Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Mum of the Bride

Mum of the Bride.
By Sue Leonard.
A version of this article was published in the Irish Examiner, on August 8th 2011.

On the eve of my youngest daughter’s wedding, the heaven’s opened. As the day progressed, it became dark and dank. We wondered could this, the wettest day of the year really be June? We prayed that the weather would clear.

And at four pm, as we drove to the church for the rehearsal, the rain lifted. Getting out of the car, the notes of Mozart’s Laudate Dominum drifted from the church. The groom’s sister was practising for the service, and moved to tears by her astonishing rendition, I relaxed.

We found the beautiful ancient church enhanced by the huge country style arrangements of flowers – supplied with such care by my son-in-law, and arranged by a close friend.

The church was full of family. The groom’s godfather was marrying the couple. One of his sons was playing the organ; the other was the best man. All but one of the bridesmaids were sisters or nieces, and the groom’s mum had made the cake. Even the photographer was a relation.

And what was my role? I helped choose the bride’s wedding dress; and cried when I saw her in it. I kept her calm when the dress failed to arrive even a month after it had been promised, hoping her fears that the shop was in trouble were, as they proved, unfounded. And I stopped her from panic buying a reserve dress.

I helped choose the music, playing every Ava Maria going, and cried when I heard it sung. I tested the food – the wine and the Prosecco – a process that involved imbibing several bottles, just to make sure.

We opened one while I watched every minute of the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, studying every detail for the bride, who was hard at work. Someone had to check that Kate hadn’t copied my daughter’s dress, or chosen the same colour for the bridesmaids. My daughter was upset enough that they’d chosen the same hymns as she had.

“How dare they,” she’d texted, when the news was leaked the day before. “Especially when we chose them before they even got engaged.”

I enjoyed many lunches with the bride-to-be; and dinners with the couple – and his parents. We recommended the band – the incredible Wild Colonials from Greystones, who kept the floor full and rocking wildly, until they gave way to the disco after one.

And I shopped until I dropped for my outfit, buying three pairs of shoes before I was satisfied I’d found the perfect pair.

Mum of the Bride has become an industry, yet the role is now fairly nominal. Not like it once was. When I got engaged at nineteen, and married at twenty, it was assumed that my parents would host the day, organise it, and pay for everything. Although it was all about us, it was, in a sense, their party. Their chance to repay hospitality to friends and family. That our friends were included on the list was a happy bonus.

Forward to my eldest daughter’s wedding a decade ago, and things had moved on. We still hosted the day, and held it in a marquee at home; but this wedding was for the young. Close family all came – including all the favourite cousins, but the couple’s friends had preference over ours. We were at the helm of the organisational machine, but the bride had loads of input.

This time around things have shifted again. As the real hosts, the couple chose the venue, the menu, church, the theme and the guest list. We were there as a sounding board, ready to give advice, but only when we were asked for it.

That didn’t stop me worrying. Mum of bride horror stories haunted me. I remembered my second cousin’s wedding when the organist failed to show. Her walk up the aisle was announced by the tip tap of her high heels. I remembered the priest who forgot my best friend’s name – and that of her groom. Was it just coincidence that neither of those marriages survived?

I thought of the mums of the bride I know who were so wound up with organisation, that they couldn’t enjoy their daughter’s big day. And of the disasters. The cake woman who’d lost the order; the ivy, main decoration for a marquee, that shrivelled and died. Or worst of all, the bride who changed her mind within a week of her nuptials.

I know there’s no sense in worrying. And that the strive for perfection is neither necessary nor wise. How many brides, splurging massive sums, had their day ‘made’ by excesses like chocolate fountains or ice sculptures?

Weddings aren’t about such frivolity; they’re about love. And, as the grooms wonderful godfather said in his address, they’re about kinship. They’re about friends, and fun and family bonding.

Saturday 18th June started off sunny. Soon the house was bursting at the seams. Bridesmaids flicked through ‘Hello,’ as a flower girl ran around in a vest and striped tights. The conservatory was transformed into a beauty parlour as Sinead fixed hair, and Alyson performed miracles with make-up.

There were hours left to go – then, suddenly, only minutes. The flower girls were spinning in their fairy dresses, and the bride looked so achingly gorgeous that her father was struck speechless.

After a magical, meaningful service, we found warmth and sun. But, driving to Glendalough, the clouds darkened into a deluge of rain. The newly-weds had to abandon the 1926 open sided Delage driven by Dudley, and seek a dry refuge in the bridesmaids’ Mercedes.

We feared for the photos, but the weather cleared in the nick of time. One flower girl, 3 year old Daisy, had succumbed to sleep. The other, 4 year old Louise, kept going, and ended up dancing until the small hours.

I expected the bridegroom to speak well. He’s always been open. He asked our permission before popping the question, and sought my advice about the ring. But his outpouring of emotion expressing love for my daughter in front of 120 people, was pitched to perfection.

I loved the day- far more- I suspect, than a mum of the bride should. I couldn’t stop gazing at the bride. I was overwhelmed by her obvious happiness; and proud of her poise, and the way she looked after her friends.

I loved watching my mother, at 89, dance with her small great grandsons. I loved dancing with everyone – young and old – for five hours until the music finally died. I loved the spontaneous reels. I loved watching my gorgeous niece, Kate, fight for the bouquet; just, she said, to freak out her boyfriend!

I loved the whole weekend. The dinner for 30 on Friday night. The walk around Glendalough Lake on Sunday morning, and the foray afterwards to the pub. I loved the bonding. The happiness. And yes, the kinship.

• This is your daughter’s day. You can offer advice, help and money, but her wishes are paramount.
• Your job is to welcome the groom, and his parents and siblings, into your family. Get to know them all as soon as you can.
• Be clear about what you can and can’t do. Offer your services, but don’t be hurt if she turns you down.
• Help the bride by always being there for her to talk to. Take her out to lunch or to a spa so that you can discuss the wedding in a relaxing environment.
• Get an outfit that you, and she are happy with. And source it early so that your look is not part of the last minute panic.
• Remember to relax and enjoy the day.

© Sue Leonard. 2011.

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