly,
    Michele

    Reply
  17. Mimi

    Congratulations dear Sara,
    So thrilled for you!! I'm off tomorrow to Vermont where my youngest son is going to marry his love! Hope it's as meaningful as your experience as I am already feeling the emotions you described.

    Reply
  18. Barb

    Sara, What a beautiful wedding, I enjoyed what you wrote about it. Why did you cry? Because you are the mama and that’s what we do when our babies get married. I’m crying now just thinking of it! I loved the pictures, she’s lovely. I can only hope for my daughter to find her soul mate and be as happy as yours. Mazel tov to you and the new marrieds. Thank you

    Reply
  19. Eve

    Mazal tov, mazal tov.
    I had no idea this was in the wings waiting to happen three days before Rosh haShanah.
    And Chavah Bayleh was a wonderful choice.
    May they be blessed in ways we can't even think of now.

    Wishing you a sweet and good new year,

    Reply
  20. Anonymous

    Such a beautiful, tender mother's tribute! Makes me wish my daughter would have the experience so I could have the joy and thrill too.

    Reply
  21. Alex

    Just wanted to thank you for your wonderful post. As a 66-year-old who lost his domestic partner to cancer some years back, with no remaining family and no religious affiliation, I didn’t think I'd want to read about the wedding of two young soul-mates, but I'm glad I did. In the old days, I always hated the dreadfully contrived, conventionally churchy ceremonies when peers tied the knot. The event you described in living color brought alive the possibilities of celebrating an honest and joyful commitment. Thanks, and congratulations to you all!

    Reply
  22. Caroline

    What a wonderful post, Sara! The next best thing to being at the wedding, and thank you for sharing the beautiful photos. We had three weddings in our family this summer, and each couple personalized their celebration, just as Rachel and Jay did. Best wishes and blessings to the newlyweds!

    Reply
  23. Sidereal Man

    A lovely re-telling, indeed. You've obviously been a good mother. One of my favorite mental pictures is trying to arrange the chuppa's construction in Smallville, KS. 😉

    At my first wedding my guitarist's axe gave up the ghost in front of friends and family in Palos Verdes Estates, and I was forced to sing a cappella.

    At the second one (different bride), we eschewed all the pomp and circumstance and eloped at Coyote Point in the Bay Area. From a minister I found in the phone book.

    Reply
  24. Ellyse

    Rachel looks so much like you, and the wedding looks like the perfect blend between the down-to-earthiness of the ceremony and the elegance of the reception.
    Congratulations!

    Reply
  25. L S Myers

    Sara,

    The dance floor picture looks magical. Hope the area I call home was not to rough on you. Being mom and letting go of a baby girl is not easy, I did it a year ago with my youngest daughter.

    Reply
  26. Mel Schneider

    Your words have helped me relive the feeligs that I also had. What more can a parent ask for when judging whether they have done a good job as a parent.

    Reply
  27. Grounds Ohana

    It was a FANTASTIC wedding. We are so grateful to welcome Jay into this family as he fits right in. It was an amazing moment after Rachel's hair, make-up and dress were finally all on and complete. She turned into the beautiful butterfly we all knew she would be. Little Rachel has grown up to be an amazing woman. We look forward to hearing about their future and adventures together.

    Lovely recap of the wedding. I now appreciate a mother's point of view.

    -Niece Summer

    Reply
  28. Robin Katz

    Congratulations all.

    “SIR DUKE” IS THE TITLE OF THE STEVIE WONDER SONG that contains the line 'you can feel it all over.'

    It's his tribute to Duke Ellington.

    Now you know what title to search for if you want to bring back musical memories of this big day

    Reply
  29. Bevkai

    As I read, my eyes grew damp, and I sniffled a bit. My kids grew up with their dad — and somehow I never got to any of their weddings. And there have been many; we are that kind of family.

    My grandson Kyle is the first of the next generation to marry, and his bride makes us a Modern Family. She is Chilean, also going to U of Florida. The photos show a gorgeous couple.

    I am not asking my daughter, Kyle's mom, why she and her husband did not attend. The photos show that they missed a great party with a great new family.But “dysfunctional” truly is the Word for a family like ours. What can't be changed is avoided.

    Now I am trying to think of a way to inform Kyle and his new bride of the genetic sinkholes which lie in their future; invisible but destructive. Thank God for recent research which makes recognition and treatment of hereditary disorders available and effective, especially in children.

    I don't want to be the Dark Witch of the Celebration Party, as a grim fairy tale would have it.

    It would be so nice to have one close family which is stable, reliable, loving, direct, and rational.

    Meantime, I feel the love, and enjoy the happiness of a new family just starting out. What great joy, Sara! Our kids know more than we did — and that adds to the blessings.

    Love and Aloha,
    Bev in Honolulu

    Reply
  30. Ginger Strauss

    This is a great post, Sara, and so accurate. I agree with you that the exchange of vows was a rare look into Rachel and Jay's love for each other. Also, the bridal dance spoke volumes…fun, loving, sexy…everything we want for for them as they begin life together. I have been married for 22 years, and i can look at weddings either as a time of hope or cynically, knowing how difficult marriage can be. For Jay and Rachel, I choose hope, sensing that the deep respect they hold for each other, along with the support of their family and friends, will carry them very, very far together.

    Reply
  31. Denise

    Hi Sara:

    As you may remember, I am a tremendous Rachel fan….. having the great fortune of getting to know her after she stayed with us one July 4th weekend at our home in New Jersey when Rachel and my son Justin were undergrads together. Last September I was in California for a conference. My husband came along since it was in Huntington Beach (and we LOVE the beach – especially in CA). Rachel drove way out of her way to spend time with us. She spoke lovingly of Jay and shared her hopes and dreams for the future with us. We fell in love with Rachel all over again. She is so special. When Rachel invited us to the wedding, and we realized we couldn't make it, I knew that I would get a better flavor for the event from your blog (which I was waiting for) than from my son Justin, who attended. Thanks for bringing me closer to the event in the way only your writing could. You should be “shepping nachus” as you have an extraordinary daughter…. and it appears she has found a mate that matches her well.

    Happy New Year…. Be well!

    Reply
  32. Ren & Cedar

    Mazel tov, Sara. What a great blog! This Jewish boy of 70 cried too as he contemplated marrying his own non-Jewish beloved of 65, Cedar. We'll all be a year older next May, but let's plan to dance–and sing–at our wedding too. Love from CT, Ren (& Cedar)

    Reply
  33. Ren & Cedar

    Mazel tov, Sara. What a great blog! This Jewish boy of 70 cried too as he contemplated marrying his own non-Jewish beloved of 65, Cedar. We'll all be a year older next May, but let's plan to dance–and sing–at our wedding too. Love from CT, Ren (& Cedar)

    Reply
  34. Ren & Cedar

    Mazel tov, Sara. What a great blog! This Jewish boy of 70 cried too as he contemplated marrying his own non-Jewish beloved of 65, Cedar. We'll all be a year older next May, but let's plan to dance–and sing–at our wedding too. Love from CT, Ren (& Cedar)

    Reply
  35. Sara Davidson

    Oh, my, such wonderful comments. Thank you! It helps me relive the joy all over again. A few comments to my extended family:

    Andy, of course I'll write about your wedding. Can't wait! And I hope to write about my visit to you in China next spring.

    Summer – Welcome to mothers' world. You're an amazing mother, and there's a Jewish blessing: May we dance at your daughter's wedding. I'm determined to stick around on earth for that.

    Ginger, my sister in law, thanks for your perceptive words and for choosing hope.

    Love to all.

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  36. Marlene

    Sara, what a wonderful detailed story of a blissful partnership and loving family… thanks so much for sharing your story…
    Love and Light, Marlene

    Reply
  37. Susan

    I loved this article.
    I got all the emotions,
    felt like I was standing there
    celebrating with you.
    Mazal Tov on all fronts —
    the lovely wedding and a great post!

    Reply
  38. annie

    I cried through the whole reading, I'm crying as I write this.

    This is an incredibly beautiful and touching piece of prose. Thank you, Sara for taking the time to share it.

    Annie DeLong

    Reply
  39. Trisha

    'm so happy for you and loved the pictures and the story of the wedding. It sounds so beautiful. Congratulations to all. What love.!

    Reply
  40. Spencer Turner

    Everyone should have a Mom who can capture the moment of their wedding like this. I read it with a lump in my throat.

    Reply
  41. Hilary in Los Osos

    Sara — what a beautiful article! I still remember you YEARS ago on “The Merv Griffin Show,” pregnant! :)
    But, a few things were missing for me: Did your ex-husband, Rachel's dad, attend the wedding? Why or why not? And if he did, how did the two of you get along on such a happy occasion? Also, you made it seem like Rachel's dad is “Michael,” your first husband; you didn't write about your marriage to Rachel's dad.
    Hope I hear back… thank you again… LOVE your blog… :) Hilary in Los Osos, CA

    Reply
  42. Judith

    so beautiful. You brought me right there!

    it is such a milestone – to witness our children cross this threshold. wait til there are grandbabes….sitting on a bench a year ago,watching our kids play with their son, my husband and I felt like we were seeing re-runs of our own life. And we were happy to be sitting and not chasing the ball.

    Reply