Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Under the Chuppah

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Mother of the Bride, I wear this dress like my role; no one sees underneath. Anarchist in beige and ivory, purple eyeliner without my glasses. No one recognizes the anarchy. Our guests are busy following the swish of my pleats.

I present myself to my future son-in-law's family, strangers who came into my life only yesterday. I need not tell them anything about my struggle for my inner life. If I allow any emotion, my daughter will be furious. It's just ceremony.

Whether we invited her twenty guests or my fifty won't matter: me with a married kid. She wears an off-white gown of a friend. She wears it because she had no patience to look for the street dress she wanted.

"I've orals the instant we return from Yosemite. I can't worry about dresses," she snapped, and I understood the necessity of her tone. I wanted my daughter to be as conventional as I was when I married, and tonight, now that she is, just for this moment, I wish she weren't.

Sweet blue-eyed child in her loaded diaper has no time to kiss me. Irate schoolgirl whom I made walk home in the rain while all the "nice" moms car-pooled. I had to be off to writing classes myself. Just look at her. No more dragging her to the pool, to ballet, to the orthodontist.

Under the chuppah, my face crackles from the strain. The video: my son-in-law's sister's camcorder will catch the twitch in my lower lip. Nose quivering on this full note of ancient Hebrew: when love and marriage are so elevated that God and Israel merge into one. The purity of melody will die in a minute, the minute this ceremony ends.

The impossibility of making icons, the impossibility of making ceremony endure. Attaching too much importance to public functions, to a single moment.

My daughter doesn't think I know that.

I lean into my husband. He's patting his beneficent forehead with a faded handkerchief. How long we've managed to stay together. He's been silent throughout these last weeks. He's patting his handkerchief on my dripping nose. How steady his arm, how unquestioning his look. He's the mom.

Already the sound of crunching glass of the light bulb, the remembrance of sorrow and joy. The groom is stunned, the bride relieved. It's over; it's just beginning -- the need to merge and separate, the need to be one yet two, the endless scramble.


Elaine Starkman began writing seriously with the birth of her fourth child in 1970. Much of her early work is related to writing and raising a family. Her later work includes a memoir about her elderly mother-in-law coming to live in California, titled Learning to Sit in the Silence: A Journal of Caretaking. She has co-edited the international collection Here I Am: Contemporary Jewish Stories from Around the World, which won a 1999 Oakland, CA/PEN Award. Some of her additional works appear in Famlly: Views from the Interior, (Graywolf), East Bay Guardian, Hanging Loose, Mothering, and others. She currently teaches memoir writing in Northern California and has just published her 5th chapbook of poems, MOVING: Poems 1992?2002, available by contacting her at estarkma@dvc.edu.


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