Stepmother of the Groom?

In my role as bridal seamstress, I see a lot of mothers of both brides and grooms.  Compared to mothers of the brides, mothers of the grooms have it fairly easy.  Traditionally, the groom’s family only has to worry about the rehearsal dinner, their own attire, and the groomsmen.  Not having children myself, I thought I would never have my own “mother of” story to tell. However, I am technically a stepmother. Still, being “stepmother” of the groom, I thought I was home free. Alas, the Universe had no notion of letting me off that easily.

Some background: I met my current husband about 10 years ago.  When we decided to tie the knot, we were considered an “encore couple” in the industry.  In other words, it wasn’t our first rodeo.  His first marriage had produced one offspring, a very bright young man with an auspicious future.  When I met him, he was just finishing his PhD and looking for universities at which to teach and to research.  In other words, he was fully grown.  To him, I was merely his “father’s wife.”

He decided to “run away from home” when he found a position as an assistant professor at a university in South Korea—about as far away from Texas as you can get both in distance and in culture.  That didn’t stop his mother from calling him every day, however.   He met a young woman there who had gotten her master’s degree here in the states, so her command of English was very good and she could relate to his culture while she taught him hers.  They were two peas in a pod, so it didn’t surprise his father and me that, the Christmas after he brought her home to meet the family, they announced their engagement.

For most of the family, this news was met with joy and enthusiasm.  His mother, however, was less than thrilled.  In her mind, not only did he run away to a foreign country, but he also got “captured” by a foreign bride.  It was bad enough that she had “only child” syndrome going on, but the foreign bit only added insult to injury.

To smooth things over, the young lady wisely involved her mother-in-law-to-be in as many wedding planning items as possible.  This calmed things down–but not enough to make all the animosity go away. 

In my mind, they didn’t need TWO mothers of the groom there, and, as she didn’t include me in any plans, I thought I would sit in the back row and heckle the bride and groom like Statler and Waldorf. 

Have I mentioned that the Universe has a warped sense of humor?

The Christmas before they were to be married, she asked me out of the blue if I had gotten my dress. The look of bewilderment must have been very evident on my face because she filled in the blank for me before I had the chance to ask. I told her no, that I hadn’t, because I hadn’t expected to be involved in the wedding. My stepson walked into the room at that point and explained that they were having a combined ceremony of both Korean and American elements and that they wanted to include all parental parties. I gave him the Spock eyebrow and asked rather incredulously how he could consider me to be a “parental party.” She didn’t give him the chance to answer, however. Asian young people have great respect for their elders.  She looked at me with a little girl look on her face and a little girl whine in her voice and called me “mommy,” basically begging me to be a part of what, unbeknownst to any of us, was to be just this side of a train wreck.

What could I do? My husband was learning Korean so he could have a rudimentary conversation with his future daughter-in-law’s parents, and I wasn’t yet immune to her petulance. I sighed deeply and told her I would go looking for something appropriate.

I had heard horror stories about mixed families having issues at big events like weddings and funerals.  I also knew there were still hard feelings on the Ex-wife’s side. I really, REALLY didn’t want this blowing up in my face. So, I consulted with the only two people I knew would understand my predicament: my own mother and my mother-in-law. Both had very sage bits of advice to offer: my mother-in-law because she knew the Ex and her family and my own mother because she had the experience of my father bringing a date to MY wedding (that’s another story).

The weekend of the wedding arrived, and we all gathered at my in-laws’ house.  My husband and I cooked a summer meal that incorporated elements from all of our backgrounds. We put chopsticks on the table in addition to forks, and I made a VERY large pitcher of my special sangria (it never hurts to grease the skids with a bit of alcohol).  This was our opportunity to meet the parents of our future daughter-in-law, and we wanted to make them feel as welcome as possible.

The evening began with the four of us shouting the standard greeting in our best badly accented Korean.  Everyone was pleased and surprised by our efforts. The hubster used his broken Korean to try to speak to the newcomers, but our future daughter-in-law played translator most of the night. Sometime during dinner, it came out that the hair and makeup person they’d hired to handle the bride had reneged on them. Hair was now being handled by a cousin from the Ex’s family, but there was still no makeup artist.  Thus, my brilliant husband spoke up (heavy sarcasm inserted here) and said that I was a wizard at stage makeup and that, of course, I could do it. I scowled at him from across the table. Yet again, I was on the receiving end of the little girl petulance (she’s an only child, too), so I decided it was best to bail her out. While the men did the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen, she and I went to the drug store and I helped her choose the correct shades for all her features.

I had one problem. I have almond shaped eyes.  My future daughter-in-law has Mongoloid eyes.  I had NO CLUE how to apply eye shadow, eye liner or ANYTHING to her eye shape. I must have watched a hundred YouTube videos on how to do eye makeup on her eye shape. I even practiced by drawing eyes on paper and coloring them in with crayons. 

The following day, the Ex was supposed to bring her over to do a practice run. However, there was only one car for five folks since they decided not to rent a car for the duration of their stay. Not sure of the wisdom of that decision or what caused the Ex to change her mind, but our future daughter-in-law was in tears when she called my husband to explain that she didn’t have a ride. Talk about a Mom-zilla moment! So, the hubster went to fetch her, and I discussed strategy with my mom-in-law.

First thing I had to do, of course, was calm her down. A whole bunch of hugs from everyone, a wad of Kleenex, and a sip or two of leftover sangria did the trick. Next, I took her into the one bath in the house with all the Hollywood bright lights. We tried two looks per face (one for each side), snapped pics on her phone, washed it all off, and did it again several times. She finally picked her favorite, and I applied color to the whole face so she could wear it home for final approval. The hubster dropped her back off at his Ex’s while I poured off the rest of the sangria into my glass and commiserated with my mom-in-law.

The wedding day dawned warm, bright, and humid. The ceremony was to be held in the Ex’s mother’s back yard. My husband and I arrived early because I had to do the bride’s makeup. I had only formally met the Ex two days before at the rehearsal. Talk about being X-rayed! I just tried to remain calm and sweet to everyone.  Inside, I was boiling over.  I wanted to be anywhere but there.

While waiting for the bride’s hair to be done, the hubster and I set up chairs, arranged flowers, and basically did anything to keep our minds off the chaos. I was finally called in to do the bride’s makeup, but I had to prevail upon the hairdresser to trim her eyebrows as they were in a right state of disarray.  Then the bride confided that everyone thought her choice of makeup was too bold.  I held her hand and explained that we could use the same colors but tone things down a bit.  She dried her tears and seemed content with that.

After I finished, I left the room.  She was going to change into her gown at that point.  I tried to encourage the Ex to leave the room too, as this should have been a private moment between the bride and her mother, but the Ex didn’t get the hint.  As it was, I was corralled to put a little makeup on the poor groom as his face had decided to break out in acne from the stress overnight. The hubster made jokes as I was applying concealer to his son’s face, but I could tell both were very nervous.

Finally, it was time. We let the bride’s parents be escorted down the aisle first. Then the hubster and I went. As we went to sit down, it occurred to me that tradition dictated in mixed family situations that the mother sat in the front row and then the father in the second. I realized with horror that we were in the front row. As an industry professional, I should have been paying closer attention to that detail.  As it was, I just shoved him over one seat and invited the Ex to sit right next to me on the aisle, the best seat in the house. Some would call my actions gallant.  I have one word for that setting . . . AWKWARD!

Thank goodness the ceremony and the pictures went off without a hitch.  Though there are WAY too many of both sets of parents with me next to the Ex. Ah, well . . . the things we do for the ones we love.

I was now looking forward to the reception: booze, food, and dancing!

Well . . . there was no booze! So, the hubster ran to the liquor store and bought it for the parents’ table. It was the bride’s parents, the translators, and the hubster and I at this table, and we all desperately needed a drink.  I had no idea that the Ex’s family were non-drinkers. Food?  Well . . . it was the standard fare Texas barbeque.  Yawn.  At least the cake was good. Dancing? Well . . . that wasn’t too well organized either. The person they “hired” as DJ was a cousin, and the person they “hired” as wedding planner was also a cousin.  You can read into that what you will.

Remember the car thing? Well that came back to bite us again. The newlyweds were borrowing the Ex’s car to go spend the weekend somewhere private. The Ex was supposed to get a ride back to her house with someone else, but they had bailed early. No one had thought to make arrangements for the bride’s parents to get back to the Ex’s house. Guess who came to the rescue? Me . . . “the stepmother.” We piled everyone into my CRV and drove them home.

My mom-in-law was still up when we got back. She made me a cup of tea and bade me join her on the couch for some quiet conversation. I told her all about having to take everyone home and the parents’ table and the dirty looks my husband and I got while dancing from the Ex’s family. It seemed like she was the only one worrying about me that day.

So much for hiding in the back row and not being involved.  I’m quite certain that Statler and Waldorf enjoyed the show.  

Weddings are a wonderful thing, but they do bring out the worst–as well as the best—in some. It’s bittersweet to see your child grow up and start a family of their own, and a lot of parents have mixed emotions over this most important rite of passage. At the very least, after that saga, I can certainly relate and commiserate with all the moms that come to see me.

Until next time, dear readers. May your bobbins be full and your seams be straight!