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The wedding test

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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