Wednesday, October 5, 2022

A Facetime Wedding

My daughter got married in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. Registration for the couple, but now legally wed. Her husband kept saying it was really just a lot of paperwork - the bureaucracy getting its stamp on everything but still...

She found a dress to wear, he wore a jacket and buttoned-down shirt. There were three witnesses and his folks were there. After stamps and photocopies and making sure all the information was correct, they were brought to a little room with a lattice and flower backdrop while a woman read to them the solemnization of marriage - in Bahasa Malayu, the official languages of the country. They had to stand, raise their right hands and swear. They were given a lovely red folder with their registration of marriage certificate. Kisses were exchanges, pictures taken and a celebratory air filled the room.

I watched all of this on Facetime and Zoom. We had four days notice of this event. The paperwork went through relatively fast and my American daughter and her Malaysian husband took the first available appointment to get their marriage registration. 

I cried when she told me. 

I've always said to my kids that however you get married (if that is your choice) - courthouse, church, beach - I want to be there. And... I found out that it doesn't really matter what I want when it comes to how my children have to make choices in their lives. Of course they love and respect me - but they have many different currents to navigate for their own happiness. Ultimately, my faraway child knows that I want her to be happy - and this ceremony in the ministry office was what she needed for peace of mind and happiness.  Even so, I felt - bereft - to be watching such an important moment in my daughter's life from the camera on a cellphone.

And... Thank god for technology. 

I wrote before about change and adapting to new circumstances - well, here I am again. I am so grateful that I could watch and chat with her during her registration process while stricken with the reality of not being able to be present to one of her most important life moments. My husband sat at my side, holding my hand and taking the phone when I had to get more tissue. Our other two children were sharing in the call as well, a running commentary that had their anxious sister in Malaysia laughing and crying too. I've struggled with letting go of the expectations that I would always be able to make my way to her in time for these kinds of events. That I would be there when she needed me. Is it my own family history? My history with my daughter? Or just a plain old sadness. Because isn't that also just part of life?

So I sit back and think about these circumstances and I wonder how different this really is than what so many other people feel as their adult children move out into the world as adults? Growing older seems to necessitate finding the capacity within ourselves to accept our changing roles within the lives of those we love.

I am heading faster than I like towards 60. My husband and I talk about retirement while also taking care of elder parents. And no matter how much I enjoy my post child-rearing years, motherhood is still a huge part of my life. Parenting is over, but my identity as a mother hasn't really shifted in my own head. Until now. 

How do I stop feeling left behind?

Sadness and disappointment are perfectly acceptable emotions. Recognizing the wondrous ability of my children to make their ways into this crazy world - as distinct, fascinating beings in their own right - means that life is going to provide me ample opportunities to readjust my own expectations about what it means to be a mother. 

Juxtaposed with that sadness was a dazzling, beautiful moment of love and commitment for my daughter and her new husband. Letting go of what we think we want can open us up to being present to what really, at the end of the day, matters. Our faraway child found a person that helped her remember just how precious she truly is.

It always seems easier to focus on the loss or scarcity; the fears found within all the "what ifs".  It wouldn't be that hard to carry this maternal sadness as a very present burden. Anxiety and I are old friends. And - the harder path, the re-framing of my mother self with gratitude, love, and a sense of new adventures feels so much better. It makes me feel - younger. And free to also ask what new adventures I want to discover for myself.

The deeper truth is this: I am the only one who can leave myself "behind".

Having my daughter living in south Asia is the definition of a new adventure. One of many.

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