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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Write like no-one’s reading?

Dance like no-one’s watching, sing like no-one’s listening, love as if you’ve never been hurt…and write like no-one’s reading?

I love to write. It’s always been the way I organise my thoughts, and often my preferred method of  communication.  As a child, I would write eloquent letters to my parents (usually about why they should let me have a cat but sometimes about why they should not make me clean my room), push them under the door then go and hide in my bedroom. At work, I would email people in the next- door office rather than walk over to speak to them. And at home, I have been known to text my Intended from the next room. Our arguments are often conducted via email.

I feel I am much more persuasive on paper than in person. Writing sometimes feels like a way of revealing my true self; a way to shed inhibitions and self-consciousness and speak from the heart (for times when I have no access to that truth potion, alcohol).

However, a total lack of self consciousness is rarely a good thing, as a brief look at the diaries of my teenage years (or even last week) will prove, or as anyone listening to my kids singing in the shower could vouch. The operative word in the above motto is ‘like’: dance like nobody is watching, but don’t go off into a room and dance by yourself. You may be pretending you are alone, but the knowledge that other people are around you should prevent you from dancing like the legendary drunk uncle at a wedding.

By the same token, thinking out loud on the internet avoids the worst excesses of self-indulgence found in an unseen journal…thoughts are honed and sharpened, you try harder to communicate your ideas, and sometimes you are rewarded with a comment…like a dancer who falls into step with you for a few beats, someone has read your thoughts and been moved to share their own thoughts in turn. You nod, smile, admire each other’s moves, and continue the dance.

Dancing, singing, loving: like writing, all of these things are more enjoyable with a companion or two…

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?