Weddings. What can go wrong when planning and producing a wedding? Those of you who have been through this process are probably thinking – “Anything and everything can go wrong!” The caterer. The flowers. The music. The venue. The attire… There are so many items and so many human emotions and desires at play. While I am far from an expert on weddings, I made assumptions based on the weddings I had seen, heard or read about, and experienced. Planning and executing our middle daughter’s wedding, however, I would learn that each wedding is unique and must be tailored to the reality of the particular couple, their circumstances, and the families involved.
The Falco family reality was this: Our 18-year-old daughter, Skye, dropped out of high school in the Fall of her senior year. She chose to leave home and be out in the world using her own devices to find shelter and sustenance for several weeks. She returned to our family home just before Christmas. She was pregnant. Skye stayed with us for shelter, sustenance, and prenatal care. Our beautiful, healthy granddaughter, Kinsley, was born the following September, shortly after our Skye’s 19th birthday. Around this same time, unbeknownst to John and me, Skye was developing a long-distance relationship with a Marine named Ben who was stationed in North Carolina. Kinsley’s Aunt Emily and I cared for Kinsley when Skye left for a few days that Fall to attend a military ball with Ben.
After the ball, Skye announced that she was in love and that she and Kinsley would be spending Christmas with Ben and his family in Pennsylvania. We celebrated Christmas early with Skye and Kinsley and watched them go. Rumors of “getting married” before Ben deployed to Japan were circulating. On December 29, 2016, those rumors were confirmed with pictures of a wedding license, rings, and a courthouse marriage. She had done it – and I hadn’t met Ben yet!
John and I discussed the “options.” Skye and Kinsley might live with us while Ben was away. But to what end? We had younger children still in school who needed our attention and older children at home, attending college and/or working, who also needed our guidance. We worried that adding Skye and Kinsley to the mix, based on our history, would only increase stress and conflicts. Alternatively, Skye and Kinsley could live in military housing while Ben was away for the next six months. There were financial considerations involved, but we could help the young couple manage those. This second option would allow Skye to practice being a wife and mother – the path she had chosen – around other military spouses and their children. We encouraged the second option and, fortunately, Skye and Ben saw the wisdom in this arrangement as well.
I packed up all of Skye’s belongings – still trying to convince myself: “This is it. She’s really gone. She’s married someone I don’t know. I hope she’s chosen well. It’s out of my hands now.” Emily and I drove the U-Haul and Emily’s car – which she was trading for Ben’s truck as part of our financial assistance program – to North Carolina in January. And there, for the first time, I met Ben. My first impression was very positive. He obviously loved my daughter and granddaughter. He also indicated to me that he was open to having a relationship with Kinsley’s biological father if that was best for her. There are no guarantees in life, but indications that this relationship might last all pointed in the right direction.
Living apart was difficult for the newlyweds, but phone calls and Skype kept them connected. Skye and Kinsley visited us. We visited them. It wasn’t long before Skye began talking about wanting a “real” wedding with all the trimmings. John and I – with friend/nanny Sherry’s help – went back into our huddle. What were our “options” here? On the one hand, Skye and Ben had decided to marry and DID without including us. If she wanted a “real” wedding, let them pay for it. One the other hand, they couldn’t afford a wedding and Skye was our DAUGHTER. This was her only opportunity (we prayed) to wear the white gown, dance at a reception with her father, throw the bouquet, etc. If we didn’t help them make this happen, it wouldn’t happen. Could we live with that? The answer – if you know John and me – was clear. We decided to help make Skye’s dream a reality.
Negotiations began. I won’t retell all of the steps along the way. Suffice it to say that there are lots of costs and responsibilities involved in a wedding and we needed to come up with a distribution of those costs and responsibilities that seemed “fair” to everyone. We learned a lot about each other’s strengths and weaknesses along the way. To our great fortune, Sherry volunteered to be the wedding coordinator and assisted in managing our expectations and timeline.
Ben would return sometime in July. The wedding was to be August 19, 2017 at R-Ranch in the Mountains in Dahlonega, Georgia. More than an hour and a half from Atlanta, we knew that many of our family and friends in-town would not make the drive. But Skye was insistent on an outdoor wedding with a mountain view in a place that she had loved as a child, riding horses, playing in the woods and water, and making campfires outside our cabin at night.
Back to my assumptions… In my experience with weddings, the bride and groom chose attendants who were delighted to be part of the festivities and more than willing to take direction from the bride. The bride’s and groom’s parents knew each other well enough to coordinate on the planning. Each participant had a traditional role to play in the service and reception. The minister or officiant legally joined the couple in marriage. Invitations were sent and invitees responded as to whether or not they were coming. An amount of food and beverage was ordered from the caterer (or arranged for some other way) to reflect the expected number of attendees.
The reality was that there was disagreement over the clothing the attendants would wear that wasn’t resolved until a week before the wedding. Ultimately it was decided that the bridesmaids could wear a dress of their own choosing so long as it was the right color and style.
More significantly, it wasn’t clear until a few days before the wedding whether or not the chosen groomsmen would even be able to attend. Two of them didn’t show. Our son, Becton, was called up as a substitute.
Sherry continued to change who was doing what all the way up to the rehearsal the night before the wedding.
But, in the end, the bridesmaids had appropriate dresses that fit their body types, and there were enough attendants to support the bride and groom.
Not all weddings include a child who is already a member of the couple’s family. Ours did.
Skye wanted Kinsley to ride down the aisle in a sunflower covered wagon as a Junior Bridesmaid. Originally, Becton was to pull the wagon. After he was recruited to be a groomsman, Sherry’s granddaughter, Paxtyn, was pegged for that responsibility. Then, a few days before the wedding, a flower girl, Skye’s niece Kauri, was added to the procession. In the end, the arrangement was just right. Paxtyn escorted a happy baby seated in her decorated wagon and Kauri distributed petals for the bride to process in on.
The reality was that the bride’s and groom’s parents didn’t know each other. We would not meet until we arrived at the wedding site. Moreover, the bride had an additional mother and set of relatives by virtue of adoption. They, too, needed to be incorporated into the ceremony, pictures, and celebration. Who, exactly, was coming, however, wasn’t clear until the day of. Sherry worked diligently to figure out a seating order that would acknowledge the bride’s birth mother and her mother, the groom’s mother and father who each brought a date, and the parents and grandparents who raised Skye.
The reality was that the couple was already legally married, but wanted a “traditional” ceremony. After some discussion, Skye chose my parents, her Nanna and Papa, to officiate. Skye knew that my father, a United Methodist minister, had married John and me. The fact that she didn’t need a minister to legally tie the knot meant that her Nanna could also take part. My parents and I worked on constructing a ceremony that incorporated all of the essential elements, as well as the sand ceremony that Skye wanted to include.
My dad, who has had a stroke that affects his ability to walk, was wheelchair bound on the uneven terrain of the field. But this allowed my mother to take a bigger role in the parts of the ceremony that required movement.
Skye never got around to selecting readings for the ceremony, though she wanted them included. I made those choices for her. Fortunately, Skye’s Aunt Gina, who came down from the Chicago area a few days before the wedding, agreed to be a reader along with me.
In spite of all the necessary modifications and last minute changes, it was a beautiful ceremony.
The reality was that Skye was overly optimistic about the number of her friends from around the country who would be able to attend her wedding. Food and beverage had been purchased or ordered according to this “wishful thinking” number. A few days before the wedding, John, Sherry, and I sat down to examine the list. We realized that it was highly unlikely the potential guests from Wisconsin, California, Arizona, etc. were coming. What were we going to do with all the extra food?! My non-traditional response was to send an email explaining the situation to a number of my friends who had not been included on Skye’s original invitation list, urging them to consider coming. Some of them did! As a result, almost all the food was consumed. It can’t explain why or how it happened, but it turned out to be just the right mix of family and friends, new and old. By all reports I’ve heard, a good time was had by all – wedding party and guests alike.
Now, some of my assumptions about what weddings look like DID turn out to be part of our reality. I assumed the couple’s first dance, the father-daughter and the mother-son dances would be lovely and emotional…
I assumed the toasts would be touching, funny and/or awkward…
I assumed the bride and groom would cut the cake together…
I assumed the bride would be radiant and the groom would be handsome…
And this particular wedding had other special features. The fathers, Mike and John, began a friendship…
The beauty of Ben and Kinsley’s relationship…
The opportunity to stand with Skye’s first mother, Kimberly, and her new mother (in-law), Bernie, in support of this marriage…
To be honest, Skye hasn’t followed many of the assumptions I’ve made about the path she ought to follow. But Skye has proven me wrong on many occasions, and she is apt to change directions time and again in the future. Her possibilities are endless. What I do know is that when Skye makes up her mind to pursue a goal, she is quite capable of achieving it. I am grateful for Kinsley. I am grateful for Ben. And, right now, I am reminded of Skye’s adoption celebration many years ago and the presentation to her of the Dr. Seuss book – Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
*A special thanks goes out to my brother-in-law, Craig LaRusso, for taking these wonderful pictures