Some couples will hatch elaborate plans for springing their pregnancy on the world. Last November, I got talked into having Thanksgiving dinner with Ursina’s family in Maryland. Considering it was my wife’s brother’s wife’s father’s sister’s home 700 miles away, and I knew almost none of the 30 people at the table, I found myself wondering why I’d been invited. (It turns out, they’re just nice people.) Then, just before dinner began, Ben and Ursina made a heartfelt toast, and concluded by requesting that their two sets of parents-who were sitting at the head and foot of the table-look under their seats. When they did, each of them received a shock: an ultrasound photo with the words, “Hi Grandma and/or Grandpa” on it. That was how Ben and Ursina came out of the prenatal closet, and everyone loved it. I have to admit it was pretty clever.
We were thinking about that with regards to tonight’s dinner. In addition to my folks, we decided to have Isaac [Sarah’s dad], Kenn [my brother], and Julie [Kenn’s girlfriend] over for Sabbath dinner to tell them the news. The menu was shish kebabs; sautéed veggies; two challahs; a blue cheese salad; a batch of Ghirardelli brownies.
When I was growing up, there was a part of our Shabbat meals when my dad stood up, put his hands over his sons, and blessed them. It went, more or less, like this:
“May the God of our mothers and fathers bless you. May he who brought you forth from this earth led you to be an honor to our family. May he who has protected us from evil made you a blessing to Israel and to all humanity. Amen.”
Sarah and I have adopted that custom, only now we bless each other. Tonight at dinner, when it came time for the blessings, my dad got up to bless Kenn and me. Then Sarah and I got up and blessed each other. Then I put my hands on Sarah’s belly, and began: “May the God of our mothers and fathers bless you. May he who brought you forth–”
–And the rest was drowned out by Julie’s screams.
It took my parents awhile to figure out what was going on. They assumed we were kidding around, but when they saw the looks on our faces-and the funny little dance Julie was doing-they knew it was for real. My dad’s hug was long and intense and when he pulled away, his face was wet. My mom alternated between yelps and sobs. Once the tears dried, everyone was looking at us differently: a minute earlier, we were just Jeff and Sarah, but now, we were important. It was a moment pure joy.
Then I noticed that one person was missing from the lovefest. My father-in-law, Isaac, was sitting in his seat soberly, and every one of us knew why. All he could think about was his dead wife, and just how much she would have loved to see this. It was heartbreaking and it was a reminder that every moment of joy in our family will always have a bittersweet edge to it. When the groom stomps a glass at a Jewish wedding, it’s to remind you of that very point.