1) For the wedding, my husband and I are in charge of making a reel of photos of our daughter through the years. We sit down one night and dig through boxes and boxes of old pictures — stacks of them, disorganized, dog-eared, scattered. Here she is a lovely, round-headed baby. Here she is an adolescent, a toddler, a first-grader, a young adult.
In the background, old houses and former neighborhoods come and go. Our son is born, then loses his front teeth, then grows up. Friends — so young! still alive!– appear, then vanish. Our earlier selves — my husband’s thick, red hair, my own wild perms, our unlined faces — make appearances here and there. “You have a genius for closing your eyes when someone takes a photo,” my husband notes. “How do you do it?”
Finally, we have a ragged pile of acceptable shots of our daughter. Her body grows, her hair changes, her dear, sweet face is somehow much the same. “She’s always been a beautiful girl,” my husband says.
2) No one elopes these days. Also, the only people who have small weddings are people like us who got married 40 years ago. We talk to other parents and agree: We don’t quite understand our children’s generation, these millennials. Are they traditional? Rebels? Formal, informal? Yes, to all of the above.
They have elaborate proposals and expensive rings. They have websites and stories to tell and photos to show. I go on our daughter’s and her fiance’s website, which is wonderful — part tongue-in-cheek, part radiant happiness. I poke around the gift registry and begin to tear up. I have always had an ambivalent relationship with cookware.
3) There are mothers of the bride who run the show, who want to leave their mark with style and elegance. I am not one of those mothers. I lack the gene for organization, flower arrangements, menus, decor, gift bags. The truth is, I don’t care about things like that at all.
Sometimes I feel like apologizing for my missing Martha Stewart gene, other times I don’t. Every day, I feel grateful that there are people with such an abundance of that gene that they make it into a business. In other words, thank God for wedding planners.
4) Two or three years ago, my husband and I drove to our neighborhood grocery store. As he parked the car, my husband reminded me, “We need to get some yun-yuns.”
We both grinned. Yun-yuns was our daughter’s pronunciation of onions when she was a toddler. It’s a term of no possible interest to any other person on earth except the two of us.
Two people sitting in a parking lot, chuckling over a decades-old mispronunciation: This is a picture of parenthood in its waning years.
5) Yes, but — when do you stop being a parent?
I remember the first big leavetaking when our daughter, our firstborn, left for college 14 years ago. I’m pretty sure my husband lay on the couch for a couple of months, dumbfounded and staring. When he slept, he reported dreams about taking care of a baby. Somehow, that baby had disappeared and he was panicked.
I, in the meantime, routinely approached mothers and babies in the grocery store, drawn irresistibly by some internal force field. I couldn’t stay away and I was lucky I didn’t get a reputation as a deranged stalker who hung out in the produce department. I just wanted to admire them and remember what I seemed to be losing.
Now, we are at an age when our children have surpassed us in so many ways. Our once-looming presence has been greatly reduced. Still, I’ve finally figured out we will both be parents until we die or lose our minds.
6) Maybe you, as the mother of the bride, had glamorous, integral duties at your daughter’s wedding. Maybe it would have fallen apart without you.
Me? My daughter, the former Planned Parenthood speechwriter, is dispatching me to the local office to pick up 100 Planned Parenthood condoms for guests’ gift bags. “I don’t want anybody having unsafe sex at our wedding,” she says.
This mother of the bride: no good at flowers and organization, but highly reliable when it comes to rubbers.
7) In an era when premarital sex is expected, babies are routinely born outside marriage, and divorce rates hover at 50 percent, why is marriage still a big deal? I can’t explain it — since human relationships and families are the most intricate, head-bangingly complex systems on earth. But I do believe in it. When it works, it can make such a profound difference in your life.
I’m delighted to see our daughter with someone who understands her and loves her so well. Oh, sure, he isn’t a Texan yet, but we are going to be working on that. We couldn’t ask for more.
(Copyright 2014 by Ruth Pennebaker)