| Family Tempo |

The Popcorn Machine

I worried, I inadvertently lectured, and I davened. Marriage seemed so big and so scary and so permanent

During high school my eldest daughter decided she loved popcorn. We had an old Presto air popcorn popper that we’d received as a wedding present. I’d  used it for a few years and then stored it away, but now it received a new lease on life.

Shira became our family’s official gourmet popcorn maker. Pre-Shabbos snacks, siyumim, vorts, and late night DMCs were all properly provided for by our trusty Presto machine.

The year she was in seminary, we felt our popcorn loss keenly, but our popcorn chef was returned to us much too soon as COVID sent her home prematurely in March.  The Presto was back and seemed to be playing an even greater role in our lives. We could hear the noise of the air popper at all times of the night or day. Bad moods called for popcorn; so did celebrations. She grieved the loss of her full seminary experience and then moved on to college, and the next big frontier, dating. Time and milestones seemed to be moving quickly.

I wasn’t ready for the emotional toll her dating took on me. I’d been warned, but the cognitive knowledge wasn’t enough to prepare me for the maelstrom of emotions. We spent many nights staying up late talking about her hopes and dreams for the person she wanted to marry. I worried, I inadvertently lectured, and I davened. Marriage seemed so big and so scary and so permanent. My daughter was so wise and so little at the same time.

She dated. Some dates were good and some less so. She cried, I cried, I tried to be strong, and of course we ate popcorn.

And then… she started dating THE guy. She liked him, she liked him some more. Obviously, I’d made calls and agreed to the shidduch, but suddenly I panicked. My thoughts took me to a tough place. I didn’t really mean it, I didn’t really think this was going to happen, wait!

There was a moment when the shidduch almost ended, but very quickly things swung in the other direction and the  couple said they were ready to get engaged. I wanted to object — I’m old, I don’t move that quickly! My overly cautious brain kept asking, But did you ask about this? Are you sure about that? Have you thought this through?

But this wasn’t my life, it was my daughter’s. The Presto was on at three a.m. some nights. This 20-year-old-plus machine that had survived years of heavy usage and was faithfully supporting us through this was older than the soon-to-be kallah.

Then she got engaged. I was in disbelief, while chiding myself that it was time to get with the program. This is what we daven for, what so many people are yearning for, hello self, time to grow up. I oscillated between excitement, panic, and party planner mode.

I was determined to seize the moments. I planned outings with my two daughters, I tried to stay up late as many nights as I could to talk with Shira. I gasped as she tried on wedding gowns. I was so proud of my little girl. She seemed so happy and so sure and so ready to move on to the next stage. Clearly she was more of a grown-up than I was.

There was no question what I was going to get her for a shower gift. I looked up air poppers on Amazon and was delighted to see that Presto was still making them. I bought her the same machine we had, just newer and sleeker. When she opened it at the shower, I gave her a brachah that this machine should accompany her all the way to her own child’s wedding.

The week before the wedding felt frozen in time. This big change was on the horizon, but here we were still making dinner, taking the kids to school, and loading the dishwashers. Change was in the air though. We started ticking down the lasts. The last Shabbos together as a family (yes, we were that melodramatic). The last Sunday night dinner at Bubby and Zeidy’s. The last weeknight dinner. The last family game. The last Slurpee run. And then… the last DMC and popcorn.

I felt like I was watching myself from above. I just wanted to stop time and go on ten more family vacations. I wanted to hug her and hold her always and be able to sit across our dining room table eating popcorn with her forever.

She wasn’t just getting married. She was moving away and starting a whole new life. I closed my eyes and breathed in her smile and giggle. I breathed in her youth and optimism. I told myself it was okay to be sad and also super excited for her at the same time. I didn’t have to let go of what a big deal this truly was.

The night before the wedding I wrote her a long emotional letter. I knew I couldn’t give it to her for a while, it wouldn’t be fair, but I wanted to capture how much I would miss her. How crazy it is to have someone go from being your baby, your little girl, to your big girl, to your helper, and to suddenly realize she had become your friend, too. And just when you started to bask in this oldest daughter as a new fun companion, it’s time for her to leave….

The wedding was everything we could have wanted. Everyone told me to allow myself to feel and not get too distracted by the technicalities. But that morning I looked inside myself and realized the depth of my emotions was not a pool I could choose to swim in if I wanted to be a functional human being that day.

Yes, it was emotional to sit beside my daughter as her chassan covered her face and the fathers bentshed her. Yes, I choked up when my husband and I walked her down to the chuppah, very much feeling like children ourselves. Yes, I looked around and felt such a deep sense of love from all of the people who came to celebrate with us that day. But I waited to deal with my deeply conflicting emotions later, when I sat popping popcorn in the middle of the night, crying off all of the eye makeup still plastered on my face.

Sheva brachos flew by and we spent a few days helping our young couple get set up in their new apartment. Before I knew what was happening, it was time to leave her there. I hugged her tight, my stomach dropped, and we both tried hard not to cry. It was a losing battle. This wasn’t just camp or a year of seminary; this was really it.

The night I arrived back home I felt exhausted, like I was moving in slow motion. As my younger ones went to bed, the house was an eerie quiet. This was the time that had been reserved mostly for my talks with Shira for the last few years. The silence was loud, and I knew what I needed to do.

Down from the shelf came the popcorn machine. I plugged it in and the popcorn started popping, drowning out my crying. This is a good thing, stop this, I kept telling myself over and over again. All new beginnings are hard, be grateful that this is for such a good reason. My phone rang and I ignored it, certain it was a friend wanting to rehash sheva brachos.

Then I saw it was Shira calling.

I picked up. She was crying. “Mommy,” she said through her tears, “what are you doing now?”

Just hearing her voice intensified my own tears. “I’m making popcorn,” I said, starting to laugh, “since my popcorn chef seems to have resigned from her position.”

“Me, too!” She laughed also. “Maybe we can eat our popcorn together for a few minutes?”

I smiled. “Of course we can, sweetheart.”

I took comfort in knowing that just a few small states away, a new home was beginning its own story with its own popcorn machine.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 800)

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