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…

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…