I’ve always been an unconventional person. Not by choice, out of some need to reject the status quo, but because I was just born with a different sensibility. Certain things that matter to most people simply don’t matter to me. I can’t force it and gave up trying years ago.
I am a warm hostess, but don’t care if I use paper napkins, although I have the other kind. I want people to be comfortable, enjoy the hell out of what I serve and eat heartily, have fun, and really good conversation. I want them to feel like being at my house was a gentle and relaxing and happy, timeless stretch. And I don’t feel badly if they have to ask me for something I neglected to put out. In fact I am happy when they do. It means they are seeing to it that they enjoy themselves. Life is too short and I’m not embarrassed by details like remembering the artificial sweetener. Go into my cabinets in search of it. Mi casa es su casa.
For a few years, my daughter has been reminding me occasionally that she would probably, at some point, get married. My response was, fine, but I’m not paying for one of these elaborate disgusting affairs. 5 years ago I sat in the living room of an older couple and suffered greatly through the cutesy video of their daughter’s wedding. I was sickened by the excess, by the artifice, by the utter waste. Three years later, after an expenditure well on it’s way to six figures, the kids broke up, boy and girl twins notwithstanding.
So when EJ announced that the engagement ring she’d been wearing for months actually meant she’d be getting married, I panicked. Oh GOD, I thought, what am I going to do?
My daughter can be vulnerable and sweet and open to suggestion like any other young woman about to get married. However, her real state is closer to hell-bent; in a quiet way. Anything that deviates from her vision becomes annoying and ceases to exist. She doesn’t yell and scream, throw tantrums, withdraw, or anything unpleasant like that. She just goes around the obstacle and does not look back. Which is why when I suddenly got a text message on my cell that read: “Can you look at wedding dresses with me tomorrow?” I knew there was nothing else to do, even though I almost said NO! Wait!
We arranged to meet at a corner in the city in an area known as the garment district. Tall buildings are honeycombed with one clothing manufacturer after another, floor after floor after floor. Mostly showrooms, although some real sewing goes on here and there. The designer she had in mind was having a half-price sale on floor samples. In a wedding dress, this can represent a gigantic savings. So at the appointed time, we met, hugged and took a slow, cranky elevator to the showroom of one Paula Varselona.
I was innocent as a new-born lamb.
Across the hallway from the elevator was a long curving glass wall. We were obviously in the right place. Immediately we entered a room with a bit of smooth, gray carpet, an odd-looking round, raised platform, and white, off-white, ivory and ecru froth and fluff as far as the eye could see. Wedding dresses hung everywhere, stuffed into every space. Where there weren’t wedding dresses there were other things that glittered from small chunks of rhinestones and gold with ribbons to eight-foot veils jammed on a giant rack. Sequined bags of all sizes, tiaras, earrings, things I couldn’t even identify, everything flashing and sparkling and calling attention to itself. For someone who likes that kind of thing – I do – it was fun. But the dress part was daunting. How do you choose a wedding dress. I was totally out of my league.
All of the samples were not yet back, we were told. EJ was nevertheless wading in. I looked at another rack. I wasn’t impressed. Wedding dresses are boring, I was thinking. I desultorily pulled one hanger after another, wondering when we could go to lunch, until a big puffy rose caught my eye. It wasn’t a showy rose, but a flattened saucer of delicately-colored blush rose, with the merest wisp of sage green leaves; there were several more of them here and there along the way in a poufy-skirted, ivory-colored strapless confection.
I pulled it out of the rack and called EJ over. “That’s the dress on the website!” She was excited. Hmm, I thought, can it be this easy? Then: Website?
She grabbed the dress and charged into the back room, shedding layers of clothing, until she was down to just . . . her . . . thong.
“You wore a THONG to look at wedding dresses?” I was wrong to say this of course, because obviously it came out in Chinese instead of English, judging by the Huh? What? Look I got from her.
A salesperson came in followed by a woman whom I immediately liked. All business, yet allowing EJ to enjoy the moment, the two women escorted her to the platform [mommy having a quiet AHA moment in their wake]. The second woman turned out to be Paula, herself.
There, my daughter transformed instantly into a princess and I became the mother of the bride. Just. Like. That.
Because the dress was utterly, completely, over-the-top, perfect.
It was so perfect, so magical, that a woman who had been shopping for a mother-of-the-groom dress, came over and in a round of that old, time-honored New York game called “one-upping” instantly made her prospective daughter-in-law the topic of the conversation. How thin she was; how small. While she was talking, people passing by the glass walls of the showroom tapped and gave thumbs-up signs. EJ couldn’t take her eyes off herself in the mirror. The woman shopper, annoyed at being ignored, finally uttered the coup-de-grace: “Well, it’s not like you’re thin.” The skinny saleswoman immediately bristled. Eventually mother-of-the-groom left.
Never mind that my daughter was standing inside a size eight that had to be taken in all over. Never mind that she has a spectacular body that causes male jaws to drop. Our saleswoman was incensed. Not EJ. She never had a body-image issue or an eating disorder. She just laughed and said to me “I’m starved – let’s go to lunch and think about this.”
All through lunch she kept asking, “Should I get it? Should I get it? I love it!” After we ate, I said, “Let’s go back and get it: It’s perfect.”
But because this isn’t a fairy tale, and we are two women, shopping, of course we didn’t get that dress. But the one we got had a smaller skirt, a better strapless top, and several, large blush-pink roses on ivory silk. Paula Varselona earned my complete admiration when she stated gently that one does not wear a thong under this dress and, yes, does wear a bra.
Her fiancé called and was so excited. He wanted to know everything. I took the phone out of big-mouth’s hands and said: “You only need to know one thing. When she walks down the aisle to you in that dress, you are going to drop to your knees.”
That was the first wedding thing we did.
After that came the search for the perfect wedding ‘venue’ – a new word in my vocabulary. The Venue had to have the possibility of making the event become magical. And be worthy of The Dress. Then The Invitations. Now we are working on The Cake. After that will be The Flowers. The Music. The Photographer. EJ has expressly stated that she does not want a video. All is well in the world: we are in harmony. Even the guest-list has been completed with no bloodshed.
Somehow, in the same way women forget the pain of childbirth, my unconventional side is silent, and I have ‘joined the process’ of helping my daughter have the perfect wedding. I am unapologetic about my enthusiasm, and have engaged the side of me well-suited to planning, say, an invasion of a smaller country. No detail is too small, and nothing can be done too early to assure success.
After the wedding, however, I will probably revert to using paper napkins again.