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The wedding test

Published on: September 01, 2005

The wedding was a smashing success, especially since we avoided killing
one another, running to Cuba (independently), bankruptcy, disowning our
parents, alienating our closest friends, and selling the youngsters on
eBay to pay for the damn thing. Weddings, it turns out, are pure hell.
Vanessa and I started our journey a year ago by announcing to our
parents we'd be married. And that's when the negotiations -- and stress
-- began. My folks (God bless 'em) wanted to throw us a little party to
celebrate the occasion. Oh, and they'd be inviting 250 of their closest
friends. That's where we should have had a little "sit down" to discuss
tone, budget, responsibilities and expectations. But that's not how we
do it in our family. Especially when Dad is paying.

The number of guests determines a lot in a wedding. The chance of
running off to Puerta Vallarta with several hundred of your closest
friends is slim and none. There are also precious few rooms in the
Seattle area that can accommodate large numbers in a swank manner.
Indeed, I soon learned that my favorite spots would have to be crossed
off: The Chinese Room atop the Smith Tower, the Sorrento, Serafina,
Dick's Drive In -- all too small.

I had no interest in a dullsville sit-down dinner in a generic ballroom
better suited for a Perry Como concert than the smart wedding soiree
I'd imagined. Through diligent research and pure luck -- and luckily,
not on our tab -- we wound up choosing the Fairmont Olympic's Garden
Court, the most elegant bar in town.

The room -- and fire code -- dictated the number that could attend: 200
on the dot (and most of those would have to stand). That ruled out kids
(fewer playmates for the twins and less screaming for the rest of us),
peripheral friends (those who hadn't written or left voice mails in 18
months), ex-boy/girlfriends, and my cousin Keith. My folks took 190
spots, Vanessa's parents got 40 (and we had to fight for those), we
invited about 50 friends, and we prayed for a high cancellation rate.
Getting an invite list from my (potential) future mother-in-law was
like pulling a tiger's teeth: Typifying her
hippie-granola-power-hungry-passive-aggressive manner (and I mean that
in a loving way), when we asked when we might see her final tally, she
replied nonchalantly, "We're doing verbals." Verbals?! As in, my
daughter's having a wedding and you should come with some friends? At
that exact moment I needed to be medicated for the rest of the voyage.
I told my shrink I'd share half the dosage with my fiancee, but to no
avail.

Wedding planning took over the next eight months of our lives. Sadly,
the kids had to feed, clothe and educate themselves during that period
-- and somehow, these incredible 10-year-olds took it in stride. We
bribed them with regular cake tastings (even after we'd made our
decision), tours of the hotel pool, bubble-wrap popping and,
admittedly, one-too-many SpongeBob videos.
We picked a great band (Terry Lauber), an affordable florist (who does
Bill Gates' flowers and should charge him more), and a menu fit for
kings. My mother also made 600 falikas, a Jewish delicacy, that the
Fairmont graciously allowed despite health codes and common sense. As
for clothing selections, Rachel and Vanessa spent months, while Riley
and I made our picks in about 10 minutes one Saturday between a
football game and some chicken wings. The gals looked gorgeous, while
the boys were debonaire and -- aside from my Armani tie and Riley's top
hat -- quite under budget.

Bride and groom agreed on most of the elements that go into a wedding.
Our only real disagreements came when I suggested we feature a large
vodka luge at the reception, and she repeatedly advocated items we
couldn't afford (wedding planners, Vera Wang dresses, lobster for 250,
$100 wedding favors, the Dave Matthews Band).

There was enough combat to make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict look
like a pillow fight. She was unreasonable. I was short-fused and
short-sighted: "No one needs you there!" I found myself yelling over
tea in the Georgian room. "I'm the bride!" the love of my life screamed
back incredulously. It was not the most rational of times.

When the big day came, we were swept up in details -- and not in the
wedded bliss we'd hoped for. Not our fault, really, it's just hard to
lose yourself in love when hundreds of people want your attention,
there are checks to hand out and your son keeps talking about how his
tuxedo pants are too itchy. (Avoid tuxedo rentals at all costs; the
places are run by high schoolers, their batting average is about one
correct order in every 10 measurements, and why celebrate the most
important day in your life in a piece of clothing that's been featured
in proms, funerals and vomit-fests for the last 20 years?)
The kids were clearly the stars of the show -- ring-bearer Riley and
flower girl Rachel. Add children in tuxes and princess dresses and
you've got a fairy-tale wedding. (That's what they should rent at tux
shops!)

After the insanity of our wedding experience, you might think I'd
suggest eloping or getting married on the beach in Mexico with a few
drunk friends -- but that would miss the point. A wedding is a
testimony to love, to the year-long test of every mental, physical and
emotional element in a relationship, to enduring self-induced hardship
and coming out the other side alive and dressed to the nines in front
of every person you've ever met. You do it for your parents, for your
friends, for the little ones who will never forget the day their
parents got married. And you do it for the presents.

Call me a sap, but dancing at the same gig with my mother, my wife and
my (new) daughter was priceless. My father told me he was proud of me.
My best man proved his worth ten-fold. My wife didn't bolt, despite
leaning that way. I wouldn't have changed a thing...
The Accidental Parent is a column about a lifelong bachelor, Michael Stusser, now married to Vanessa, the mother of 10-year-old twins.

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