How I Planned Your Wedding
Harlequin (February 2011)
I was born to be a bride. There are family photographs of me in a bridal gown dating all the way back to age two. Even in my imagination, every detail was precisely arrangedâ€”the flowers, the veil, the tiara, the sparkly shoes, the smear of lipstick across my mouth. But in those little-girl fantasies, there was one small missing detail: the groom.
Then, senior year of college, the heavens opened up, angels sang from on high and one tipsy night I found myself alone with Dave. I’d seen him around school before (after all, there were only 1,500 students at our tiny liberal arts college), but something about him was . . .different. Specifically, he looked like a god. Over the summer, he’d grown his glossy, blond hair past his shoulders and had sprouted an extra six inches in height, taking him to a towering 6-foot-4. Pair that with his gracefully lean cross-country runner’s body and I’d bagged myself the offspring of Brad Pitt and a Thomson’s gazelle.
During that first fateful night in his dorm room when we had, ahem, chastely chatted from opposite ends of the futon, he asked if I wanted to brush my teeth, to which I replied “Hell, yes” because, you know, stale cheap beer breath isn’t the most romantic thing in the world. As soon as our pearly whites were clean and fresh, Dave looked at me and began slowly leaning in, a gentlemanly question in his eyes, waiting for my signal that, yes, he could now storm the citadel on his steed, breaching the gates of my . . .well, you know. I’m not one for subtlety, so I grabbed him by the ears and yanked him into the make-out session to end all make-out sessions. And that’s about all I’m going to say about that, Dear Readers. I’m collaborating with my mother on this project, after all.
As it turns out, that was the last “first” kiss I would ever share with a man, though I didn’t know it at the time. I certainly hoped so, because it was that magical, the kiss that erased all others. The defining smooch. The zing of chemistry between Dave and me was palpable. After growing up under the wing of a bestselling writer, I finally, finally understood what my mom’s books were really aboutâ€”and why they’re so addictive to so many readers. Dave and I spent countless hours talking and cracking each other up, falling under that magical spell that has launched a million romance novels.
Exactly three years, seven months and twenty-two days later, I would kiss this same dude in a sunlit, fountain-fed atrium full of our family and friends: our first kiss as husband and wife. But between that first Pabst Blue Ribbon-fueled make-out session and the moment we sealed our marriage with a kiss, we had a mountain to climb. A mountain of friggin’ insane wedding planning that would, no matter how we fought it, be heavily supervised and directed by a woman who creates over-the-top, happily-ever-after romance for a living: my mom.
Of all the dreams I ever dreamed for my daughter, the biggest one was the dream in which she finds the one person in the world who will love her for the rest of her life. Because, after all, love in all its forms gives life its meaning. I’ve always believed that. I’d better believe that. I’ve made a career out of it, after all.
But when it comes to real-world matters, there’s a deeper reason for wanting your child to spend the rest of her days with the love of her life. It’s the one secret you can’t tell her. She has to find out for herself. A lasting love is the deepest of life’s joys.
When Elizabeth was very little, and people asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she didn’t say a teacher or a doctor, an artist or a sales clerk or a hot-air balloon pilot.
She would tell them, “A bride.”
My friends would offer pitying looks. “I’m so sorry. She’ll grow out of it. She’ll realize that what she really wants is to be a rocket scientist or a chef or a choreographer.”
I didn’t really need their pity, and I wasn’t bothered by her oft-stated aspiration. As a romance writer, I never quibbled with her dream. Of course she wanted to be a bride. She wanted to find the man of her dreams and live happily ever after.
Is there any higher calling? Any bigger dream?
And so I let her fantasy grow and develop, unimpeded by other people’s expectations or even common sense. The vision was embellished with horse-drawn carriages made of crystal, a banquet consisting of nothing but French toast, Skittles and spun sugar, a ball gown so elaborate it wouldn’t even fit through doorways. The bride would be attended by her best and most beautiful friends, including her Airedale terrier.
When it came time to plan her actual wedding, this vision stayed more or less intact. Sure, the horse-drawn carriage morphed into a white stretch limo, complete with glittering disco lights in the ceiling, and the family dog had gone over the rainbow bridge, but overall, her dream came trueâ€”the gown, the beautiful friends, the hair, the pearls.
But where does that leave me, the mom?
I’m not quite sure how to say this, so I’ll be blunt. Does anybody actually dream about being the mother of the bride?
Come on. That’s kind of like getting stuck with Midgeâ€”the sidekickâ€”while playing Barbies. It’s also sure to mess with your denial about exactly how old you are.
Hello? You are now old enough to actually have a daughter who’s getting married. A new generation has come along, and here you thought you were the young generation. You didn’t even notice the runner behind you, reaching forward to pass you the baton.
Deal with it. No, do better than that. Embrace it. And don’t forget to savor the process. After all, that’s what you’ve been doing all her life, I suspect.
If you’re like me, the mother of an adored and indulged child who has owned your heart for the past twentysomething years, you remember every single minute. You remember what her toddler voice sounded like when she laughed. You remember the little-girl smell of her, and dresses that were too expensive but you bought them anyway because you just had to see her in that adorable smocked pinafore. You remember the feel of her tinyâ€”usually stickyâ€”hand in yours as you took her into unfamiliar situations: A swimming pool. Kindergarten. The IMAX. A petting zoo. Her first piano recital. The dentist. You remember the victory dance she did to celebrate accomplishments from winning a race in a swim meet to learning cursive writing in the third grade. You remember laughing so hard your sides ached, and holding her when she cried, willing to trade your soul to keep her from hurting. You remember how much she loved goodnight kisses, how much she hated black olives, and how very sure she was that you would always be the center of her world.
And then, before you know it, this poised and accomplished young woman appearsâ€”seemingly out of nowhereâ€”with a young man at her side. And not just any young man. The young man. Prince Charming. The forever guy.
They have Big News. They can’t wait to tell you. Turns out Prince Charming has even been conspiring with your husband, arranging the surprise proposal, the whirlwind romantic weekend, the start of plans that are about to consume you for the next sixteen months.
All right, so you’re not the center of her world anymore. You’re the Mother of the Bride. Even the phrase itself makes you sound old. Dowdy.
But here’s a secret: you’re in for the time of your life.
“So, my publisher just called and asked if there are any dates this summer when I won’t be able to go on a book tour,” said my mom.
I have this habitâ€”which I believe is absolutely adorable and endearingâ€”of calling my mother every time I’m walking anywhere. The result is that we speak at least four or five times a day, and she’s gotten into the habit of answering phone calls from me with, “Where are you walking?” This particular conversation happened one morning as I hiked the five blocks between my bus stop and work.
My mom got a weird tone in her voice and continued. “And . . .I’m just telling yoo-oooou about my summer planssss . . .” (in a singsong voice) ” . . .because I was wondering if there might be any sort of, you know, event around that time. You know, like a family event here in Seattle that I will have to attend because it will be a very big deal for our family?”
“Er . . .”
“Your wedding, Elizabeth.”
Right. There was just one problem. One of the parties involvedâ€”namely, Daveâ€”was not exactly down with the whole wedding thing. Oh, I’m pretty sure he had plenty of hopes, dreams, expectations, maybe even obsessions about building a future with me. But, like most guys, he played his cards close to the vest and he wasn’t fond of showing his hand. Not even to me, the love of his life.
This was starting to grate on my mother. She held her tongue and cultivated patience, and I did my best to follow her example.
But okay, I’ll just say it. Listen up, ladies. When it’s time, it’s time.
The man of your dreams gets a grace period, but by definition, a grace period has an end point. Dave’s was quickly approaching.
After reassuring my mother that, indeed, she would be the first person to know upon my engagement to Dave, my Canadian boyfriend whom I met in college, I changed the subject so that we wouldn’t jinx anything. I understood her concern. Dave and I had recently decided to move to Chicago for him to attend law school. As usual, I didn’t really have a plan for myself beyond being blond, watching every riveting moment of The View and waiting for my dream job to fall into my lap.
Unlike the fictional gals in my mom’s books, I was not a spunky-yet-lovable virgin trying to save the family ranch in the face of staggering adversity, all the while raising her dead sister’s children and dallying with some tattooed bad boy named Rusty or Ryder.
I was a real, actual person. Maybe a lot like youâ€”just out of school, crazy in love, trying to make sense out of my life.
So, yeah, I was also wondering if this new level of commitmentâ€”namely, picking up and moving to the Windy Cityâ€”would result in an engagement. (Spoiler: It did.)
Later that evening, Dave and I walked home hand-in-hand. I was a bit tipsy because we had joined friends for happy hour and I gracelessly steered our conversation to the upcoming wedding of two of our closest friends. HINT, HINT, Dave. When he acted clueless, I brought up the conversation I’d had with my mom about her summer plans. “You know,” I slurred, “my mom was asking when we were going to get engaged.ha ha, isn’t that HILARIOUS?”
Dave shot me a sidelong glance and said, “Don’t talk to her about it so much. I want it to be natural, not something that our families push us into doing.”
See, here’s the cute thing about Dave. As the middle son of three boys, he doesn’t have a clue about the mother-daughter bond. He doesn’t understand that my mother has been party to every single detail of our relationship since before we even began dating. In fact, she was the one who logged into my Facebook account senior year of college, spotted his devastatingly handsome profile picture, and “poked” him on my behalf.
This is the kind of thing that lends credence to the old adage, “Mother Knows Best.” Because that poke led to a silly online flirtation, which led to a silly in-person flirtation, which led to me finding my soul’s puzzle piece in the form of a 6-foot-4 Canadian runner with a mane of shoulder-length, blond hair. Frickin’ awesome. Cue the make-out session I mentioned earlier. My mom couldn’t write it better in one of her books. And the Davester had no idea it all started with a click of my mom’s mouse.
So when Dave asked me to avoid talking to my mom about the prospect of a proposal, I nodded and kept my mouth shut. The poor guy didn’t have a clue. My mother had been the puppet-master of our relationship since before he even knew I existed. I just counted us lucky that we actually did find true love with one another in spiteâ€”or perhaps becauseâ€”of my mother’s meddling.
Here’s a hint about your momâ€”the older you get, the smarter she seems.
“What do you want for your birthday, honey?”
Another conversation with my mom, this one on the way home from work nine days before my twenty-fourth birthday. Please note that there is nothing special about this day. It’s not the Ides of March. Valentine’s Day is long past. St. Paddy’s Day, Easter, Arbor Day, Cinco de Mayo, Talk Like a Pirate Day . . .none of these most sacred feasts falls on March 14. It’s the most random of days. The sort of day from which you expect nothing but the usual ambulatory phone call with your mother.
“Well, I feel like it’s bad luck to say this.” I began, “but all I really want is for Dave to propose to me. I can’t stop thinking about it!”
A string of promising holidays had come and gone, leaving me deflated. I had no doubt that he loved me, but he didn’t seem to be in a hurry to take the next obvious step.
I had secretly begged Santa for a ring, but clearly, he didn’t get the memo. Then I thought maybe New Year’s Eve would be The Moment. Lots of couples got engaged on New Year’s Eve, right? But no, all I got on New Year’s was a hoarse voice from karaoke performances of “Super Freak,” and a raunchy hangover. Then came Valentine’s Day, the ultimate date with destiny. Half the married people I know got engaged on Valentine’s Day. But when February 14 rolled around, Dave wrote me a beautiful, loving letter and bought me a giant steak. There was no diamond buried in the meat, though. Undaunted, I studied the calendar for the Next Big Special Day. I have a March birthday, so that was a possibility, but I figured I would know if Dave was thinking about proposing, and a little voice in my head told me that he would be waiting until we were settled into our new home in Chicago the following year.
My mom, clearly, shared my view.
I could hear her snort on the phone. “He’s not going to propose for your birthday,” she said in her most matter-of-fact, I-know-everything voice. “Trust me. I would know. Your father is incapable of keeping a secret from me, and he hasn’t said a word about a proposal.”
“But . . .maybe Dave’s just being really secretive . . .?”