Maybe first impressions never come around again, but second chances can be life’s most prized treasures. Author Stephany Barnes shows us how it is our disappointments that allow us to recognize – and appreciate – our successes. Because when it comes to love and relationships, most of us will get it wrong a few times before we get it so undeniably right.
Welcome. And, enjoy!
Second Wedding Morning
by Stephany Barnes
My second wedding morning was completely different from my first — by design.
My two daughters – I had two daughters this time – stayed in the hotel room with me. There was no big rehearsal dinner and after-party the night before. I wouldn’t be sleep-deprived on my second big day. The girls and I watched a romantic movie and were in bed before 10 p.m. When we woke up, there was no gaggle of female relatives ‘helping’ me into a labyrinth of an overpriced dress. There was no videographer getting in everyone’s way to document every inane conversation. There was no photographer poking a camera in everyone’s face. My girls took pictures and videos with their phones, which of course, included more than a few selfies. There were no hair and make-up ladies wildly overcharging me — for hair and make-up I would get zero compliments on. My girls and I had our nails done at our favorite nail place the afternoon before, and the girls were doing my hair and make-up. My teenager, Rowe, was turning out to be quite the cosmetologist. She has a wonderful sense of color and shading and she’s a sorceress with a make-up brush.
There was minimal stress. After barely eating breakfast – despite all my nonchalance, I was still too excited to eat, as were the girls – I spent most of the morning relaxing in the plush robe that came with the room while the girls fussed over me. They’d thumbed through dozens of magazines until they’d found the perfect up-do for me. My youngest, Janie, was brushing my hair, while Rowe, looked on disapprovingly, as big sisters were wont to do. In their two-tone, lilac bridesmaid dresses they looked every inch the beautiful young women they were becoming.
Sitting there, I had time to take in my second wedding morning and create some memories that didn’t involve me being annoyed with everybody and everything. I was actually able to enjoy all the surprises people had sent to the room. The people at work had sent a bowl of daisies. My aunt had sent chocolate dipped strawberries with a lovely note. The neighborhood moms had sent a “naughty” card game for the honeymoon suite. The book club ladies had sent gossip magazines full of silly articles and red-carpet dresses to ogle. My brother had sent flowers his wife had obviously picked out. My brother had also sent a pitcher of mimosa. I drank some, in honor of my mom, and wished again she could have been there.
As my girls worked away, I studied my wedding dress, hanging in the closet. It was a cream, tea-length, scoop-neck little beauty that fit my more ‘mature’ figure. The girl at the boutique had called it a nice mix of classic and current. It was a young dress, except for maybe the tea length. Most importantly though, the dress didn’t make me feel like some tarted-up Barbie Doll on display. I felt like me in it. My shoes, too, were cream flats with silly, oversized bows on the toes, a far cry from the excruciating slingback heels I’d worn the first time around. I’d be able to wear these shoes during my reception. My wedding night lingerie, hanging beside the dress, wasn’t a sheer bustier, thigh-highs, and garter-belt torture suit I’d be embarrassed to let my daughters even see on a hanger; but rather a cream, knee-length camisole with a lacy halter top that made me feel alluring and sexy without feeling like a prostitute.
Looking at my clothing, I began again to worry that I’d spent too much time trying to make everything different, and that meant I still hadn’t gotten over my first marriage. My fiancé, Tom, had let me plan most of the wedding—okay, the entire wedding. He’d wanted his first wedding to be more traditional. He wanted all those stupid games they play at wedding receptions. He wanted the cake feeding, the bouquet toss, and the garter toss. His family had a tradition of outdoor weddings but I wasn’t getting married outside. I’d been to too many muggy, buggy weddings and receptions. Tom didn’t mind skipping the church for a ceremony to be held in the same medium sized ballroom as the reception.
I think he appreciated my wanting a fresh start with him. Still, it bothered me that he didn’t care enough to assert himself more. I knew, as a guy, he was never going to be as interested in the details as me. But why didn’t he care enough about our wedding to stand his ground on some things? I kind of needed to be put in my place — a little bit! The wedding, and so many other things, had been so easy with Tom.
I worried that no man, no person, was as easy going as that. I worried I wouldn’t be able to help myself from taking over after we were married. I worried he’d grow resentful.
At some point during my worry-warting, the girls stopped doing my hair. I didn’t realize how emotional I’d gotten, how all those feelings swirling inside me had spilled over. I felt tears in my eyes. The girls thought they’d hurt me with the brush or something. I assured them the tears were ones of joy. But I could never fool them. They glanced at each other, nodded, and then Janie darted away.
“What are you two up to?” I asked.
Rowe just smiled until Janie returned with a blue shoe box.
“Something old…” Rowe began.
I tried to look happy. I didn’t want to do the whole “Something Old/Something New” rigmarole. I wasn’t a blushing, doe-eyed, 22-year-old bride and, more importantly, didn’t want to be. That girl knew nothing about being a wife and mother. I was a mature woman. I was a mom. I was a professional. I was a divorcee. I was a practical bride going into this with zero delusions.
I wished I’d thought to let the girls know I didn’t want to do this, but when they came back with that box I couldn’t hurt their feelings.
From the box Janie produced the “Something Old”: a single frame from a photo-booth photo taken at our favorite beach. Janie, Rowe, and I were laughing. Our skin was golden, our hair stringy from seawater.
That picture was taken the day I told the girls about Tom. I hadn’t dated much after the divorce, by choice mostly. Men found me attractive — enough to take me on dates — but not enough to stay when they learn I have kids. And once I got north of 35, most men simply stopped showing interest, kids or no.
The beach has always been a special place for me. I grew up on the water. I have saltwater in my veins – and sand in my swimsuit! I made sure my girls loved it, too, at first so we could share it, and later when things got ugly and petty, because my ex-husband hated the beach.
On the sand, Rowe was modeling her new stringy two-piece bathing suit. I‘d seen the suit on the rack but it was disconcerting to see Rowe with her hips bared on the beach. Janie was fuming because I wouldn’t let her wear something similar. There’d been an underlying tension all day. The girls sensed something was up. They’d fought over the bathroom that morning—more viciously than usual—and Rowe and I got into another argument about the summer reading she hadn’t started yet.
I don’t remember whose idea the beach had been. I’d wanted to tell the girls about Tom but hadn’t known how. I’d procrastinated for weeks until that broiling July morning, when I woke up and saw the temperature was already mid 80s at 8 o’clock. I think we all thought of the beach at once.
We’d lain out, read our books, talked, snacked, and swam when Janie suggested ice cream. In less than ten minutes we’re in cover-ups and flips in line at the ice cream place on the boardwalk.
Janie had gone to pee. Rowe and I were in line when we spotted a young couple in each other’s arms on a bench nearby.
“Mom, do you have a boyfriend?”
“Why do you ask?”
“You’ve been different lately. You’re wearing make-up and dresses. You’re having long phone calls…with someone. You’re going out at night. You’re checking yourself in the mirror—even more than usual.”
I laughed at that one.
“And,” she added, “you seem really happy.”
“Would it be okay if I was seeing someone?”
Rowe nodded. “I like you with a boyfriend.”
“You have a boyfriend?!”
Janie stood open-mouthed. She loves eavesdropping—I swear she has a future in the CIA. She’d come back from the bathroom and crept up to within earshot.
I confirmed for Janie. She frowned.
“Mom can do what she wants,” Rowe told her. “You should be happy for her.”
“I know! I think it’s awesome. Is he cute?”
I confirmed that he is.
“What’s his name?” Janie asked.
“Who cares? What kind of car does he drive?” Rowe cut in.
I told them about Tom, how we met at work—and that he actually drives a really nice car!
I was still getting peppered with questions, when Janie saw a photo-booth.
“We have to get a picture,” Janie said, grabbing my hand.
“Yeah, to record the day we heard about To-om,” Rowe drawled his name teasingly.
Rowe and Janie escorted me into the photo-booth. They sat me down on the faded red leather seat between them.
“We’ll have to get a picture with Tommy Boy,” Janie siad right before the camera caught us all laughing.
This was the picture Janie held up in the hotel room, while Rowe picked another one out of the little blue box.
“Something new,” she said.
A picture taken in the same photo-booth, the girls, “Tommy Boy”, and I, stuffed together, making goofy faces.
“We’re going to pin these pictures under your bodice,” Rowe said.
“Under my bodice?”
“We want to be close to your heart,” Janie insists.
“And you do have plenty of room,” Rowe added.
“Mom, face it, you’re stacked,” Janie pipes.
“I may be,” I said, trying not to laugh, “but I’m still your mom.”
“Something borrowed…” Rowe said, my little no-nonsense manager, always trying to move things along.
Janie produced a brooch: the pewter one of a Celtic fairy that she’d bought on our trip last year to Ireland.
“I didn’t realize I’d be wearing so much extra stuff,” I said.
“You don’t have to wear it,” Rowe said, crestfallen, “if you don’t want…”
I’d meant to be funny. I would have walked down the aisle in a trash bag if they’d pulled one out of that shoebox.
“I want it right here,” I said, tapping my shoulder strap.
The brooch hails from a little seaside town called Dingle, in County Kerry, Ireland. Tom’s company had sent him there to pacify a client. Tom wanted to bring us all to Ireland on a ‘family trip.’ He told the girls before he’d told me, so of course we were going. We’d been officially dating for six months, unofficially for eight. I was falling for Tom but this seemed fast. I didn’t want the girls to get attached to him in case it didn’t work out with us. My fears didn’t stem from anything concrete, per se, rather from my own insecurities. But still…I’m a mom and my daughters knew, and they factor into every decision I make.
I was annoyed at Tom for not checking with me before telling the girls; he was annoyed with me for being ungrateful. Instead of fighting about the actual issues, Tom and I fought about the carry-on luggage the night before the we left. We put on happy faces at the airport and kept them on through the flight. By the time we’d gotten to the rental car, we’d declared a tacit ceasefire, the green beauty of Ireland making it impossible to stay angry.
We were staying in a B&B near Dingle harbor. Tom went to meet a client for the day. Janie and I were getting ready to brave the drizzly rain for a morning of shopping and lunch in a pub bathed in warm browns and reds. Rowe picked up a nasty cold on the plane; I’d put her into the big bed. There were three in the B&B. Tom and Rowe slept alone while I slept with Janie. Tom hadn’t moved in with us yet and we didn’t share a bed when he was over. I know I was being silly. I was sleeping with Tom and Rowe was old enough to know what men and women do in bed. But I’d suddenly become little Miss Traditional, even though I’d been shacking up with my ex before we got married and was anything but a virgin on my first wedding night. I suddenly couldn’t bring myself to share a bedroom with Tom in front of the girls, not until the ring was on my finger. I owed that to Janie and Rowe. Tom had been okay with this so far but I felt that creeping fear again. Is he going to get tired of the hoops I make him jump through? And why all the hoops anyway?
But that morning in Dingle I was happy, truly happy, for the first time since my divorce. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was taking a vacation from being the CEO of my life. I was not responsible for everything and I didn’t have to make every single decision. I didn’t have to worry about driving on the left-hand side. I didn’t have to research restaurants and pick one, didn’t have to research lodgings and book them, didn’t have to remember to fill the gas tank, didn’t have to get directions to the next tourist attraction, didn’t have to always make sure I had cash just in case.
Tom did all of that in Ireland. He was in charge of me and my girls–and it felt so liberating. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished as a single-mom and independent woman, but independence was forced on me, and God, it was nice letting a man take charge sometimes.
After settling Rowe in bed, I was sitting at my travel make-up mirror in my bra and slip. Janie, already dressed, was studying me. Lately, she’d been helping me get ready, helping with my hair, approving outfits, picking the cutest shoes — and most importantly, making sure my belt matched my shoes and bag!
She was studying me, and I felt again that wonderful burden of teaching my daughter how to be a woman. I think I’ve done a decent job with the big stuff: education, self-respect, hard work, honesty. But I worry about the little stuff. How to put on foundation. How to find your lipstick color. What the style was these days. How to accessorize. How to buy shoes. How to put on eyeliner. How to be a hostess. How to find the perfect housewarming gift. How to write a thank-you note.
My own mom had been clueless, and forget my brother.
I could have easily left it to Rowe but I feel it’s my responsibility.
“Can I pick your outfit, Mom?”
I hesitated. Irish women dress more stylishly than American women. No sweatpants or scrunchies here! I needed to up my game.
Janie and I negotiated. We compromised on a skirt. She insisted on tights. She wanted sheer. I insisted on opaque. I wanted comfy flats. She insisted on low-heeled booties. I vetoed her choice of long-sleeved V-neck top for a white turtleneck. I insisted on a cardigan in case it was chilly. She picked the color.
“Mom,” she asked as I wiggled into my tights. “Most ladies don’t wear slips these days, do they?”
“They’re a little old fashioned.”
“Then why do you do it?”
How to explain to her that that bit of cotton fabric with the lacey fringe helps me remember that underneath the suits, sensible shoes, practical bob hairdo, and button down dress shirts I wear to work that I’m still a feminine woman? I didn’t know how to explain that, to advance in my career, I’d had to hide my femininity, a liability in the business world. I didn’t know how to explain that my male bosses and colleagues didn’t take me seriously, and that my female colleagues spent more time trying to tear me down than support me. And that somehow, wearing a smart outfit helped you through that. I didn’t know how to tell her that I don the armor of business wear and play the corporate game but that I refuse to totally erase my femininity, and that I maintained a connection to it, however tenuous, with that silly bit of fabric hanging from my waist.
I didn’t know how to explain to her that that was the world she’d be in soon enough.
“Slips give a little volume to your skirt,” I said, “and they make you feel girly sometimes–when you don’t feel that way at all.”
“How could you ever not feel girly? You’re the girliest mom I know.”
Janie zipped and buttoned the back of my skirt, then flounced it a little. She tugged at my top until it fell perfectly on me. She studied my technique as I put on eyeliner. She asked for some. I reminded her she’s too young for makeup. I let her put my lipstick on. She picked out a gold necklace for me. I feel silly to admit this, but I felt cherished as she lowered it onto my neck.
Later, we were at one of the shops that line Dingle harbor. The clouds had rolled in. The mist was heavy on the window panes. The smell of strong coffee permeated the shop. I was flipping through a picture book of Irish scenery when I saw Janie contemplating a display of Irish cable knit sweaters.
“Penny for your thoughts?” I asked, coming up to her.
“It’s Euros, Mom,” she joked. “What if we took one of those dorky pictures with all four of us in the same sweater.”
“That’d have to be an awfully big sweater.”
Janie rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean, Mom.”
Janie pointed to the source of her inspiration: a photo of a picture-perfect, smiling family all in white cable knit sweaters.
“Would you like that?” I asked Janie.
She nodded. “And I think it’ll make Tom feel like one of us…”
They were expensive but I didn’t care. Fifteen minutes later I was at the cash register with the four sweaters. As the cashier announced the total, Janie put something down on the counter.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Honey, you only wear those with a shawl.”
“You don’t have to buy me a shawl,” Janie replied, “just the brooch.”
I checked the price: not too much. “Miss, could add this to our order?” I asked.
“Do you like it?” she asked, fingering the brooch as we walked out of the store.
“You can borrow it whenever you want.”
And here I was, borrowing it for the first time, in the hotel room. The girls pinned the brooch on me with a minimum of arguing, then stood back to admire their work.
“Something blue…” Rowe said.
Janie pulled a blue leg garter from the box.
“We made it!” she said.
“This lady has a website showing how,” Rowe added.
“Tom bought the fabric for us,” Janie said, “and we sewed it.”
“Okay, Mom,” Rowe said, dabbing her eyes. “Stop, please!”
How that bit of bridal frou-frou made me melt so thoroughly I’ll never know.
* * * * *
I got a sudden vision of Rowe’s wedding. I’m in her hotel room. Rowe’s a beautiful med student in her mid-20s. Her college-senior sister and a bunch of bridesmaids are helping her into her absurd dress. Rowe clutches the bodice of her strapless dress in adorable modesty as Janie (who could use a tad more modesty) tries to button the dozens of buttons at the back. I’m overjoyed for Rowe because every woman deserves to wear an absurd dress once in her life.
I’ve stayed off to the side to lend moral support and let the younger women have their fun. I’m chatting with Rowe’s mother-in-law, who, happily, isn’t too much of a bitch!
Rowe’s dress is on. So are the shoes. Her hair and make-up is done. I have a minute or so to drink in the sight of my beautiful Rowe before she’s whisked away to be made a wife.
Rowe moves toward the door, then stops. She turns, breaks from her entourage, and comes to me. We hold each other and both tear up.
“You’ll ruin your make-up.”
She laughs nervously.
“Go easy on yourself,” I tell her. “Enjoy everything…even the bad stuff.”
“Mom, why am I so scared?”
I pull away from her to look into her eyes. There’ve been some bumps in the road with her fiancé. They look frighteningly similar to the ones I had with my ex. I’m worried, but they’re both good kids who have as much a shot at happiness as anyone else.
“Everyone gets nervous,” I tell her. “This is a big deal.”
“I think I’m finally realizing just how big…can I do this?”
“You and Tom have been so happy for so long…”
“You’ll have your own happiness. You’ll make your own marriage, life, and family. And there’s nothing magical about what I did…don’t look at my life as some recipe you have to follow. Everything I did in life…is just what I did while I was here.”
“I get it,” Rowe says.
“Thank you for letting Tom walk you down the aisle with your father,” I tell her.
“How could I not?”
Someone calls over for Rowe.
”I better go. Bye, Mom.”
“Hold on,” I say, digging into my bag.
“What are you looking for?”
“Oh, just a little surprise for tonight.”
Rowe laughs when she sees the blue garter, the one she and Janie made, the same one I wore for Tom.
“Do you have your something blue?” I ask.
“You can never have too much.”
“You don’t have to wear it or anything, but I wanted to give it to you—“
Rowe’s raising the hem.
“Wouldn’t dream of not wearing it,” she says. “Put it on.”
* * * * *
I stood holding Tom’s hand outside the reception room. Soft music and the sounds of dinner conversation leaked through the double doors. Sitting in one of the deep sills of the hotel windows, Rowe held Janie around the waist. They were tired. I wanted to tell them to go to bed but with all the excitement they couldn’t sleep if they tried. We had four hours of dinner and dancing ahead as we waited for the DJ to call us in for the introduction of the wedding party.
Tom’s voice was in my ear. I was in his arms.
“I’m sorry you didn’t have the wedding you wanted,” I told him.
He tried to protest.
“No, Tom, I know what you wanted. And I’m sorry I couldn’t give it to you because I’m so damaged from my first marriage…”
He kissed me.
“You’re not ‘damaged’—”
“That’s why I insisted on no reception games, no cake feeding, no bouquet toss…”
It felt good to tell him this. Until then, I’d just declared what I didn’t want and only hinted darkly at why. And Tom had agreed before I’d fully explained why. It felt good to make the feelings inside me into words and offer them to him.
“Be honest, Tom, if you’d planned this wedding, it’d have been bigger, with a live band and cocktail hour, and big rehearsal dinner, games…”
“Of course it would have been different. I’m a different person. And did it ever occur to you,” he added, “that I like the fact that you’re not trying to bankrupt us paying for this wedding?”
Oh, my beautiful, frugal, husband! I literally squealed and kissed him so hard we almost tumbled onto the ground. I heard the girls’ laughter and thought of the garter for the first time since we left the hotel room.
“I want to do a garter-toss,” I told Tom. “And the bouquet toss. Can we?”
“I thought you absolutely didn’t want any of that?”
“I changed my mind; wives tend to do that.”
“Moms do, too,” Janie said.
“Moms definitely do,” Rowe added.
Tom shrugged, and I felt sorry for him having to deal with three very changeable women. We’ll have to go easy on him.
“Girls, go find a ribbon or string or something. Quick!”
The girls look confused. I explained that I’ll wear two garters. Tom would take the second one off and toss it while I kept the one Rowe and Janie made. The girls loved the idea. They ran off to find garter material and Tom went to tell the DJ.
“We’re all set,” Tom said five minutes later.
I loved him more in that moment than I think I ever had before. I could have covered him with kisses where he stood. And I was so happy I could do this whole silly garter thing for him.
“The garter is beautiful,” I told Tom. “Thank you!”
“It was all the girls.”
Rowe and Janie returned with a length of gold rope, swiped, they inform us, from one of the hotel’s fancy window treatments.
“You vandalized the hotel?” I asked, feeling slightly mortified.
“With the amount they’re charging us,” Tom said, “they can lend us a little rope.”
I raised my hem. “Do your magic, girls.”
The rope was long and thick. The girls were forced to loop around my knee twice, and because it wasn’t stretchy, they had to tie it tightly. It was kind of a monstrosity, and I walked a little funny, but it did make my knee look narrower and more delicate.
Through the door we heard the music in the ballroom go down. The DJ asked for everyone’s attention. Rowe and Janie, walking in together, took their place in front of the double doors. Janie was obviously nervous; Rowe kissed the top of her head.
“You know,” Tom said quietly to me, “I’ll have to lift your skirt pretty high to get that garter off. Are you okay showing that much leg?”
“Don’t worry about me, Tommy Boy. You just make sure your hand doesn’t shake too much.”
The DJ announced Rowe and Janie. Rowe took her sister’s hand. They smiled at each other, then pushed through the doors into camera-flashes and thunderous applause.
“Any other surprises?” Tom asked as the doors closed behind the girls.
“Only that I want a honeymoon baby.”
For years after, people at our wedding would joke about the rabbit-in-headlights expression Tom had on his face when we came in through those doors.
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