Saturday, June 19, 2010

Of course, all of this wedding planning puts me in mind of my first wedding to Christina’s dad back in 1985. I had moved to Illinois in 1982, leaving most of my family in California, so I was pretty much on my own when it came to planning our wedding. I purchased the Bride’s magazines and pored over the pages of dresses and veils, I studied the flower and cake designs and reception suggestions and thought that I could manage all of the arrangements on my own while still working full time. This turned out to be hugely stressful, of course, and as I look back on some of my choices for that wedding, I can see that an overload of panicky adrenaline and severe lack of sleep made for some unfortunate decisions.

The bridesmaids dresses, for instance. Since so many of my attendants lived in other states, I thought it would be helpful to order the dresses from an easily-accessible-to-all place: the J.C. Penney catalog. That’s right. No one did Pepto Pink gowns with short ruffled sleeves quite like Penney’s of the 1980s!

Everyone was gracious about my style selection and held their tongues as I mused that perhaps these dresses could be worn some other place after the wedding. Like where? A fabulous cruise? An inaugural ball? A summer luncheon?

Christina has wisely chosen to have her bridesmaids wear simple black cocktail dresses that will most definitely be worn again. Evolution in its finest hour….when our kids do not make the same horrific choices we made in our own na├»ve youth!

In choosing my own wedding dress, I thought I would be fantastically clever and frugal by eschewing the traditional (and costly) bridal dress shops and trying to find a gently-used gown at a resale shop. Which I did. It cost $75 and did not fit at all, but I reasoned that I would lose weight and reconstruct the sleeves and hem and…voila! A “custom” wedding gown!

More fuel for the stress fire which was beginning to rage out of control by this point. I dieted diligently and exercised like a maniac for months, trying on my dress once a week to see if it finally fit. It seemed like it never would, but all of a sudden, more weight fell off than I anticipated and I got it zipped up! Hooray….except for the fact that my breasts had all but disappeared, leaving the bodice loose and sadly unflattering.

On to the homemade alterations (still certain that I could do as good a job as any professional seamstress). Got the new sleeves attached without too much drama, but the hem proved to be my undoing. As I struggled to measure the length on my own and then sew the hem while dragging the bodice of the dress on the floor, I could clearly see that I was, in fact, in over my head with this thing.

Finally, a friend/bridesmaid arrived from California to help in the proverbial eleventh hour and thank God for that. I was days away from walking down the aisle in a severely impaired and home-botched thrift store wedding dress. As I mentioned, I was making less than stellar decisions at this point in my life.

The other wrench in the works was the money worries since we were bankrolling this entire event on our own. As a wedding gift, my mother had offered to help us by paying for the flowers and photography, which at the time of her offer (our engagement party), I found to be highly uncharacteristic considering her markedly neurotic attitudes and behaviors around money up to that point. But I accepted her offer with gratitude, anyway and smiled to myself as I thought, “She must have turned over a new leaf!”

When it came time to make the deposits for the flowers and the photographer, I called my mother and began the conversation by chatting about the Illinois weather, the wedding plans and how nicely everything was coming together, and by the way, we need to send deposits to these people to secure the date. At which point my mother burst into tears, sobbing that all anybody wanted from her was her money, and didn’t they know that she had FEELINGS??
 Stunned silence on my end of the line as I realized the entire charade of making a generous offer to help defray wedding expenses was a clever ruse, probably crafted and executed to make herself look magnanimously benevolent in front of the rest of the family.

This sordid phone call lasted another 15 or 20 minutes as my mother wept and lamented that she was paying for something she couldn’t even CHOOSE since I had the bad grace to move 2,000 miles away, and how did I think that made her feel….Blah. Blah. Blah.

She did send two checks to cover the deposits for the florist and the photographer with no note in the envelope. Just the checks, written in dark, heavy ink, and what I assumed was a tear stain near her signature on the second check….just for dramatic effect.

In those wedding photos, I can see the stress and tension in my face as I posed with my mother that day, and since this little series of events was etched so deeply into my psyche, I decided then and there that I was going to be the most easy-to-get-along-with mother of the bride EVER.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Christina and I were able to preview the proofs of the wedding invitations last weekend, and aside from an error on the R.S.V.P. return envelope address, all is in order. There is something so momentous and final about seeing the invitations in print….especially when there are names that you recognize and dates where you will be expected to make good on what you are offering your guests!

I perused my 1955 Wedding Etiquette book to see what the protocol was regarding these invitations and learned the following pieces of information:

“Both families consult and the Groom’s family contributes to the invitation and announcement lists. It should be done meticulously and precisely so that no one will feel slighted. Old address books, alumni directories, Christmas card lists, club lists and telephone directories will all help you to compile your list. For formal weddings, servants of long standing are to be included in the guest list.”

There then follows 10 pages of examples of how to address invitations properly. The book stresses repeatedly the overwhelming necessity for propriety and precision where these invitations are concerned. My eyes glazed over at the sheer volume of rigid rules:
Invitation protocol for military people. For divorced people.  For widowed people.  For people whose elderly parents live with them.  For people whose demonic and/or destructive children you wish to exclude. If I should address something inappropriately to someone, they can take it up with me via written complaint after the wedding!


Helen left a partial list tucked into the book, written on the back of a receipt from the dry cleaners. There are about twenty names with stars next to them, but then “The Bynum Family” is circled and an unhappy face doodled next to the name. The poor Bynums. Were they a clan of boorish, backwater clods who might dress inappropriately and eat more than their fair share of cake? Were they penny-pinching tightwads who would show up for the dinner with only a rubber spatula set as a wedding gift? Or perhaps one of the Bynums was a raging alcoholic who would consume far too much champagne and cause an embarrassing ruckus at the reception.


I like to think that when it came down to it, the Bynum’s invitation got “lost in the mail” and Helen breathed a sigh of relief as her daughter’s reception played out beautifully and without awkward guests who needed to be forcefully ejected from the celebration.

Monday, June 7, 2010

While haunting garage sales a few years ago, I came across a 1955 edition of The Bride’s Book of Etiquette and purchased it on the spot, thinking that there would be some kitschy, old-fashioned hilarity regarding the rules and regulations of putting on a mid-century wedding. Turns out that most of the old guidelines still apply, although today’s bride has the luxury of more freedom of choice where attire, bridesmaid’s duties, what to register for and location are concerned.


In the front of this book is written in cursive, “Mrs. Helen Langford, mother of the bride”. As I leafed through the musty pages, several hand-written “to-do” lists fluttered out, presumably not seen since the 1950s. Helen had studied this book and made lists of that which was of most importance on her daughter’s wedding day. I smiled to think of Helen arriving at the wedding rehearsal, book in hand, ready to direct bridesmaid traffic, answer questions about who gets the front pews and which side the corsages are pinned on (all of which are underlined in the book).

Regarding the processional, Helen underlined in blue pen, highlighted in yellow crayon, dog-eared the page and put a paperclip at the top to denote this sentence:
“It is always correct to have the mother of the bride escorted to her pew a minute before the ceremony begins.”
In the margin she wrote, “Ask Tad to not wear that cologne.”
That cologne. I can only imagine what Tad was splashing on in those days, but whatever it was, Helen was going to make absolutely certain that he was not going to wear it THAT day.

The next chapter that was marked, underlined and paper clipped contained the following statements:
“The Bride’s mother is the official hostess for her daughter’s wedding, the diplomat without portfolio for her family. She is the hub around which all wedding festivities revolve.
Once the type of wedding is determined, the Bride’s mother should conform to the conventions of dress indicated, but, more than this, she will aim to look her very best. Her poise and her grace set the mood for the whole wedding.”

Gulp. Really?

Suddenly I am expected to be a diplomatic hub in pantyhose, officially hostessing the entire event! I suppose I had an inkling of this somewhere in the back of my mind, but here it is in published print. This tid-bit of information obviously struck a chord with Helen as well because in the margin she wrote in a heavy hand, “Call Louise!!!”

Since five decades have passed, I cannot call Louise, so I will have to be satisfied with searching the Internet for ways to look my very best.
My dream of wearing pajama pants, men’s wool socks and a caftan to my daughter’s wedding is dying a slow and laborious death.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

It is 125 days until Christina’s wedding, and for whatever reason, it seems like a good time to begin taking notes on the process.

A long time ago, I worked at a lovely old Inn on the Fox River in Geneva, Illinois which was a prime spot for wedding receptions. I was able to experience first-hand the inner workings of what went into event planning and how to handle a vast array of personality types. My many duties included diffusing head-count emergencies, wedding cake debacles, power struggles over tablecloth colors and, of course, the ever-present loose cannon known as the mother of the bride.


At the time, I made copious mental notes about aberrant behavior, unreasonable demands, crying jags in the lobby and drunken outbursts and decided then and there that when it was my turn to be the mother of the bride, I would engage in none of that embarrassing nonsense.

Famous last words, and as my own mother was so fond of ominously intoning in a variety of situations, "we'll see."

So it was a paid learning experience which left indelible images in my mind. For this, I am grateful.

The wedding is approaching rather quickly now. October 9th will be here before I know what happened and I’m sure that I will look back upon these carefree days with a rueful eye, wishing I’d been more diligent about preparing….something.  Anything.

We have already put the deposits down on the cake, the reception site and the invitations.  The photographers and flowers are blessedly in place. There was no drama associated with any of these things. The event that seems to be looming on the horizon like an ominous dark cloud is the day we go shopping for wedding dresses. Christina will be the first to admit that she has an emotional history with trying on clothes. There have been melt-downs, depressions and tearful vows to never eat again as long as she lives. All of this I can certainly relate to, but my tendency is to internalize my frustration and angst while Christina has always been more ready and willing to vocalize her displeasure with herself.

So we have had some discussion about this and have decided on the following wedding dress shopping rules (more to follow as the day gets closer, I’m sure):

1. Blood sugar management. We will both have had a power lunch prior to shopping with no alcohol consumption. I will have an emergency kit at the ready with some kind of chocolate and nut concoction, Rescue Remedy and cold water for dowsing the flames of frustration should they arise.

2. Reasonable expectations. We will understand that this is a process in which several (many?) dresses will need to be tried on, examined and commented upon. There is no time limit that day.

3. Budget constraints. There will be no frocks entering the dressing room that are above our agreed-upon price point. We will not fall for the old up-selling techniques or false flattery and “suggestions” employed by wily, commission-minded sales women.

Once we have jumped this hurdle and purchased her gown and veil, I know that both of us will breathe easier….until it’s MY turn to find the mother of the bride dress. I know some things for sure already: It will not be a “glitter sack” (made popular by female cast members of the television series Dynasty in the 1980s and subsequent drag queens). It will not have lace anywhere on it, nor will I want to wear gloves or a hat. It will not have a plunging neckline nor will it require me to wear stiletto heels.

Both Christina and I are “in training” for these dress purchases. We are exercising more and bypassing second helpings of anything other than water.

At the forefront of my mind is the knowledge that I will have to look at myself in the wedding photographs for the rest of my life, and I would rather do so without cringing, making disgusted sounds in the back of my throat and turning the album pages quickly to avoid my image.