Friday, September 21, 2012

Some Families Are More Extended than Others

A warning: You may need a scorecard to keep up with the following discussion.

We spent last weekend at a cousin’s wedding—the older child of Audrey’s cousin Randy. In the south, he would be called our second cousin once removed. The ceremony was fairly old fashioned, except that it was held on a beach and featured something I had never seen before, “the pouring of sand.” Near the end of the ceremony (and just before the officiator announced that the groom “may now kiss the bride”), the bride poured a small container of white sand into a larger bottle while the groom poured a container of gray sand into the same larger bottle. The symbolism was right before our eyes, a blending of two families to form one.

The sand has been poured. . .

and the bride and groom prepare to kiss

But these were no ordinary families. This was what we used to call “new math” or at least the new reality of family life. The bride was the child of a single mother, as was the groom (whose divorced father was present but only tangential to what went on this day). The bride was also a single mother whose three-year-old son was a center of attention throughout the weekend, both because he was so adorable and because he proved that this new couple was also automatically a complete new family. Now that may seem like enough addition for one afternoon, but there was more. Our cousin, the groom’s mother, is an adopted child, the daughter of my mother-in-law’s closest cousins, Frances and Lou, two warm and wonderful people. (Sadly, Lou died a few years ago, but he certainly would have enjoyed this day.) And several years ago, Randy connected with her birth parents, who were unmarried teenagers at the time she was born but subsequently married and had several additional children. And all of those second family members were at the wedding, too. All of which meant that the little boy, who before Saturday had one mother and one grandmother to call his own suddenly had a new father, grandmother, and two great-grandmothers, plus assorted new aunts and uncles. There was more, but you are probably getting a little dizzy trying to follow the mathematics.

But here goes anyway. When the DJ got the music rolling, the couple danced their first dance together, one on one. The second dance featured another one on one—the bride and her son. The third featured the bride, groom, and the child. The fourth featured the groom with his mother. Then we all joined in.

I hope that nothing I am relating here comes across as critical. I thought all of the connecting and reconnecting that occurred during the weekend was remarkable. Weddings are always a little wacky from my point of view. You bring together two disparate families, who often have little in common other than the fact that both may feature weird relatives, and you ask everyone to get along well at least for one day. This does not always happen. I can remember when my friend Dick Rothschild arrived at my college roommate’s wedding and was asked if he wanted to sit on the bride's or groom’s side. He replied that he wasn’t sure: the groom was his friend, he explained, but he was rooting more for the bride. It is important that families bury their rooting interest, especially when the cameras are flashing or the chocolate fountain is available as a potential weapon.

This was our third wedding of the summer, all very different affairs. One in New York, one in Boston, and one at the Jersey Shore (all prime locales for reality shows). And the family dynamics and interactions were also different each time. We have two more family weddings to attend over the next year, and I suspect each will feature a certain amount of bickering as well as joy and offer me some prime blogging material.

At this point, neither of our children is planning a wedding or in a relationship that may lead to a wedding in the near future. I am not unhappy with the situation, though I wish them both partners someday who will enhance their lives. I have a ladder on hand for a money-saving elopement by either child and a calculator in case I need to handle any new math situations.

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