The cliché is perhaps as old as the modern concept of a wedding: Unable to let go of control (and perhaps of the spotlight) the pushy mother of the bride misses no opportunity to interject her own opinions on everything from the wedding location to the cake toppers–and won’t take “no” for an answer. This character is everywhere, from romantic comedies to wedding websites and magazines (The Kn*t has scores of posts giving advice for dealing with pushy mothers) to wedding TV shows (on a recent episode of his wedding makeover reality show, David Tutera confronted a “Momzilla”). In fact, this idea is so culturally ingrained that prior to our engagement my fiancé, who is not particularly familiar with rom-coms, said, “Well, doesn’t the mother of the bride just plan everything?” I erupted into laughter.
You would too if you had ever met my mother.
My mother is probably the least sentimental woman I have ever known. She and my father have been married for about thirty-five years. I say “about” because I’m not sure exactly what year they got married, and I’m pretty sure they don’t know off the top of their heads, either. It was definitely in the late 1970s, and I think it was in July. Neither of them wears a wedding ring—my mother is a doctor and washes her hands constantly, so she never wore a ring regularly, and besides, I am pretty sure both my parents lost their rings years ago. My father never gave my mother an engagement ring. They decided to get married because they were living together and grew tired of worrying about the wrong person answering the phone when one of their strict Catholic mothers called the apartment. Indeed, had caller ID been around in the mid-1970s, this issue could have been avoided and my parents may never have gotten around to getting married at all. Their marriage ceremony should be recorded in history books as the shortest wedding service in the history of the Roman Catholic Church—the whole thing took about thirty minutes. My mother wore a simple white cotton prom dress with green embroidery that she bought at Sears for thirty dollars. My grandfather did not walk my mother down the aisle—in fact there was no procession at all. Afterwards, the few family and friends that attended went to a local restaurant, ate dinner, and went home. There were no invitations, let alone save the dates, engagement photography sessions, or a bachelorette party. Forget about a wedding planner—my mother didn’t even have bridesmaids.
To be clear–this lack of formality was my mother’s intention. Granted, she and my father were broke at the time, and neither came from wealthy families, but I am fairly certain that money could have been saved for somewhat more of an elaborate celebration. A large part of my mother’s anti-traditional stance stemmed from her feminism—she recoiled at any element of patriarchy in the wedding ceremony, anything that appeared to stem from or reference the “transfer of property.” Indeed, my mother never took my father’s last name. But her stripped-down, purely pragmatic wedding was due just as much to her inherent nature as it was to her politics, to the extent one can distinguish between the two. My mother does not understand why rituals and symbols seem to hold so much value to people. Although she is a talented artist and can be hysterically, self-referentially funny, hers is the mind of the scientist, focused on the practical, the here and now, the things we can see and touch. She sees no value in symbols like rings, white dresses, and communion wafers. Her wedding was an act of rebellion—rebelling against patriarchy, rebelling against what was “proper” for women, and indeed, rebelling against the very Church where the wedding was performed (despite, or perhaps because of, her religious upbringing my mother has been an avowed atheist since she was in high school).
As anyone who has visited my apartment (or anyone who’s had a conversation with me for longer than ten minutes) in the last four months can readily attest, I do not take after my mother in this regard. Much to my surprise, once I got engaged and began the wedding planning process, I realized that planning a wedding could actually be fun. I loved coming up with a theme (think 1920s speakeasy). I loved looking at different photographers’ websites. I loved working with our stationer to design the invitations. I had so much fun trying on wedding dresses that a tiny part of me was sad to find “the dress” because it meant I wouldn’t get to try on any more. I devoured the books, the magazines, and yes, even the trashy TV shows, and I enjoyed (and am continuing to enjoy) every lacey, white, fluffy, sugary minute of it. My mom is thrilled that I’m so happy, and not only has she been a wonderful shoulder to cry on during the inevitable ups and downs, she is also generously helping my fiancé and me pay for the wedding. And for all of that I am eternally thankful and grateful.
So I am rather ashamed to admit that a tiny part of me is mourning the absence of a mother I never had (and never particularly wanted, until now)—the stereotypical mother of the bride with strong opinions about place settings and color schemes, the mother who wants a sixteen-piece band at the wedding playing nothing but jazz standards, the mother who would be devastated—devastated—to not be there when her daughter picks out her wedding dress. The “right” mother for a wedding. But that’s not my mom, and I am ultimately okay with that.
And I am quickly realizing that there is a considerable upside to having a mother who is not particularly interested in the details of wedding planning. A few days ago I had a conversation with a friend about moms and weddings. My friend, who is single, was telling me how her mother can’t wait for her to get married. Her mother has already discussed with her, in extensive detail, the family jewelry she could use, the country club that would be perfect, the perfect wedding colors (peach and white), all while my friend kept reminding her mother that she didn’t even have a boyfriend. And then I thought of my mom, who would perfectly happy if I wanted to walk down the aisle in the middle of an abandoned parking lot, in the dead of winter, wearing a Princess Leia costume a la Liz Lemon—as long as I was happy, she would say, characteristically, “To hell with ‘em Lydia! Do what you want!” And she would support me without reservation, without the slightest hint of doubt or regret for some perfect wedding that would not be—some perfect wedding that, like perfect mothers, exists only in the movies. And in that moment—as in many moments before and since—I was deeply, eternally, grateful and thankful for my mom.