Authors: Susan Wiggs
The All-True Story of a Mother and Daughter Surviving the Happiest Day of Their Lives
We dedicate this book to each other.
It’s a tribute to our mother-daughter bond, to the love and trust we share, and a celebration of our epic sixteen months of struggle and triumph.
was born to be a bride. There are family photographs of me in a bridal gown dating all the way back to age two. Even in my imagination, every detail was precisely arranged—the flowers, the veil, the tiara, the sparkly shoes, the smear of lipstick across my mouth. But in those little-girl fantasies, there was one small missing detail: the groom.
Then, senior year of college, the heavens opened up, angels sang from on high and one tipsy night I found myself alone with Dave. I’d seen him around school before (after all, there were only 1,500 students at our tiny liberal arts college), but something about him was…different. Specifically, he looked like a god. Over the summer, he’d grown his glossy, blond hair past his shoulders and had sprouted an extra six inches in height, taking him to a towering 6-foot-4. Pair that with his gracefully lean cross-country runner’s body and I’d bagged myself the offspring of Brad Pitt and a Thomson’s gazelle.
During that first fateful night in his dorm room when we had, ahem, chastely chatted from opposite ends of the futon, he asked if I wanted to brush my teeth, to which I replied “Hell, yes” because, you know, stale cheap beer breath isn’t the most romantic thing in the world. As soon as our pearly whites were clean and fresh, Dave looked at me and began slowly leaning in, a gentlemanly question in his eyes, waiting for my signal that, yes, he could now storm the citadel on his steed, breaching the gates of my…well, you know. I’m not one for subtlety, so I grabbed him by the ears and yanked him into the make-out session to end all make-out sessions. And that’s about all I’m going to say about
Dear Readers. I’m collaborating with my
on this project, after all.
As it turns out, that was the
“first” kiss I would ever share with a man, though I didn’t know it at the time. I certainly hoped so, because it was
magical, the kiss that erased all others. The defining smooch. The zing of chemistry between Dave and me was palpable. After growing up under the wing of a bestselling writer, I finally,
understood what my mom’s books were really about—and why they’re so addictive to so many readers. Dave and I spent countless hours talking and cracking each other up, falling under that magical spell that has launched a million romance novels.
Exactly three years, seven months and twenty-two days later, I would kiss this same dude in a sunlit, fountain-fed atrium full of our family and friends: our first kiss as husband and wife. But between that first Pabst Blue Ribbon–fueled make-out session and the moment we sealed our marriage with a kiss, we had a mountain to climb. A mountain of friggin’ insane wedding planning that would, no matter how we fought it, be heavily supervised and directed by a woman who creates over-the-top, happily-ever-after romance for a living: my mom.
Of all the dreams I ever dreamed for my daughter, the biggest one was the dream in which she finds the one person in the world who will love her for the rest of her life. Because, after all, love in all its forms gives life its meaning. I’ve always believed that. I’d
believe that. I’ve made a career out of it, after all.
But when it comes to real-world matters, there’s a deeper reason for wanting your child to spend the rest of her days with the love of her life. It’s the one secret you can’t tell her. She has to find out for herself. A lasting love is the deepest of life’s joys.
When Elizabeth was very little, and people asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she didn’t say a teacher or a doctor, an artist or a sales clerk or a hot-air balloon pilot.
She would tell them, “A bride.”
My friends would offer pitying looks. “I’m so sorry. She’ll grow out of it. She’ll realize that what she really wants is to be a rocket scientist or a chef or a choreographer…”
I didn’t really need their pity, and I wasn’t bothered by her oft-stated aspiration. As a romance writer, I never quibbled with her dream. Of course she wanted to be a bride. She wanted to find the man of her dreams and live happily ever after.
Is there any higher calling? Any bigger dream?
And so I let her fantasy grow and develop, unimpeded by other people’s expectations or even common sense. The vision was embellished with horse-drawn carriages made of crystal, a banquet consisting of nothing but French toast, Skittles and spun sugar, a ball gown so elaborate it wouldn’t even fit through doorways. The bride would be attended by her best and most beautiful friends, including her Airedale terrier.
When it came time to plan her actual wedding, this vision stayed more or less intact. Sure, the horse-drawn carriage morphed into a white stretch limo, complete with glittering disco lights in the ceiling, and the family dog had gone over the rainbow bridge, but overall, her dream came true—the gown, the beautiful friends, the hair, the pearls…
But where does that leave me, the mom?
I’m not quite sure how to say this, so I’ll be blunt. Does anybody actually dream about being the
of the bride?
Come on. That’s kind of like getting stuck with Midge—the side-kick—while playing Barbies. It’s also sure to mess with your denial about exactly how old you are.
Hello? You are now old enough to actually have a daughter who’s getting married. A new generation has come along, and here you thought
were the young generation. You didn’t even notice the runner behind you, reaching forward to pass you the baton.
Deal with it. No, do better than that. Embrace it. And don’t forget to savor the process. After all, that’s what you’ve been doing all her life, I suspect.
If you’re like me, the mother of an adored and indulged child who has owned your heart for the past twentysomething years, you remember every single minute. You remember what her toddler voice sounded like when she laughed. You remember the little-girl smell of her, and dresses that were too expensive but you bought them anyway because you just had to see her in that adorable smocked pinafore. You remember the feel of her tiny—usually sticky—hand in yours as you took her into unfamiliar situations: A swimming pool. Kindergarten. The IMAX. A petting zoo. Her first piano recital. The dentist. You remember the victory dance she did to celebrate accomplishments from winning a race in a swim meet to learning cursive writing in the third grade. You remember laughing so hard your sides ached, and holding her when she cried, willing to trade your soul to keep her from hurting. You remember how much she loved goodnight kisses, how much she hated black olives, and how very sure she was that you would always be the center of her world.
And then, before you know it, this poised and accomplished young woman appears—seemingly out of nowhere—with a young man at her side. And not just any young man.
young man. Prince Charming. The forever guy.
They have Big News. They can’t wait to tell you. Turns out Prince Charming has even been conspiring with your husband, arranging the surprise proposal, the whirlwind romantic weekend, the start of plans that are about to consume you for the next sixteen months.
All right, so you’re not the center of her world anymore. You’re the Mother of the Bride. Even the phrase itself makes you sound old. Dowdy.
But here’s a secret: you’re in for the time of your life.
In which Prince Charming proposes to us, er, me
o, my publisher just called and asked if there are any dates this summer when I won’t be able to go on a book tour,” said my mom.
I have this habit—which I believe is absolutely adorable and endearing—of calling my mother every time I’m walking anywhere. The result is that we speak at least four or five times a day, and she’s gotten into the habit of answering phone calls from me with, “Where are you walking?” This particular conversation happened one morning as I hiked the five blocks between my bus stop and work.
My mom got a weird tone in her voice and continued. “And…I’m just telling yoo-oooou about my summer planssss…” (in a singsong voice) “…because I was wondering if there might be any sort of, you know,
around that time. You know, like a family event here in Seattle that I will have to attend because it will be a
very big deal for our family?
“Your wedding, Elizabeth.”
Right. There was just one problem. One of the parties involved—namely, Dave—was not exactly down with the whole wedding thing. Oh, I’m pretty sure he had plenty of hopes, dreams, expectations, maybe even obsessions about building a future with me. But, like most guys, he played his cards close to the vest and he wasn’t fond of showing his hand. Not even to me, the love of his life.
This was starting to grate on my mother. She held her tongue and cultivated patience, and I did my best to follow her example.
But okay, I’ll just say it. Listen up, ladies. When it’s time, it’s time.
The man of your dreams gets a grace period, but by definition, a grace period has an end point. Dave’s was quickly approaching.
After reassuring my mother that, indeed, she would be the first person to know upon my engagement to Dave, my Canadian boyfriend whom I met in college, I changed the subject so that we wouldn’t jinx anything. I understood her concern. Dave and I had recently decided to move to Chicago for him to attend law school. As usual, I didn’t really have a plan for myself beyond being blond, watching every riveting moment of
and waiting for my dream job to fall into my lap.
Unlike the fictional gals in my mom’s books, I was not a spunky-yet-lovable virgin trying to save the family ranch in the face of staggering adversity, all the while raising her dead sister’s children and dallying with some tattooed bad boy named Rusty or Ryder.
I was a real, actual person. Maybe a lot like you—just out of school, crazy in love, trying to make sense out of my life.
So, yeah, I was also wondering if this new level of commitment—namely, picking up and moving to the Windy City—would result in an engagement. (Spoiler: It did.)
Later that evening, Dave and I walked home hand-in-hand. I was a bit tipsy because we had joined friends for happy hour and I gracelessly steered our conversation to the upcoming wedding of two of our closest friends. HINT, HINT, Dave. When he acted clueless, I brought up the conversation I’d had with my mom about her summer plans.
“You know,” I slurred, “my mom was asking when we were going to get engaged…ha ha, isn’t that HILARIOUS?”
Dave shot me a sidelong glance and said, “Don’t talk to her about it so much. I want it to be natural, not something that our families push us into doing.”
See, here’s the cute thing about Dave. As the middle son of three boys, he doesn’t have a clue about the mother-daughter bond. He doesn’t understand that my mother has been party to every single detail of our relationship since before we even began dating. In fact,
she was the one who logged into my Facebook account senior year of college, spotted his devastatingly handsome profile picture, and “poked” him on my behalf.
This is the kind of thing that lends credence to the old adage, “Mother Knows Best.” Because that poke led to a silly online flirtation, which led to a silly in-person flirtation, which led to me finding my soul’s puzzle piece in the form of a 6-foot-4 Canadian runner with a mane of shoulder-length, blond hair. Frickin’ awesome. Cue the make-out session I mentioned earlier. My mom couldn’t write it better in one of her books. And the Davester had no idea it all started with a click of my mom’s mouse.
So when Dave asked me to avoid talking to my mom about the prospect of a proposal, I nodded and kept my mouth shut. The poor guy didn’t have a clue. My mother had been the puppet-master of our relationship since before he even knew I existed. I just counted us lucky that we actually did find true love with one another in spite—or perhaps
—of my mother’s meddling.
Here’s a hint about your mom—the older you get, the smarter she seems.
“What do you want for your birthday, honey?”
Another conversation with my mom, this one on the way home from work nine days before my twenty-fourth birthday. Please note that there is nothing special about this day. It’s not the Ides of March. Valentine’s Day is long past. St. Paddy’s Day, Easter, Arbor Day, Cinco de Mayo, Talk Like a Pirate Day…none of these most sacred feasts falls on March 14. It’s the most random of days. The sort of day from which you expect nothing but the usual ambulatory phone call with your mother.
“Well, I feel like it’s bad luck to say this…” I began, “but all I really want is for Dave to propose to me. I can’t stop thinking about it!”
A string of promising holidays had come and gone, leaving me deflated. I had no doubt that he loved me, but he didn’t seem to be in a hurry to take the next obvious step.
I had secretly begged Santa for a ring, but clearly, he didn’t get the memo. Then I thought maybe New Year’s Eve would be The Moment. Lots of couples got engaged on New Year’s Eve, right? But no, all I got on New Year’s was a hoarse voice from karaoke performances of “Super Freak,” and a raunchy hangover. Then came Valentine’s Day, the ultimate date with destiny. Half the married people I know got engaged on Valentine’s Day. But when February 14 rolled around, Dave wrote me a beautiful, loving letter and bought me a giant steak. There was no diamond buried in the meat, though. Undaunted, I studied the calendar for the Next Big Special Day. I have a March birthday, so that was a possibility, but I figured I would
if Dave was thinking about proposing, and a little voice in my head told me that he would be waiting until we were settled into our new home in Chicago the following year.
My mom, clearly, shared my view.
I could hear her snort on the phone. “He’s not going to propose for your birthday,” she said in her most matter-of-fact, I-know-everything voice. “
me. I would know. Your father is incapable of keeping a secret from me, and he hasn’t said a word about a proposal.”
“But…maybe Dave’s just being really secretive…?”
“Nope. Sorry, hon. He’s a guy. That means he’s about as secretive as a Golden Retriever with a new tennis ball. We’ll just have to work on him this summer.” With that statement, she embarked on one of her classic Susan Wiggs–style lectures outlining all the ways we would subtly guide the unsuspecting Dave into asking me to marry him.
In her books, the desperately-in-love heroine triggers a proposal by having her stern-yet-loving dad hold a gun to the hero’s head, or by staging a life-threatening fall from a castle tower in a hail of crossbow bolts, or by loudly pondering the virtues of joining a nunnery. I wasn’t quite that desperate yet. But I was starting to feel the urge to give him
a shove in the right direction. As an inventor of romance and love, my mother was the right person to ask for some hints about delivering my subtle PUH-LEEEEEEEEEEZE ASK ME TO MARRY YOU message.
One thing this process probably did have in common with my mom’s fiction—I discovered that the deepest rewards were always found at the most unexpected moments. She was probably right. On my birthday in two weeks, I wasn’t going to be getting a ring…it was just too obvious.
At this point, I was approaching our apartment building. I pulled out my key to unlock the front door and noticed a tiny red heart sticker just above the lock. Not thinking much of it, I entered the front hall and, still listening to my mom’s ideas on wringing a proposal out of Dave, reached for the handle of the door that led to my hall.
There was another heart sticker just above the knob. “Aw, someone must be having an anniversary,” I thought.
“…then we’ll get your dad to take Dave golfing and talk to him about how he proposed to me, and there might be some kind of ominous mishap involving a fairway wood and Dave’s thick head. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll ‘accidentally’ send him an email about a Seattle-area wedding photographer, and then you’ll start whispering things about diamond rings to him while he’s sleeping each night…” my mom continued, spinning plans as elaborate as the plot of a romance novel.
I turned the corner and saw the front door to my apartment. Dave had told me he would be working late, so I wasn’t surprised to find it still locked.
But then I saw yet another little red heart sticker above the knob.
“Uh…Mommy?” (Bear with me; I still call her “Mommy”) I said as I unlocked the door. I felt a whooshing sensation in my stomach.
“…do you think I should email his mother? I’m sure she wants you guys to get engaged, too. I can’t wait to shop for a mother-of-the-bride dress…”
I opened my door. In front of me, every visible surface was covered with flowers. The floor was carpeted in a thick layer of rose petals,
tulips drooped from the walls (I later learned that these were held up by the manliest of substances: duct tape), and bright bouquets bloomed from every table in our living room. Crepe paper streamers swagged the perimeter of the room and “Everything” by Michael Bublé, our song, played softly on our stereo.
Standing in the center of it all was Dave, looking more nervous and happy than I had ever seen him.
My mother was still talking: “…you know, your father and I love Dave like a son, so maybe I could just be frank with him and tell him that it’s time to seal the deal…”
“Mommy? MOMMY. I have to go. I have to go!”
“What’s wrong? Did your washing machine overflow?” I could hear her launch into a litany of tips on cleaning up soapsuds as I hung up on her.
Half an hour later, I was perched on Dave’s lap, staring dewy-eyed at the beautiful emerald-cut solitaire he had given me when he asked me, on bended knee, to be his wife.
“I can’t wait to tell my mom!” I gushed. “She and I were just talking about how we didn’t think you’d propose anytime soon!”
“Actually, I was thinking that we could wait until tomorrow to start telling people,” Dave said. “I want tonight just for us, so we can enjoy the moment.”
Yeah, my mom was gonna love that idea.
Thus began my sixteen-month wedding planning journey, an experience that would be defined by my constant attempt to balance my own desires with those of my future husband…and my romance-writing mother. Looking back, the experience was pretty awesome in general, but I’m not going to sugarcoat the fact that there were a few moments of eating-icing-straight-from-the-can stress and Lizzie- Borden-took-an-axe rage.
So this book is my gift to you, who (I’m assuming) are about to embark on a wedding-planning journey of your own. I’m not going to
give you any itemized checklists or detailed instructions. I’ll leave that to the experts. I’m just going to share my own story with you—the story of a real gal planning a real wedding with a real budget. I didn’t have peacocks flown in from Spain for some million-dollar reception and I also didn’t hand-make two hundred candles for my guests to take home with them after pulling off a magical wedding for five bucks.
What I did was end up happily ever after with the man of my dreams. I won’t tell you it’s easy. Nothing worth having ever is.
My mom and I have a mostly normal mother-daughter relationship. There were times that we fought like wet cats over the wedding, and other moments when I looked into her eyes and could see how proud she was of me for becoming the woman I am.
Of course, in the first half hour of being engaged, visions of wet cats hadn’t even occurred to me yet. Sitting there with my newly minted fiancé, telling him how important it was for me to share our news with my mom immediately, I had this mental image of my mother’s eyes filling with tears as I put on my perfect, white wedding gown for the first time, of her nodding enthusiastically as she crammed her mouth full of lemon-raspberry cake at our menu tasting, of her excitedly begging me to let her throw me four—no, five!—bridal showers.
So, looking into my glowingly happy face, Dave agreed to allow me one teeny, tiny phone call…to my mother.
If you were to look up the phrase
in the dictionary, I suspect you would find a picture of a newly engaged girl’s mother. Of course you want your daughter to find someone to love and cherish her, to build a life and a family with her. But the quest for this elusive person is all very theoretical. Her first love was a squishy doll named
“Baby Bobby,” which set the bar pretty low. The idea, we hoped, was that she would trade up.
We used to give nicknames to Elizabeth’s boyfriends. A few I recall are “The Lump,” “The Bottomless Pit” and “The Project.” Some had acronyms: “LAMB” (Little Angry Man Boy) and the unfortunate but accurate “GOAH” (Gayest of All Homosexuals). So as you can imagine, her dad and I had developed a healthy skepticism about her dating choices.
During her senior year of college, she experienced the ubiquitous “Turkey Dump” when a guy known as “The Cipher,” who was supposed to come home to meet us at Thanksgiving, bailed on her. Hiding a big maternal sigh of relief, I uttered all the soothing mom clichés: “There are plenty of other fish in the sea,” “You need a man like a fish needs a bicycle” and “We’ll always have chocolate.”
We both agreed that nothing soothes a woman scorned quite like shopping. And thanks to the insane innovation of Facebook, you can shop online for your next boyfriend. She gave me a guided tour of the guys on her college network who had a crush on her. (Note to girls: Until you’ve found Mr. Right, keep your options open.) Initially, I was not encouraged. There were guys with shirts peeled off, guzzling Jägermeister; guys making Zoolander faces, guzzling Jägermeister; guys giving me the thumbs-up sign, guzzling Jägermeister; guys krumping and guzzling Jägermeister…you get the picture. You’ve
those pictures. Is guzzling Jägermeister today’s prerequisite to romance? Did Mr. Right exist only in my feverish writer’s imagination?