Friday, August 21, 2009

Book Report

Now that I’ve been officially bestowed with the envious title of “stepmother,” and given my previous – and still current – status as “mother,” I’ve found myself reading up on parenting.

You know, in an effort to be a better parent.

I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to say, “Sarah, you can’t improve on perfection.” And as flattering as that is (Dad), I’m smart enough to know I’ve still have miles to go before I sleep.

When my daughters were young, going all the way back to in-utero young, I read so many parenting books, I could have been Dr. Phil’s parenting-expert sidekick. My Bible was Natural Family Living by Peggy O’Mara. I was a baby-wearing, prolonged breast-feeding, family bedding, attachment parenting, natural consequence imposing, mothering POWERHOUSE. I devoted all of my spare time to learning how to be the best parent I could to these two little squirts the Universe had miraculously placed in my care. And I loved every minute of it.

Then I got divorced and I read a lot of books about that. Not as uplifting and optimistic as books about how baby-wearing and the family bed would ultimately transform my daughters into self-confident, healthy, generous young adults. But practical. And necessary. Unfortunately. I needed books to help transform ME into a self-confident, healthy, generous young adult.

And then I decided to spend some time focusing on my career. So I read a bunch of books about that. Books about the abortion debate, family planning, health care management, insurance billing, and reproductive health care pushed “Natural Family Living” and its companions to the dusty, less often utilized sections of my bookshelf. A few books, like Nighttime Parenting and Mothering Your Nursing Toddler got boxed up and put to bed in the back of my closet.

And then I decided to indulge my hobbies. I gobbled up How To Rock Climb, How To Ice Climb, Leading Out, The Cake Bible, Dream Work, The French Laundry Cookbook, The Elegant Universe, Good Morning Midnight, Letters To A Young Poet, Consider The Oyster, and Deep Survival. Books about parenthood seemed… well… boring.

And it had been years and years – 7 at least – since my first kid was born. I was no doubt by now a parenting expert. My daughters and I were like THAT, I co-parented well with my former husband and his sweet new wife, and I had all of my core parenting values, goals and principles all figured out.

Or so I thought.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my life thus far it’s that as soon as you think you’ve got something all figured out, the Universe taps you on the shoulder (or drops a piano on your head) to remind you that, in fact, you do not.

My life changed, as lives tend to do, and all of a sudden, parenting feels like a priority again.

I met a man who has two kids. I fell in love with this man and his two kids. We got married. I became a stepmother. The kids have new siblings. And horror of all horrors, they’re all getting older and there’s nothing I can do to slow it down.

I don’t know how to be a step-mother.

I don’t know how to parent tweens and teens.

I don’t know how to foster healthy relationships between step-siblings.

I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.

So, I’m reading books about parenting again. I pulled out my old copy of Siblings Without Rivalry. I read it once, years ago, but it wasn’t very relevant at the time since the only rivalry my daughters were engaged in was over whether or not 2 year old Eleanor should have access to 4 year old Sophia’s favorite stuffed dog.

“Siblings Without Rivalry” is suddenly, beautifully, drastically and eerily relevant now. Wondering how you can help your children learn to express their emotions appropriately (i.e without cruelty, tantrums and pettiness)? It’s in here. Stymied by your children’s expectation that you treat them all equally? Never mind that! With this book, you learn to treat your children uniquely, which is actually better than equally. Sick of mediating your children’s inter-personal battles? Well don’t. It’s better for your children – and your family – if you let them muddle through it on their own. Ever wonder if you and your partner are contributing to sibling rivalry? You probably are. And this book is teaching me how to cut it out.

Our kids are 8, 10, 10 & 12. We’re barreling headlong into about 10 years of raising tweens and teens. I remember being a teen and it sucked. I had pimples, really bad hair, not a single thread of trendy clothes, and a marked lack of aptitude in anything that would have made me even remotely popular. I had 4 little brothers and sisters who were pains in my ass. I had parents who I perceived didn’t understand me, got angry over stupid stuff, didn’t love me as much as they loved the little kids, and who, without a doubt, didn’t let me borrow the car nearly enough. In short, I was a moody little pisser who was probably not very fun to be around.

Here’s the thing, I don’t want to live with 4 moody little pissers for the next 10 years, so I’m reading WHY Do They Act That Way?: A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen. This book is guiding me to be a more compassionate, understanding parent. When you understand WHY adolescents act they way they do, it’s much easier to summon the empathy necessary to calmly cope with all the baloney they’re going to feed you. Did you know that your child’s brain takes a little break between toddler-hood and adolescence and then growth reactivates at an alarming pace when your little angel reaches puberty? Why is your teen grumpy? Why does she sleep all the time? Why does he eat so much? Why does she take stupid risks? Why is he territorial and how come you no longer speak his language or understand his wardrobe? It’s all about the changes in the brain. This book is showing me that while parenting teens can certainly be challenging, it can also be the most rewarding time for children and parents alike.

I’ve always thought I was a pretty good mother. In fact, it’s always been one of the things I think I do best. I even pat myself on the back from time to time.

Here’s a newsflash: being a step-mother is NOTHING like being a mother. It takes a whole different set of skills, a whole new level of understanding, a completely unique brand of patience and an unfamiliar but necessary willingness to “just let it go” that I never experience as a biological mother.

I’m reading Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do. It’s delightful and beautifully validating. I can now rest assured that I’m not the petty, heartless, nagging jerk that stepmothers are made out to be in literature, culture and even in the minds of the people we love and sometimes even in our own minds. It’s refreshing to see an expert validating my hunch that yes, it’s a whole different ball of wax when a woman chooses to marry a man with children. And you know what? Despite what I’ve come to believe since entering the stepmother role, I am not solely responsible for the challenges I encounter. I’m learning to love in new ways, to stop relentlessly pushing my own agenda, to watch the kids for cues, to forgive myself and my husband for our past mistakes in partnering and parenting, and to be an excellent mother AND stepmother.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Not Only Blood Does Family Make

35 years ago it was so unusual for a family to be "non-nuclear" that "The Brady Bunch" was an award winning icon of the blended family.

When the family I grew up in came together in the early 1980's, blended families were still enough of a phenomenon that a psychologist actually wrote an article about us.

Today, being a member of a blended family is fairly ho-hum. Television shows focus on other sad, fascinating or just plain voyeuristic aspects of the modern American family. Did you have 6 babies all at once? You can have a TV show! Do you feed your children too much junk-food? You can have a TV show, too! Do you and your family want to remodel your home, travel around the country in an RV, live a pious, Jesus-centered life, swap wives and mothers for a week, or start your own business? All of you can have your own TV shows too. If you're a plain old member of a step-family, you're no longer interesting enough to garner the attention of the American television watching public.

I can personally attest to the fact that being a member of a blended family is anything but ho-hum. Not only was I the child of a loving blended family, but I'm now carefully building one of my own. It's challenging, rewarding, painful, joyous, and sllllloooowwww. Members of blended families sometimes feel sadness, jealously, anger, and confusion. And sometimes they feel love, joy, kindness and hope. Sometimes members of blended families don't know what to feel.

But despite any challenges that come with nurturing a blended family, here is one important thing I've learned: it's never a bad thing to have more people in my life to call family. It's never a bad thing to have more people to love! It's a gift that our children have so many grown-ups in their lives who love them and accept them as unconditionally as Hallie, Sophia, Adam and Eleanor are accepted. And whether or not they realize it today, it's a gift that Hallie, Sophia, Adam and Eleanor have one another ("but she's sooooooo annoying!").

As my wedding day approaches, it's not cold feet or fear or trepidation that I'm feeling. What I feel is deep gratitude and a growing sense of contentment. I am grateful to all the amazing people in my life that I am fortunate enough to call family. You have made my life what it is; you've shaped me and nudged me and loved me and left me alone when that was the best thing.

Dan and I are embarking on an incredible journey to build the family and life of which we dream. And how can that not make a woman content?

We're getting married in 5 days.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Good Things Come to Those Who .... Make Good Things Happen

As she approached the hill to the house, she eased her foot off the gas and pulled to the side of the road. She flipped the visor down and contemplated her face in the tiny mirror. Her eyebrows were disheveled from having rubbed sunscreen into her face 30 minutes earlier. She ran her middle fingers over her brows and silently chided herself for not plucking the stray hairs when there was a tweezer available. She touched the pimple on her neck. It had arrived overnight and was big and red and painful. Careful picking, desperate squeezing, a cold washcloth, Clearasil and a healthy dose of cover-up had done nothing to disguise the fact that she had a big, red pimple on her neck.

“Fuck!” She shrieked and slapped her forehead. “What the fuck am I doing?”

She slammed the visor up and her face disappeared. She looked at her watch. She wasn’t expected for five minutes yet and experience told her it wouldn’t matter all that much if she were a little late. She turned up the radio and opened her bag, looking for a chapstick. There was a half-pack of gum, a pony-tail holder, dental floss, her wallet, a shopping list, and the business card of the ugly bore she’d been out with two nights earlier, but no chapstick. She felt sobs lodge in her throat as she rummaged in the glove-box looking for a chapstick.

“Why the hell isn’t there any chapstick in this god-damned car?” She scolded herself again and turned around to search the backseat. She glimpsed a pink tube wedged into the corner of her daughter’s car-seat and reached for it, knowing it was going to be a waxy, congealed, bubble-gum flavored mess. She pulled the top off, shrugged, smeared it on her lips and tossed it on the passenger-side floor.

“Gross,” she muttered as she licked her lips. Why did children have to make a wreck of everything they touched?

She could hear her heart pounding in her ears as she closed her eyes and imagined herself pulling into that familiar driveway, greeting the dog, knocking on the door, maybe shaking his hand, casually asking innocuous questions, making small-talk. She shuddered and pulled the visor down again.

She squinted at her partial reflection. Her lips were pink, full, and glistening with the gummy sheen of her daughter’s cheap lip gloss. She turned her head and her fluffy brown hair filled the mirror. Lately, it had become streaked with gray. She had tried to tell herself that this was distinguished, but in reality, the gray was probably due to some pathetic mix of stress, sadness, surrender and genetics. She took off her sunglasses and regarded her eyes. They were mostly dull, plain brown, but dancing tantalizingly in the corners, she could see flecks of gold and green. And there, there in the pupils, where sight meets mind, she also saw a peculiar combination of fear, resilience and optimistic expectancy.

She sighed audibly and felt a rush of nerves. She looked over her shoulder to make sure no one was coming and flexed her left bicep. With her right hand, she squeezed her arm through her parka and grinned a cheeky half-grin. She was strong, but took pride in the fact that she was not the grotesque kind of strong. She was limber, supple, solid.

“Well, at least I’ve got that going for me,” she said to her smug reflection.

She looked at the radio and grimaced. Gloria Gaynor was on, belting out – with characteristic acrimony – “I Will Survive.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me. That’s fucking perfect.” She rolled her eyes as she realized she was talking to herself again.

“Go already, you big baby.”

She put the car in gear and started up the hill to the house. As her vehicle skidded on the remnants of last night’s snow storm, she considered turning around and blaming the weather. Just then, the tires found purchase on dry pavement and the car lurched grudgingly up the hill. She turned into the driveway and heard the cold crunch of snow as she stepped on the brakes. She sat, engine running, and looked down at her thighs. In 8th grade, Reed Whittier had teased her, calling her Thunder Thighs. For a moment, she wished she’d put on her bibs before she got in the car.

“Oh fuck it,” she thought, and turned off the engine.

Just then, the dog appeared from behind the garage and charged the car, tail wagging, looking thrilled to have company. She opened the car door and the cold scent of winter and freshly fallen snow rushed her nose. Unexpected tears froze instantly on her cheeks.

She saw the curtain flutter on the front window and there he was, hair damp from a recent shower, holding a cup of coffee, looking out at her as she simultaneously patted the dog and gathered her climbing gear from the trunk of her car. She hoped he couldn’t see the tremor that had started in her toes and was now making its way unabashedly to her arms and hands.

She walked up the driveway to the house, trying to focus on the dog, the gear, the pimple, her waxy lips, Gloria Gaynor – anything but what lay on the other side of the door and the conversation she knew she was going to have to have.

As she approached the door, she heard the knob turn and she exhaled, chest aching. In that instant, she forgot to breathe.

It was, as she would remember it in months and years to come, a breathless beginning.

They're getting married in 7 days.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Items Left on the Wedding To-Do List

We've been together for almost 4 years.

We've been engaged for 15 months.

We chose our wedding venue 13 months ago.

Tell me, somebody, please, why do we have such a long to-do list one week from the wedding date?

Actually, it's not rocket science and I know exactly why we still have a long to-do list one week from the wedding date. My darling husband-to-be and I are Grade-A, Prime Time, Award Winning, World Class Procrastinators.

Oh, we're charming and amazingly intelligent and fabulously good-looking and really, really popular. But even the best amongst us have our faults. Dan and me, we're just plain lazy.

Wait, even that's not entirely true. We bang it out at work. Our employers are damn lucky to have people like us working for them.

But something happens when we get home. The shoes come off, the pajamas go on, the wine comes out, the feet go up and, well, that's pretty much it.

Dan says we're not lazy, we're just content. Uh huh. Content with sitting on the couch with our pajamas, slippers and wine, watching Ace of Cakes and Rescue Me.

Okay, I digress.

The To-Do List:

1. Purchase tins for centerpiece cookies. The nice thing about getting married at a restaurant is that the restaurant takes care of decorating the restaurant. For us, this means that all the tables indoors, where we will be eating dinner, will be fully decorated with flowers, candles, linens, etc. Unfortunately, this left us with the seemingly impossible task of figuring out what to do about the tables on the patio and in the dancing tent. I am not crafty. I don't have what you might call and "aesthetic eye." I had no idea what to do about centerpieces for all those outdoor tables. We threw around a bunch of ideas: floating tea candles, a bouquet of sparklers, cake (yes, cake), vases of flowers. We liked the idea of the cakes best because it meant something yummy for our guests to eat. The problem is, we're out of money so ordering cakes was not an option and while I am the master of all cake makers, I didn't feel like spending the week before my wedding baking a dozen cakes. But the concept of a yummy centerpiece stuck and we compromised with cookies. Chocolate chip, peanut butter, and oatmeal (without raisins because raisins are stupid). We need decorative tins. I worry that, since it's not Christmastime, I won't be able to find decorative tins.

2. Make Chuppah poles. My lovely friend Emily made us a gorgeous quilted Chuppah. Poles, we need poles. My father is arriving on Sunday night to help with wedding prep. Guess what Dad! You get to make Chuppah poles!

3. Hair rehearsal. I'm having my hair professional coiffed for my wedding. This makes me very, very nervous. I've had many unfortunately hair episodes in my life and at this point, the only two people I trust to touch my hair are me and my long-time, well trusted, extremely talented hair-cutter Stephanie. Here's what a learned though: Stephanie doesn't do up-dos. I've been forced to entrust my locks to a stranger. Tomorrow is the practice hair-do, to make sure this woman doesn't turn me out looking like the Bride of Frankenstein for my wedding.

4. Paint signs. We've sic'ed the kids on this one. We need signs for Route 7 pointing people toward the restaurant and then directing them to the site of the ceremony. We're going to provide them with flat wood, paint, brushes, and lots of room to make a mess. And then we're going to walk away.

5. Make bouquets. Oh yeah, you heard that right. We're making our own bouquets. We're ordering bulk roses and Gerber daisies and making our own bouquets. This didn't seem like such a big deal at first. And then, while I was ordering the flowers and dreamily perusing bouquet samples, it occurred to me that I don't have the first clue about how to make a bouquet. How to they get the flowers in exactly the right place? How to they make it so that every flower gets equal airtime? How do they cut the stems so precisely? How do they know what looks good? I panicked and emailed my soon-to-be sister-in-law Kristen. I begged a little and she responded with a very encouraging list of items I needed to buy in order for her to help me make the bouquets. The flowers arrive on Thursday. Via FedEx. From Ecuador. Crazy.

6. Pressure wash the patio and generally clean up the yard in preparation for the "rehearsal dinner" BBQ taking place at Camp Wonegan on Friday. Huh? I'm going to be very busy making cookies, arranging flowers, and getting my hair done. I think Dan had better take care of the yard.

7. Pick up my dress from the tailor. I know, I know, why did I wait so long? I thought it would be fine with high heeled shoes. I bought the shoes (fabulous shoes... really). I put the dress on and it was still too long, but I somehow managed to convince myself that it wasn't. And then I had a dream that I fell on my face in the mud while I was walking down the aisle. I put on the shoes and dress again. I tried to walk. Very bad. Two days ago, I took the dress to Joy (my wonderful tailor who makes my waist look tiny by altering all of my pants just so) and pretty much begged her to take on a rush job. She scolded me for being such a big fat procrastinator and then said "Thursday, $35. Now go away so I can work."

8. Buy a bikini, tank tops, snorkel & mask and trashy magazines for the honeymoon. 'Nuff said.

9. Buy bling. Here's the reason I haven't bought the bling yet: I'm not only a procrastinator, but I'm a girl with Gucci taste on a K-mart budget. I'm going tomorrow to buy the bling. It will be affordable and fine, but I'll be eyeing the expensive stuff wistfully.

10. Write vows. How in the world am I ever going to find the time to write vows when I'm so busy keeping this blog up-to-date?

I'm sure there are other things, but my pajamas, slippers and wine are waiting for me.

We're getting married in 8 days.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Once Upon a Time, Sarah Took Dan to an Expensive Men's Clothing Store and There Was This Girl...

There aren't many options in little Burlington, Vermont for purchasing fancy men's clothes.

There are even fewer options for men with freakishly long arms and legs.

The good thing is, my husband-to-be would look adorable wearing a paper bag, so I was confident that we would be able to find something wonderful for him to wear to our wedding.

There was no way on Earth I was going to get him into a suit, a tie, stiff shoes, or anything resembling a tuxedo. And seeing as how we'd taken to telling our guests that the dress-code for our wedding is "garden party," a nice linen shirt and well-made linen slacks seemed appropriate attire for the blushing groom.

One gray Saturday morning in April, we decided that this was the day we were going to buy Dan's wedding clothes.

The conversation over breakfast, as we prepared for our shopping expedition:

"Now honey, you know you're probably going to have to try on a lot of clothes before we find just the right thing. You know that, right?"

"Uh huh." Sip of coffee, bite of toast.

"Well, let's start at Michael Kehoe. It's a pretty expensive store, but the clothes will be beautiful. Maybe we can find something you like and then try to find it cheaper elsewhere. We can also try Macy's and The Men's Warehouse."

"Uh huh." Sip of coffee, bite of toast.

"Are you still thinking that you want to go with the linen?"

"Uh huh." Sip of coffee, bite of toast.

"What about your feet? We can get you some new Birkenstocks. This is Vermont, after all. Birks would look nice and summery with the linen slacks, don't you think?"

"Uh huh." Sip of coffee, bite of toast, swipe of napkin.

I braced myself for a long day.

The people at Michael Kehoe know how to sell clothes. The lighting is soft, but not dim. There are just enough pieces of clothing out to offer a decent selection, but not so many as to be overwhelming. The sales-people are friendly and helpful without being overbearing. The temperature is a dry 71 degrees; just right for trying on clothes without getting a chill. The big mirrors are on the outside of the dressing rooms so that the gentlemen can bask in the glow of compliments as they show off their new duds.

Let me take a moment to tell you what happens when Sarah and Dan go shopping for Dan. Sarah gets right to work flipping through racks of clothes while Dan wanders aimlessly about the store, dreaming of Carhartts and t-shirts.

Michael Kehoe had a lot of linen out that day. This wasn't JC Penney linen, either. This was luxurious, Italian linen with disclaimers on rustic looking recycled paper labels proclaiming that due to the extravagant nature of the handmade fabric, variations in texture and color shade are normal.

I pulled a pair of sand-colored, flat front linen slacks from a hook on the wall. Dan moseyed over.

"We're never going to be able to find my size here."

Cue the sales-person. We were holding a piece of clothing and talking about it.

She walked out from behind the sales-counter with her game-face on: kind eyes, a small, genuine smile and a slightly furrowed brow.

"Can I help you find something?"

Dan stopped examining the pants and looked at the sales-woman. I looked at Dan. It was clear that this woman was probably Michael Kehoe's best sales-person.

She was about 25 years old with long, perfectly flat, silky brown hair. She was tall, thin, and wore a pair of $200 jeans and rich brown knee-high riding boots.

She was stunning.

I spoke first.

"We're getting married in a few months and we're looking for an outfit for my sweetie here. We thought maybe linen?" I gestured toward the pants in Dan's hands.

Dan spoke next.

"But I have freakishly long arms and legs and I have a hard time finding my size in regular clothing stores." He flapped his arms to demonstrate their gangliness.

Riding Boots Girl sprung into action. She extracted the pants from Dan's grasp and looked him up and down, sizing him up.

"These will fit you just fine."

She then sauntered over to a collection of linen shirts in saturated shades of blue with names like azure, cerulean, persian, indigo, and cornflower. She plucked one from the rack and pointed Dan toward the changing rooms.

Dan was in the changing room for about 45 seconds and came out wearing the pants, but not the shirt.

The pants made Dan's butt look really good.

"Those are great, honey. Can you try on the shirt?"

He started to put the azure shirt on over his t-shirt.

"No babe, do it for real. Can you put it on without the t-shirt?"

Dan headed back into the changing room and I looked at Riding Boots Girl. We both chuckled.

Dan emerged from that changing room looking gorgeous.

Riding Boots Girl winked at Dan.

"That shirt is incredible on you. It really makes your eyes pop."

That was it for my Hunk. He batted his eyelashes, blushed a little and proclaimed that he'd take it.

I piped up.

"Wait. Do you want to look in a couple of other places first? This is the first store we've been to."

Riding Boots Girl offered to hold the outfit for us for a few hours while we shopped around. We headed over to Macy's and Dan half-heartedly perused the men's section.

"I'm not going to be able to find anything as nice as that first outfit." He frowned.

Twenty minutes later we were back at Michael Kehoe, but Riding Boots Girl was on her break. We pointed to the linen shirt and pants hanging behind the sales counter and an overly clean-cut young man rang us up.

I heard a gasp and looked at Dan, who was starting at the price tag on the eye-popping azure shirt. He nudged me. I looked. The shirt cost more than my wedding dress.

"You're worth it, Hon. You deserve it. And besides, it's not like a wedding dress. You can wear this shirt on a million other occasions. We should get it."

And so we did.

We're getting married in 9 days.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Wedding Dress, Schmedding Dress

It's supposed to be thrilling, right? It's what every girl dreams of: the moment she finds the perfect wedding dress.

Well, wedding dress, schmedding dress, I say.

It was relief and not thrill that I felt when I finally plunked down the cash for the 273rd dress I tried on over a 3 month period. But it wasn't the "yippee, I found the dress of my dreams" kind of relief. It was the "yippee, I don't have to shop for wedding dresses anymore" kind of relief.

I think I can say that I categorically hate wedding dress boutiques.

First of all, they smell funny. A weird odorous combination of feet (you have to take off your shoes in wedding dress boutiques), old lady perfume (from all those grandmothers of the bride, clutching their pearl clasped purses from which the moolah for granddaughter's dress will materialize), plastic (every wedding dress is sheathed in a large plastic body bag), and sweat (brides-to-be sweat a lot while trying on dozens and dozens of forty pound dresses) permeates the boutique. That smell clung to me for hours after I left each boutique.

Secondly, you have to let the skinny little 19 year olds who work in wedding dress boutiques dress you. Because, you know, a bride-to-be can't be trusted to put on a dress all by herself. So there I was, shivering in my big-girl underwear and wishing I'd remembered to shave my armpits, listening to a perky, childless, unmarried sprite tell me to "dive right in." She meant dive right into the dress. I learned that you never put on wedding dresses feet first. Always head first.

Thirdly, I was always the oldest bride-to-be in every dress shop we went to. Now listen, I don't really have any hang-ups about my age. Yeah, I have a few more gray hairs than I'd like, a few more "smile lines" than I'd like, and I recently noticed a new mole on the back of my right hand, but I generally feel pretty young. But if you're over 28 and wedding dress shopping, you may as well be 80. The sheer volume of engaged 23 year olds is staggering. They were everywhere. Who knew?

Fourthly, wedding dress shopping was bad for my ego. Did you know that wedding dresses are sized up? So, while I usually wear a size 4 or 6 dress, in wacky wedding dress sizing world, I was a size 10 or 12. And here's something they never tell you: if you put on a wedding dress without adding the whole hair-makeup-shoes-jewelery component, you just look like a poser. You don't look like a bride. You look like a grown woman playing dress-up. Also, in the "wrong" dress (and many, many of them are "wrong"), you get to see all of your worst physical traits amplified. Who knew my upper arms flapped in the breeze like that? When did all that cellulite appear? Seriously, do I really have that many pimples on my back? Ugh, fat thighs. Why didn't anyone ever tell me I had such broad, manly shoulders? Why on earth does my face have a different skin tone than my neck? Could my butt look any bigger?

Fifthly, wedding dresses are expensive. And I could never shake the nagging reminder that this is my second wedding and that maybe I shouldn't be spending money on a "real" wedding dress.

And lastly, I DIDN'T LIKE ANY OF THEM! If the damn dress wasn't too poofy, it was too low cut. If it wasn't too low cut, it had too many bows. If it didn't have too many bows, it had too much tulle. If it didn't have too much tulle, it required a ridiculously expensive bra. If it didn't require a ridiculously expensive bra, it was too skimpy. If it wasn't too skimpy, it was too Gone With The Wind.

And when I finally found the dress I loved at a high end boutique in Burlington, it cost $6,000.

And then, one day while doggedly Googling phrases like "plain wedding dress," "cheap wedding dress," "non-poofy wedding dress," and "anything I don't have to try on and then look at myself in a full-sized mirror wedding dress," I stumbled onto a wedding dress line by J. Crew.

J. Crew makes wedding gowns?

Indeed they do.

And right there, right in the middle of the web-page, being worn by a 95 pound, 6 foot 1 inch model, was my wedding dress. Cream colored, non-poofy, cheap, and no stupid bra required. And J. Crew had aptly named the dress the "Sophia."

This dress was my destiny. I called Colby and asked her to meet me down at our local J. Crew store. A very nice gay man helped us find the dress in their in-store catalogue and order it from the warehouse.

A week later the very nice gay man called me at home to tell me that my dress was in.

I held my breath as the very nice gay man zipped me up and then gushed appropriately about how lovely I looked.

I snuck a peek at the tag. Cheap! And a size 6!

I bought it on the spot.

We're getting married in 10 days.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I Picked Out My Own Engagement Ring & My Sister Spilled The Beans

I put my head down on my desk and considered the week we’d had: cranky children, crappy weather, ridiculous but serious work issues, and a medium-sized spat over something I can no longer recall.

Thank goodness for Friday.

I looked up at my computer screen, sighed a weary sigh, and clicked “New Message.”

From: Sarah Weisman
To: Hannah Weisman
Colby Kervick
Tausha Sylver
Mike Peluse
Date: Friday, February 12, 2008
Subject: A ring? Wishful thinking…

..... but just in case a certain blue-eyed Irish hunk asks for your opinion:

I want a ruby engagement ring set in anything but yellow gold (platinum would be nice, but I would settle for white gold). Nothing too ornate. 5 1/2, I think.

A flurry of emails followed. “Drop hints that he should go to Grannis---they can custom design anything and they work with some amazing jewelers.” “I think a covert conspiracy to give Dan a little kick in the pants is a fab idea!” “I'll be sure to keep my ears and eyes open. I hope he gets it together and asks the question soon! Just remember, he's a guy and guys are dumb.”

I stared in awe at the computer screen as email after email described more and more elaborate plans for choosing a ring and then setting Dan on the road to find it. What had I started?

Before I knew what had happened, I was being whisked out of a cold, Vermont winter night into the warm opulence of Burlington’s most beloved jewelry shop. My eyeglasses fogged up. As I unzipped my jacket and wiped my glasses on my shirt, I closed my eyes and inhaled. Mmmm, smells …. pretty.

A young woman with a kind face and delicate hands offered to take my coat and asked me how she could help. Hannah and Tausha tripped over one another to describe the situation: Sarah loves a man and it’s time for that man to propose.

There they were: ruby rings set in white gold. And they were all… well, wrong! Too harsh, too cold. Too old lady. The young clerk could tell from the look on my face that I was disappointed and gently steered me toward a collection by an eclectic San Diego-based artist who uses pieces from nature as inspiration. As Hannah and Tausha gushed over the ethereal pieces cast from grape vines and tiny flora, I glimpsed a glimmer of deep orange in the corner of the jewelry case.

“Oh my goodness,” I enthused, “What is THAT?”

“That’s an orange sapphire set in rose gold. Sapphires come in many colors and are actually a member of the same family of minerals as rubies. Would you like to try it on?”

“Rose gold?”

“Rose gold is a gold and copper alloy, or mixture. It’s gorgeous with the orange sapphire, don’t you think?”

As I twisted my hand around in the shimmering light of the jewelry case, I knew I had found my ring. I told the sweet clerk that this was the one, and with that, she pulled a large diary from behind the counter. It read “Wish Book” in gold, embossed letters on the front. She carefully measured my finger and in small, neat writing, recorded my name, my ring size and all the details about that darling ring.

And then I had a terrible realization. I looked up at Hannah and Tausha with panic in my eyes.

“I can’t do this! I can’t tell Dan I picked out an engagement ring! We’ve talked about getting married, but he hasn’t given me any reason to believe he’s going to propose anytime soon. This isn’t fair to him. How do people do this?” I was hyperventilating.

Hannah looked at the young woman who was still writing my wishes in her Wish Book diary and said quietly, “Do you have a little card or something that we can give to the man?”

The young woman produced a small card that had the words “I’ve registered my wishes at the Grannis Gallery” written on it in fancy calligraphy. She winked at me. “You just put it on his pillow with this.” She handed me the card and a piece of Lake Champlain chocolate wrapped in gold foil.

“Okay,” I said tentatively.

As we walked back to our cars that night, Hannah put her arm around my shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, we’ll figure something out.” I nodded.

“Okay,” I said again.

That night, as I was getting ready for bed, I considered what it would be to put that prim little card on Dan’s pillow. It just seemed silly and selfish. I couldn’t do it.

The weeks slipped by and I went about my business of being a Mom, working too much, and continuing to get to know Dan, Hallie and Adam. Any thoughts of engagement and that beautiful orange ring faded from my mind.

March brought with it the blustery beginnings of springtime in Vermont and a business trip to Washington DC, where the cherry trees were in bloom. I was away for 5 days and while I was out of town, the following transpired:

Brrring. Brrring. Hannah called Dan on a Wednesday night.

“Hi Dan, I have a class in Burlington tonight. Would you mind if I leave my dog in your mudroom with Lily for a couple of hours? I’ll pick him up on my way home, around 7:30 or so.”

“No problem. Rich is coming over, but that shouldn’t be a problem. Just let yourself in.”

Hannah returned from her class to fetch Bodi and let herself into the kitchen.

“Dan,” she called, “it’s Hannah!”

“We’re in the basement, come on down!”

Hannah walked down the basement steps to find Dan and Rich drinking beers and rearranging the target at which they’d been shooting Dan’s pellet gun.

“You wanna beer?” Dan asked Hannah. “How about some shooting?”

And with that, my buttinsky little sister helped herself to a beer, took a few shots at the target with the pellet gun, and told Dan I had picked out an engagement ring.

We’re getting married in 11 days.