Wedding Wonders: How could she tell her daughter that life would be so much worse--and so much better--than her wedding?

With a month to go before the day to end all days; with little left to plan but some finishing touches on the gourmet lunch Crissy had finally decided on (after rejecting her mother’s advice to keep it simple); with what seemed an entire year of intensive research and development on weddings behind both of them; with Crissy’s crumpled Kleenex still sitting on the table, wet with tears shed voluminously about whether she’d picked the perfect colors—Anne Blanchard, mother of the bride-to-be, grabbed a bottle of wine from the cupboard above the cereal, uncorked it with her teeth, poured herself a glass, put out the light above the kitchen table, then sat back in her chair. She quietly thanked the Lord that Rich, her husband, wasn’t home to hear and see all of this, took one huge gulp of a really good Chardonnay that, goodness knows, shouldn’t have been gulped, put both elbows up on the table before her, tossed her face into her open hands, and flat-out bawled.

She didn’t know if she was going to make it.

She didn’t know if life was worth the horror of these last twenty-nine days they both faced, the unrelenting countdown to an event so huge it was a wonder people didn’t restart their calendars.

She didn’t know if it was all going to work out either.

How do you tell your daughter that for all of her planning, for all of her being sure everything was just so, for all of her worry and fear, one of Bruce’s buddies could still tape a message to the soles of his shoes so that when they knelt before reciting their vows, the whole world would read something like “HELP ME”? Or worse?

How could she explain that nobody in the crowd—really, not a single soul—would wonder whether her choice of fruit was the right one? Whether Bach or Bacharach was just perfect? Whether the chrysanthemums taped to the sides of church benches would complement the arrangements up front? How could she explain that those silk flowers beside the candles might go up like torches, prompting some high achiever to hose down the whole front of the church? How could she say that the spray of flowers in the attendants’ hair might just attract bees when they stepped outside for photos?

How did she explain that, when it came right down to it, from that day forward her Crissy had to deal with Bruce for the rest of her life; that this whole elaborate planning mess was a case in point about the reality of life itself—because there were going to be lots of things for which she cared deeply, things she’d want to get just right, things for which he wouldn’t even break a sweat? And vice versa. How did she tell Crissy that some things Bruce would give his life for, she wouldn’t begin to understand? That things he’d scream at would make her giggle?

How did she explain to her daughter that this entry day, this first-and-foremost day of their life together, was an elaborate ritual that opened like some beautifully designed gateway door, something tall and oak and hand-carved, something as ornate as a cathedral entrance, but something that led to a world that would never again look or be as splendid?

How do you tell your daughter that this thoroughly researched honeymoon in Mazatlan was just about as silly as her childhood love for The Lion King—a cartoon dream? How do you explain to a child that all that fawning attention—the entire church standing as she marches up the aisle—is at once the dawn and the dusk of that kind of attention.

Not that she questioned Bruce’s love for Crissy. Not that she questioned Crissy’s love for Bruce. They loved each other. You could see it in their eyes.

She took another sip—just a sip.

But how do you tell your daughter that life will never again offer up something so self-centered as her wedding day? How do you tell your daughter to remember not to take his head off when he forgets the anniversary or gets so wrapped up in his work that she may begin to feel as useful as a gall bladder? How do you explain to your daughter that Victoria’s Secret is the trimmings—that there will likely be lots of times when she’d rather not?

How do you explain to your daughter that this pomp-and-circumstance wedding day, this most elaborate of seductions, this magical display of feminine glory ends in tomorrow morning’s rumpled hair, sleep lines, and bad breath? Maybe she knows already, she thought. But if she doesn’t, how does she explain that tomorrow morning he doesn’t look at all like the night before? How do you tell your child about life?

She took a sip of wine and once more reached for the Kleenex.

How do you tell your daughter that when kids come, they’ll soon make very clear that they’re not darling little dachshunds? How do you explain that effective family planning—“Bruce and I are going to wait for three years, until we get well-established and financially set”—sounds well and good, but that life itself often deals up cards you never expected to hold? How do you tell her that not all women get pregnant the moment they quit the pill? That some spill oceans of tears not ever getting there? That some get pregnant no matter how many hurdles they set up on the track? How do you tell your daughter that planning out one’s life is far more hit-and-miss than the planning they’ve been doing for the last eleven months?

With one month to go before the wedding, Anne Blanchard decided that she’d been far too tentative when her own husband had reached for his wallet—partly in fun, but partly not—and told Crissy he’d shell out big, big bucks if she and Bruce would do it small, then run away to Timbuktu or some other faraway spot for a month of marital bliss. With twenty-nine—she looked up at the clock—no, twenty-eight days until the wedding, she decided she should have upped that ante.

That’s when she heard the garage door lift. She grabbed another Kleenex, tried to smudge away the tears, then picked up the strays left from both her and Crissy, tossed them in the wastebasket under the sink, tucked the box beside the phone, and reached up in the cupboard for another glass—a good one—because she knew Rich would want a glass of wine himself when he’d see her there with hers half full. And besides, she needed a diversion.

It would look like a setup, maybe. He’d read it for what it was. He’d see her bleary eyes, her smarmy face. He’d read her emotions in the red lines on her cheeks, and he’d be irritated with Crissy. Of course he would. It was Crissy that made him mad for getting his wife upset, but it wasn’t Crissy’s fault, she told herself. It was the wedding.

She heard the door slam, the garage door begin its weary trek back down, the sound of his footfalls around the car and up to the door.

She filled his glass and rubbed lightly at her cheeks to pull out some blush to disguise her tears.

He came in the door, slung his briefcase against the wall. She heard him flip off his shoes—probably without opening the strings. He always did that.

“Sorry, I’m late, Anne,” he said, “but this new campaign is a dog, and I’ve got to figure out a way to save it.”

There he stood, this guy she’d been married to for almost thirty years—a little paunchier maybe, a lot less hair, too much of a beard this late in the day, heftier jowls, a lot soggier around the middle, more slump to the shoulders, probably fifty pounds heavier, but the same delighted eyes, the same smile.

“So,” he said, pulling off his sport coat, “you have a good night?”

“Sure,” she said. “Want a glass of wine?—I already poured it.”

He nodded, pulling out a chair. “You and Crissy stay out of each other’s hair?”

“We did all right,” she told her husband.

How do you tell your daughter that sometimes you just have to fib?

How do you explain that life is so much bigger than a wedding? That faith is so much more complex than Sunday school? That kids are so much tougher to raise than anything she’ll ever imagine? How do you tell your daughter to grow up when she really is still a child?

“You two don’t have major wars,” he said. “I’m so glad of that. But I’m also glad you’re the one who has to deal with the whole nightmare.”

“Oh, it’s not a nightmare,” she said. “It’s not a nightmare; it’s a wedding.”

“I’m happy you feel that way,” he said. “I’m not much help, am I? I mean, I don’t do much.” He shrugged his shoulders. “But then, it’s a woman thing, isn’t it?”

“You big oaf,” she said. “Maybe it is, but you don’t have to say it.”

He smiled, turned the stem of the wineglass in his hand. “These,” he said. “They were wedding gifts, remember? From Carl, I think. You don’t use them all the time.”

“I’m shocked that you remember,” Anne said.

“What?” he said, flirting. “You don’t think I remember our wedding, Anne?” He winked like a boy. “What I want to know is what you two were celebrating. You celebrating something? You and Crissy? What happened here tonight anyway?” he said. “Something big happen?”

She wrapped her hand around his arm. “It’s a woman thing,” she said. “It’s a woman thing, and you’d never get it anyway,” she told him, “so don’t ask, OK? Don’t even ask, Rich. Just stay out of the whole mess,” she told him, smiling. She pointed at the wedding glass. “Isn’t that good wine?” she said. “Isn’t it?”

How do you tell your daughter every last thing she has to know?—You can’t, and you don’t, she thought.

She looked into her husband’s eyes.

How can you explain that life itself can be so much better than a wedding? You can’t, she told herself. Some things she’ll just have to learn on her own.

James Calvin Schaap (jschaap@dordt.edu) is a writer and professor of English at Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa.