Wedding Vows

Hearts and promises...

Hearts and promises…

Like most couples, at the instant we met we were child-free. However, unlike younger couples, we would not be child-free for several years while we cemented our relationship and planned for the future. Three hours, at most, would separate us from school pick-up time and the resumption of parenting duties. As our children unsuspectingly practiced for their Nativity Plays, we sat outside a cafe and talked. It was November, as I recall, and our words came out in puffs of smoke which mingled with the steam from the coffee on the table.

It was a small sliver of time in which to be our independent adult selves, to focus on each other, like any new couple. Yet on this occasion and the many that followed, our conversation focused often on the kids; we found a mutual pleasure in sharing stories about them. There was no ‘me’ without my daughter, no ‘him’ without his son, and no ‘us’ without the both of them. Right from the beginning, there were four of us. As the children meandered through their school day, they didn’t know it and neither did we, but we were beginning to dream a family into existence.

Five years later, we sat down to plan our wedding service. We wanted to acknowledge the importance of the children, without making the entire day about them. After all, they will actually leave home one day, and our union will outlast the family unit we are creating. I flicked around on the internet for ideas about involving children in weddings. In the US, there is a ‘family medallion’, a patented idea which seems to be fairly popular. It comprises three engraved circles which interlock to symbolise the couple and the child (ren), and is sold with wedding vows for children (also patented). We decided that these were too commercialised, and I wasn’t sure about the Venn diagram symbolism. The circles seemed more representative of a couple with a baby, than our shape-shifting family. Rather than three interlocked circles, we feel like planets orbiting one another – moving independently, sometimes out of sight of one another, but always returning to the same point, linked by forces we cannot see (like hunger, that undeniable force that brings them to the dinner table every day).

The children are fast heading for puberty and the creation of their own mini-universe, already beginning to struggle for independence, and so now doesn’t seem the right time to get them to promise commitment to an extra parent. I was even less convinced when I read this heart-rending comment on an internet discussion forum: from someone who had been overjoyed to get the family medallion as a child, only to be disillusioned when the marriage broke down:

‘It taught me that promises can be broken,’ she said ‘and I felt responsible for the marriage not working, as if I hadn’t kept my promises.’

This testimony reminded me that promises should not be bandied around like sweets; they are too heavy a burden for a child to carry. Yet, for my Intended and I, who have chosen to make promises on this day, it is important to show that we are committing to one another’s children as well as each other.

I carried on clicking through vows and comments, had a brief laugh at the idea of my daughter promising to obey my Intended, before finding these words:

‘I was not there when you took your first steps, but I promise you now that I will love and support you in every step you take in your life.’

This seemed to say just enough, but not too much. There is an acknowledgement that we are not the birth parent, and a simple promise – one that asks nothing in return. I felt that I could keep this promise, regardless of what happened between my Intended and me.

More clicking, and I found the necklace (above) and this beautiful thing from notonthehighstreet.

Dog tags and promises...

Dog tags and promises…

The pieces of jewellry on this page are made by Dizzy; we think that Best Man will like the dog-tags and Chief Bridesmaid the necklace, engraved with something short and sweet. Hopefully they will keep them and treasure them, these symbols of how far we have all come since that cold November day, back in the mists of time.

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The Juggernaut

As 2012 turned to 2013, the wedding was approaching like a juggernaut. I felt the ground shake underneath me at the approach of 60 stampeding guests, all expecting to see a bride in a dress, not to mention flowers and cake (none of which were yet arranged). This wedding, which I had wanted for so long, was beginning to feel like a force of doom, bearing down upon me as I fought the urge to run away.

Dress from shopweddingdress.co.uk, showing how I will probably (not) look on my wedding day...

Dress from shopweddingdress.co.uk, showing how I will probably (not) look on my wedding day…

It seems that it is normal at some point to feel as if you have totally lost control of your wedding. For me, this happened at the moment that I ceded victory to my old school friends over the guest list. Having initially decided that I found drunken guests much more offensive than children at a wedding, I made the decision to avoid inviting people I knew were likely to view the whole event as one huge piss-up. This decision survived a few weeks of anxiety and guilt, until a bad dream in which they were hurt and no longer speaking to me prompted me to invite them all. And their boyfriends.

The guest list having grown exponentially, along with the cost of the wedding, we went to view the small room into which these guests would be stampeding. At the wedding fair, we spoke to people on flower stalls and cake stalls, and the photographer we have miraculously managed to book. Everyone asked the same question

‘What date is the wedding?’ and then pulled the same expression of shock and horror.

‘How long does it take to bake a cake, seriously? Do you have to order a birthday cake a year in advance? Why would a wedding cake take a year to prepare for? Why do you all make such a fuss?’ I muttered (but silently, in my own head).

Put the word ‘wedding’ in front of anything (flowers, cake, dress, drinks, meal) and it seems to take on an extra seriousness and gravity, a slightly ominous and threatening quality – as if the ingredients are all somehow different and harder to get right.

We emerged from the wedding fair somewhat frazzled. We drove silently through the frosted country landscape, the trees becoming starker against the sky as night fell. My Intended pulled into a car park in front of a building that looked familar: – a B-and-B that we stayed in once, in the early days of our relationship. Memories rushed to greet me like old friends.

A few hours later, ensconced in front of a log fire with a glass of wine and a meal, happily discussing our past and our future and basking in a warm contented glow, I felt as if nothing could faze me. Until my Intended informed me that one of the guests is planning to bring some of their home-made moonshine to the wedding…

To the uninvited

We’ve known each other since we were 11 years old; you are like my sisters. The saying ‘Friends are like stars. You can’t always see them but you know they are there,’ was made for us. Although we can’t always see each other (and I think we’d all agree that that’s a good thing), we like to know that everyone is still there, sparkling away in their rightful place in the firmament.

Gone are the days when we drank cider in the park, giggling, rolling down hills, crying, hugging, pouring our hearts out, hamming it up just a little bit, as we sat in the park under the whispering trees, sharing secrets and cigarettes (‘My parents don’t love me any more’, ‘If you inhale with your head upside down it makes you go dizzy, go on try it’). Half way between childhood and adulthood, we were hungry to live, love and learn, and that is what we thought we were doing as we drunkenly lay in the fallen leaves, forming our sisterhood. We talked about our weddings then, do you remember that? We were going to walk down the aisle in Doc Martens, with each other as bridesmaids; we would wear red and give our children exotic names, and one day we’d sit around a coffee table drinking coffee, while they ran around together.

Those weddings in Doc Martens never happened, nor the multiple bridesmaids, but we did end up sitting around a table while all our kids ran around together – the oldest 16, the youngest 3 years old. It wasn’t a coffee table, though. And we weren’t drinking coffee. That metamorphosis into responsible sober adults still hasn’t happened – at least, not when we are together. We regress to those days when we never really had to get up in the morning, although we still have a curfew as the kids remind us once they start to get tired.

After years of falling out and making up, or just growing apart, losing each other, we are all back in touch and it feels like coming home to family. Like family, we hate each other get on each others nerves, 50% of the time, but we are part of each other’s universe. My twinkly friends, you are the landmarks by which I can set my compass, and it is a dark night when you are not shining.

Like stars, you are so polarised and so bright that getting you together in the same room is difficult. You sparkle from different corners, sometimes shooting sparks at one another, sometimes just sending them up into the sky like fireworks.

That’s why I can’t invite you all to my wedding. This is the occasion for a different kind of family reunion; a quiet celebration.

You’ll love the wedding party I’ve got planned for our return…

What’s in a Name?

I’ve noticed that a lot of my daughter’s friends have double-barreled names. This seems to be the solution for when you have two parents with a different surname; instead of arguing over whether the child should be called Forrester or Davenport, you just call them Forrester-Davenport. Which seems like a good solution (even though it sounds a tiny bit daft), until you consider what is going to happen when Olivia Forrester-Davenport has a child with Sam Smith-Williams: Lucy Smith-Williams-Forrester-Davenport? And when she marries George Parker-Jones-Fletcher-Carpenter?

Another solution might be a Brangelina-style amalgamation of both names. Forrenport? Or Daventor? I think it could catch on. Each generation would start afresh with a new name, throwing off the baggage associated with the previous one. Although tracing family trees would be a nightmare…

So, what is in a name? How important is it? The law recognises name and religion as two of the most basic aspects of a person. Given as a birthright by parents, these things can only be changed by someone other than a parent if a child is adopted. Upon reaching adulthood, traditionally a woman lost her right to her own name when she married, taking that of her husband. The loss of a woman’s maiden name was seen as a loss of identity, a symbol that she had ceased to belong to her father and now belonged to her husband, in line with the tradition of being given away at the altar.

Women and children’s names can be changed – men’s, rarely. Women’s identities are more fluid nowadays. Few women see themselves as ‘just’ someone’s wife. One friend got married and changed her name, but retained her maiden name at work – because Peterson was easier to pronounce than VanSchallwyck. Another friend kept her maiden name. In reply to shocked relatives who asked whether he thought his wife should change her name, her husband would say: ‘but I’ve got used to calling her Lisa.’

My daughter and I share a name (my maiden name), as do my Intended and his son. There is a neat symmetry to it. If I were to change my name, our family would cease to be symmetrical and my daughter would be the ‘odd one out’. She might have some explaining to do at school, whether her name also changed or remained the same. I wouldn’t like to put her through this. Yet there is a part of me that would like to share a name with my Intended. When this is a choice, it feels very different to something that has been enforced.

So, my choices are: double-barrel, change my name, get my Intended to change his name, or stick with seperate names. Or, maybe I could keep my name for work, school, the doctor – but change it where it’s really important: – like on Facebook?

What do you think? Do you prefer double-barreling, made-up names, flitting between two names or keeping to the one name? And which one would you choose?

The Filing Cabinet of Memories

We are moving house. We collect the keys for our new house, and are finally galvanised into action. It is time to clear out the filing cabinet. When we moved in together two years ago, we had to buy it to store the reams and reams of paper that we had brought with us – paper which tracked the courses of our lives. As we sort and shred receipts, letters and bills, we are looking at forgotten history; some of it shared, some of it from a separate past that we still carry with us. Like the kids’ old school reports, they show us how we got to where we are now.

My old bank statements tell a story. I am amazed to see a bank statement from 2008 showing that I was in credit with the bank, and that I spent £75 on my hair. Back in those halcyon days, when I had a proper job…

‘Wow, look, I paid for a meal at Picciolinos in 2010!’ I say, waving the evidence in the air.

‘I think we should keep that and frame it,’ says my Intended.

I remember every single outfit I bought, and why – from the baby clothes years ago, to the smart office wear for a new job, or the warm clothes for winter walks with my Intended – each one said something about my hopes, dreams and fears at the time. This is what advertisers sell us when they sell clothes: the chance to be someone new, to grow into another role or persona. Looking at my bank statements, I see that every purchase represented the start of something new.

We shred the old documents and tell each other stories from our past, deciding what to keep and what to leave behind as we prepare to move on, into the future.

The Trophy Cabinet of Memories

I am in a tree-top, shaking like one of the leaves which I think would take minutes to float down to the ground, way below me. To get my feet back to that solid place, I must first walk along a tight-rope, wobble my way across several rope swings, and swing down a zip wire. Only a harness attached to wires stands between me and certain death. I watch my daughter swing through the trees ahead of me, and the world swings dizzily in front of my eyes. I shut them, and reflect on the events which have led me to this terrible predicament.

We were discussing speeches, and whether we were going to have any. My 11-year-old future stepson is going to be Best Man

‘You don’t have to give a speech if you don’t want to,’ we tell him ‘It’s up to you.’

‘I don’t mind,’ he says.

‘What about me?’ says my 10-year-old daughter, who is Chief Bridesmaid, ‘do I have to give a speech?’

I start to bore on about how traditionally it is men who give speeches at weddings, while women remain passive and silent, and do we think this is right? But Chief Bridesmaid is not listening. She is already talking about the speech she is going to give. We tell the kids that the speeches are usually about memories people have of the bride and groom; sometimes people can try to embarrass the couple.

‘Can I tell everyone about the time you called Mum a mad bitch?’ says Chief Bridesmaid to my Intended.

‘No,’ he says. I say that the wedding speech is supposed to be about happy memories, maybe funny memories, not bringing up bad things that we have done in the past. ‘But can’t I talk about when you threw yoghurts? That was really funny.’
‘No,’ I say, wedding speeches are for those happy, rose-tinted memories that you get on holiday or at Christmas, or when you do something exciting together. They’re the trophy memories, all bright and shiny and ready for public display.
Chief Bridesmaid gets it. These are the instants that often get captured on camera – the ‘Kodak moments’.

‘I know. We’ll do a Powerpoint presentation of all our happiest memories.’ The kids quickly get carried away with this idea.

‘Can we have a photo of me surfing in Cornwall?’ asks Chief Bridesmaid.

‘Have we got a picture of the time Dad put the Christmas tree on the fire and it went whoosh, up to the ceiling and nearly set fire to the house? That was ace,’ says Best Man.

‘When we went ice skating!’

‘When we got a ride on the back of that jeep and I got to drive it!’

As the kids reach back into our trophy cabinet of memories, we realise that a) they enjoy it when we do things together and b) we haven’t done anything together for a long time. This is how I come to be fighting terror as I watch my Intended, Best Man and Chief Bridesmaid swinging one by one down the longest zip wire I have ever seen, their voices getting fainter as they zoom off, screaming, into the distance. I close my eyes, sit down and let myself go. My feet graze a treetop as I gather speed. I can hear the kids yelling something, maybe ‘the zip wire is broken and you’re going to die’? Their voices get closer and closer until I am suddenly ricocheting along soft bark, my clothes scooping it up and depositing it down my back as I slide.

‘Don’t worry, Mum, we got you on video for the Powerpoint.’

The next climbing zone turns out to be too much for Chief Bridesmaid. We are mounting higher into the treetops with every set of ladders, until we reach a wooden tunnel which is suspended on a wire. It sways alarmingly as she puts her hands across the gap to climb in.

Ooh it’s going to fall. You go in first Mum, I need to see if it can take your weight.’

I climb into the tunnel, clenching my teeth into a rictus grin.

‘It’s absolutely fine, it only wobbles a bit.’

Chief Bridesmaid takes one look at my face and yells ‘I want to go down!’

‘Oh. Well, If you really insist…’

We climb back down and walk shakily back to the starting point. As we go, we polish our story, making the memory shine until it’s the bravest and funniest thing we have ever done. On the way home, the car breaks down and Best Man admires the sunset as we wait for the AA.

This can go in the Trophy Cabinet of Memories, too.

The Child-less Wedding

(This picture is not very relevant. The little girl just makes me laugh.)

It has come to my attention that there is a growing trend for children to be excluded from weddings. Whether you call these events ‘child-free’ or ‘child-less’ probably reveals where you stand on this ‘issue’, which has provoked debate from Mumsnet to WordPress.

I first became aware of the trend when my sister got married last year and made it clear that children weren’t welcome – including my 9-year-old daughter. This sent shock waves through my family, and I must admit to feeling hurt and angry at the fact that she didn’t consider my daughter to be one of the ‘close friends and family’ she wanted at her wedding. The reasons she gave (‘I don’t want noise or crying during my wedding vows’) didn’t make sense either, given the age of my daughter. Now I’m planning a wedding, however, I see that this is a fairly standard response. Rather than invite some children and not others, it is easier to exclude all children, who are increasingly seen as a huge threat to the careful choreography of a wedding.

The reasons given are as follows: general noise and disruption, not remaining vertical (hiding under tables, falling into things, rolling on the floor), breaking things, boring other guests with their inability to carry on a rational conversation and complaining when they themselves get bored. On top of all this, there are Just Too Many of Them and they Cost Too Much to Feed.

My sister’s wedding was the intimate, relaxed day she wanted, which she ended with a midnight swim (still in her tiara). I was still hurt by the perceived slight to my daughter, though, and retaliated when she asked about my birthday party (to which she is usually invited):

‘There will be loads of children there. You probably won’t like it.’

I invited my friends and all their children to a buffet style affair at my house, expecting some decorous wine drinking downstairs and some noisy chaos from the kids’ bedrooms. However, this year all of my friends had arranged babysitters. With no children to remind the adults to be sensible, the wine drinking didn’t remain decorous for long, and the party lasted until 5am, about an hour longer than the last unsmashed wine glass. It’s not often that I am more sober than anyone else, but it seemed to happen on this occasion, and I realised that there are many reasons not to let people get drunk at your party.

These are pretty much as above: general noise and disruption, not remaining vertical (falling into things, rolling on the floor), breaking things, boring other guests with their inability to carry on a rational conversation and Not Knowing When it is Time to Go Home.

Which leads me to the conclusion that alcohol and children are both equally disruptive, and mutually exclusive, but in a choice between the two, alcohol generally wins. The child-free wedding seems to be part of a growing trend to separate children (and, by extension, mothers) from the rest of society. Commercial outlets provide places where children are ‘free’ to gorge themselves on sugar, then swing on ropes and scream to their hearts content (ie soft play centres) and other spaces where adults are ‘free’ to get as recklessly drunk as they like. These things feel like fun at the time, but result in irritability, headaches and empty wallets shortly afterwards. I have nothing against rope swinging, or getting drunk. Nobody can get more outrageously drunk than a mother who rarely gets to go out in adult company (I can speak with authority on this) – but wouldn’t it be nice if mothers and children spent less time confined to the house, and more time in the company of others, and wouldn’t this have a civilizing influence, on all sides?

For my wedding, I’m envisaging a European cafe-style scenario, kids playing hide-and-seek among the trees while the adults sip their drinks in a sophisticated manner, allowing me to enjoy everyone’s company, be they 9 or 90. Never mind that the wedding is in March, in Manchester, and I’ll probably make the mistake of drinking champagne for breakfast. I can dream…

The Dress

Fairly soon after we announced to our children and our parents (in that order) that we were getting married, we changed our status to ‘engaged’ on Facebook.  Of course, I am not dependent upon social media for my identity (honest), and didn’t NEED to change my status to be officially engaged – but bizarrely, it did feel more real to me once I had become ‘engaged’ on Facebook and enjoyed the predictable flood of congratulations from people I haven’t seen since school.

What was less predictable for me was the ensuing barrage of diet advertisements which now flash in the corners of my eye as I log on. I had become used to the ‘Adele lost 2 stone’ advert, but now I am distracted by the ‘White Dress Diet’, not to mention the ‘Wedding Diet’, alongside a competition to win personalised m and ms for wedding favours! Yes, Facebook certainly knows I am engaged and assumes this means I will be on a diet, as does the entire internet. Even a search for wedding trainers (see my shoe dilemma) came up with someone who would make me run around a field and do press-ups in order to be worthy of my Big Day.

Being beautiful seems to be a vital part of being a bride (as if anybody would marry a woman for any other reason!) and being thin appears to be a vital part of being beautiful. I was annoyed by this implication, especially the thin part, until I went to try on a wedding dress. The bridal diet obsession then became clear. It is not possible to look beautiful in a wedding dress unless you are a) very tall and statuesque or b) a stick insect. If you don’t believe me, find the thickest, widest and longest swathe of material you can (a pair of curtains would do) and drape it around yourself. Press it flat against your bosom and pin it at the back, preferably tightly enough to make some flesh bulge out around the sides. Now add some frills for added bulk. Now imagine this whole ensemble in WHITE.

The wedding dress is the opposite of the little black dress. It is, in fact, a big white dress. The BWD does not, like the LBD, make you feel as if you have lost a stone. It makes you instantly wish you could lose 2 stone. I now believe that the diet industry is paying the wedding dress industry to continue to make these unflattering dresses. The number 1 reason for dieting has got to be an impending wedding (just check any Weightwatchers magazine for proof of this one).

Apparently, we have Queen Victoria to thank for the white wedding dress, which became the norm after she wore one to marry Prince Albert in 1840. Before then, women just wore their best dress – in any colour.

It has now become such a strong tradition that few wedding dresses deviate from white, or off-white,  and it is hard to imagine ‘feeling like a bride’ in anything else.

Yet there is no escaping it, the BWD does not suit the thirty-something bride. I took my ten-year-old daughter, Chief Bridesmaid, to Debenhams as she had begged to be allowed to help me choose The Dress. She sat on a chair and enthused as I walked out in the first dress. She enthused about the second dress, and the third. An hour later, her enthusiasm was beginning to evaporate. I was back to the first dress which she and the sales assistant agreed was the best.

‘I look like an enormous white square,’ I said sadly as I regarded the vast expanse of lace, tied at the waist with a piece of thin ribbon, making me almost as wide as I was tall.

‘Well I think you should get that one because actually you just look RIDICULOUS in all the others!’ snapped Chief Bridesmaid, patience finally gone. I had to laugh – and seriously consider the possibility of getting married in my best jeans.

How hard can it be?

So, I’m a thirty-something bride (39, to be precise) and I’m getting married next March!

Planning a first wedding at the age of 39 really gives new meaning to the term ‘life begins at 40′. I spent most of my 20s feeling cynical about marriage, and my early 30s struggling as a single parent and feeling cynical about men in general. I never imagined that I would begin my 40s as a starry-eyed bride. Yet here I am, enthusiastically launching into this optimistic enterprise, planning to end a promising career as an alcoholic and begin a new career as a wife (although the two aren’t mutually exclusive, of course).
I love the idea of promising to spend the rest of my life with partner (who shall henceforth be known as My Intended), and becoming officially a family with our two children. I thought I loved the idea of a wedding, but then I started to read wedding magazines and – worse – watch wedding programmes (like Don’t Tell the Bride).
In the past, whenever I imagined the occasion, I would see myself floating down the aisle in a white dress, looking adoringly into the eyes of my almost-husband who would be fighting back tears at my stunning beauty. I never gave a moment’s thought to whether I would need to hire chair covers with matching bows for the meal afterwards, nor what the flower arrangements would look like, or even what my ‘theme’ was going to be. Yet these details appear to be of vital importance in current wedding lore. Much as I enjoy looking at pretty pictures in magazines, and picking out colour schemes in my head, I cannot imagine that I would lose sleep over them. When I think of weddings I have been to, my main memories are of the bride’s dress, the food and the price of the drinks, and on that basis I am assuming that my guests will likewise be unable to remember what the table decorations were like after the event (particularly if I get the bar prices right).
Another scenario which never entered into my wedding day plans, was having both our respective children in the Bridal Suite with us. As chief bridesmaid and best man, they are an integral part of the celebrations, we love them dearly and wish to celebrate our union as a family – but we have shared a room with them before. My Intended almost stormed out to sleep in the car after a couple of hours of hysterical amusement over who just farted, arguments about whether we needed a nightlight, and complaints about the hardness of the pillows. To avoid a repeat of this on our wedding night (making it possibly the shortest marriage ever) we need Mary Poppins, or apartment style accommodation. How hard can it be to find one or the other?
I’ll be answering this question with hopefully a fuss-free, happy wedding day which doesn’t bankrupt us both and leaves us all with a warm glow rather than a simmering rage…