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Nashville Scene Wedding Album

Family pictures the bride won't miss

By Margaret Renkl

OCTOBER 18, 1999:  When my husband's one remaining unmarried sibling called to announce her engagement last summer, we both got on the phone to congratulate her. "Great news!" we enthused. "We're so happy for you!" Then, when we hung up the phone, we both felt a little sick.

No, the bride was not too young to marry sensibly, and no, the groom was not a stinking drunk or a known louse. Really, this wedding was good news. My husband and I are big proponents of marriage, after all, and neither of us had heard his sister sounding so happy. She'd called off ill-judged engagements before, so clearly she knew what she was doing, and our congratulations were heartfelt. The only real problem with my sister-in-law's wedding was that she wanted us to come to it.

Now, I'm not entirely against spending a lot of money on the kind of clothes we're unlikely to wear again while they're actually still in style. And I'm not against spending a fairly long time in the car rushing toward the distant wedding location itself. I'm not even against spending a weekend entirely in the company of my in-laws, the same in-laws I just two months ago spent a whole week with. I like my in-laws. What I am entirely against is doing all these things with my three children in tow.

Plan A was to hire a sitter to stay with our kids for the wedding weekend. If our trusted sitter wasn't available, then Plan B was for my husband to fly in by himself the day of the wedding and fly out again early the next day. There are myriad reasons not to bring children to a long-distance wedding. Making an eight-hour drive with small children is a mammoth undertaking, even when the destination is a kid-friendly place like the beach, and even when you'll be there a week and won't have to wrestle them back into their car seats 36 hours later to make the same eight-hour drive home.

But to take that drive on an ordinary weekend, and to arrive not at a family motel but at an un-kid-friendly historic inn, and to get there just in time to begin several rounds of dress-up events seemingly designed to torment children into frustrated bad behavior--that's just a recipe for disaster. A very expensive disaster. Better not to go at all, send a lavish gift and a touching letter, and let the bride count herself lucky that her lovely day won't be spoiled by a temper tantrum on videotape.

But what if the bride calls her big brother (the father of these children guaranteed to behave badly at solemn affairs) and says outright that she really wants everyone to come, that she really hopes her whole family will make it to her once-in-a-lifetime celebration? I don't know how it is in other families, but a conversation like that changes everything in ours. If my husband's baby sister wants her whole family to be present on her day of all days, then by heaven her whole family she shall have.

It's important to memorialize occasions like this, but all I can say is thank God the wedding photographer wasn't present at our house on midnight before we left: I wouldn't want the temper tantrum I threw as I ironed all those prissy clothes recorded for posterity. And I'm glad no cameras were rolling in our Windstar on that journey into the heart of minivan darkness as I fed the baby Smarties, one piece at a time, for several hours--his eight existing teeth may rot out of his head before Halloween, but at least he ceased the howling he'd commenced the second we hit the interstate. And the security cameras at the Wendy's where we ate lunch probably did get a clear shot of the baby vomiting candy all over his french fries, but the bride will never see that one.

In the end, it was a real photograph that made me stop muttering darkly about the idiocy of this trip. It's a picture of the bride sitting before the altar and surrounded by her nieces and nephews. One of our preschooler's knee socks is pooled around his ankle, and the bride is holding our toddler's hand to keep him from sticking his finger in his nose while he waits in her lap for the flash to fire. As the children clamber all over the great silk froth of her wedding dress, the bride looks utterly radiant.

While the rest of us stood around the church and watched the picture-taking, I suddenly understood why we had come. A wedding is the beginning of a new life for the bride and groom, yes, but it's also the beginning of a new family. The family they hope to have together, and the extended family who promise to support them in their lifelong commitment.

That's why I'm glad we took our children to the wedding last week. They're too young to see it now, but one day I hope they understand that being in a family means sharing the life-changing celebrations; it means sticking together in the hard times (including long journeys with a screaming baby); it means making not only photographs but also abiding memories of people who love each other no matter what. And someday long from now, when one of them is getting married and the others seem too far away, or too busy, or too ensnared in the obligations of their own growing families to come to the wedding, I want them to come anyway. Because they're brothers, I want them to come.

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