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"Registering for a Pony, and other Engagement Challenges"

It’s just before 9:00 a.m. on a Sunday, and I seem to be the only one awake in my apartment complex.

The sun is warming the beige walls of my eclectic, beloved one-bedroom apartment, casting long, streaky shadows from my oversized blinds. The whoosh of a lone hot air balloon is the only sound in my neighborhood.

       Jane Kathryn Simmons        Page

             
             
Past Messages

I’ve been up for a little over two hours, despite having hit the hay at 1 a.m. after celebrating a friend’s wedding, and my stomach and head are sending me the subtle but impatient reminder that Chardonnay is a fickle beast without its long-time love, “Dinner”.

I haven’t slept well the past three nights, but despite the lack of REM-sleep and the wine-throb between my ears, I’m up and alert. I need to be. I only have 35 days, 6 hours and 59 minutes left as Jane Simmons, and that requires some time to sit with my thoughts and process this change.

Wait… in the time it took me to write this, the countdown dropped to 58 minutes.

Aughhh!!

Please excuse me for a minute—this is going to require some coffee.

Oops! While I was adding a new filter to the coffeepot, I was distracted by Mo Rocca on CBS’s “Sunday Morning.” And the subsequent clips from “Gigli” they were featuring begged me to sit and watch for just a few minutes…

Ack! Now there are now only 35 days, 6 hours and 28 minutes until my life changes forever.

All of this—the coffee, the murmur of Mo Rocca’s narration (set low to avoid waking up my fiancé, who’s fast asleep in the next room), the gentle whoosh of the hot air balloon overhead, the magazine lying next to me on the couch, the comforting glow of my laptop screen and my mismatched pajamas all mark a cherished, unrushed moment in a hectic 35 day stretch that signifies the end of an era for me-- my last 35 days as a single woman.

These are the last 35 days I will be able to sign “Jane Simmons” on happy hour receipts, birthday cards and e-mails with old friends, and as overjoyed as I am for the reason why this change is taking place, I’m struck by the significance of this transition.

I was foolish to think that it would feel subtle, I suppose. It has been subtle, if you define ‘subtlety’ as the pangs of a Chardonnay head throb after a night of dancing.

At the end of June, Tom (my best friend of eleven years and then-boyfriend of a year and four months—not that I would ever count) whisked me away on a romantic road trip to spend the weekend in Santa Fe together. The weather had promised to be mild, warm and clear, so it didn’t strike me as odd at all that Tom was clearly frustrated when we were greeted by dark, heavy rain and high wind.

We wandered through the downtown area with rain smacking us in the forehead, had dinner next to an overly rowdy family with crying babies and spilled margarita pitchers at every corner of the table, and ended up huddled under a sliver-thin overhang on a rooftop bar while sipping sangria at a rain-soaked table. I thought to myself how in love we must be because the rain was simply a backdrop, the loud family was a detail in a cinematic evening, and sitting next to each other at the soggy rooftop bar felt as special as if it were our first date.

How perfect and surprising it was, then, that the rain would unexpectedly stop on our walk home, the clouds would part to display a brilliantly glowing full moon as we approached the 400 year old Basilica downtown, and Tom would wait until I tossed a coin into the church’s rose garden fountain before he put his arm around me and asked with deep reverence, restraint, and love in his voice if I would marry him.

It was the most simultaneously peaceful and terrifying moment I’ve experienced. The cliché proved to be true; time seemed to stand still. The shock of what had just happened set in while waves of joy crashed against my ears. I was painfully aware of everything—the moon, the silvery clouds, the copper-colored metal button on my jean jacket that I was clutching in a death grip with my right hand.

It was no help that just prior to proposing to me, Tom had slowly reached into his pocket with a grave expression, and I was positive… *positive*… that he was going to pull out a toy called a “Pig Popper” that Richard, my dad’s literary agent, had just given us during a visit to Colorado. The Pig Popper is a small rubber pig with a cheerfully morose expression, whose open snout shoots out bright green foam balls with a satisfying “POP!”

This “POP!” is the sound we’d both heard over and over in our apartment the week before our trip as the other person snuck up on us. It would sound a split second before a foam ball would go whizzing past our ear, flying into our dinner or smacking us in the back of the head when we least expected it.

The Pig Popper was a constant source of entertainment to us, so naturally, I was sure that Tom was reaching into his pocket to produce the pig as we strolled through the peaceful, rain-soaked plaza that night.

Imagine my surprise as I recoiled in horror, amusement and exasperation at being ambushed, just to look down and see a brilliantly sparkling ring in the palm of his hand instead of a rubber pig wearing a blue T-shirt with pig snouts printed all over it.

(It was quite the shock, I assure you.)

It was also the best weekend of my life. Later that night, after my startled and emphatic “yes”, the heart-stopping shock, the laughter, the disbelief, the bear hug, the verification that he was serious and knew what he was asking, and the giddy walk back to our hotel, Tom fell into a deep sleep with a huge smile on his face. The anticipation was over; he was out like a light.

I, on the other hand, lay awake all night as I stared at my ring finger in disbelief.

When Tom proposed, I was too stunned to cry until he told me that the diamond had been his mother’s, passed down through the family starting with his paternal great-grandmother somewhere around the year 1900. Then the tears came in a flood, and my heart swelled as I realized how amazing that was.

Last spring, Tom’s mother took her engagement ring off and offered the diamond to her son, the same way his grandmother had offered it to her son and another generation before that. And on June 25th—coincidentally, Tom’s parents’ anniversary-- I learned for the first time what it truly meant to be welcomed into someone else’s family. It was a life dream that had been realized with such swiftness and force that I could barely breathe. A piece of history sat atop my finger, carrying the memories of three other families with it. This ring had been offered to other women before me, perhaps down on a bended knee, or--in Tom’s mother’s case-- in her parents’ kitchen… offered by a sheepish boyfriend who had just made her angry.

This ring had been worn on fingers of women who held their babies for the first time, and had wiped away tears of pain as they grieved the loss of loved ones. I haven’t lived a fraction of the lives that this ring has been privy to, and while I’m not a religious person, I can feel the legacy and the spirit of the women who came before me embodied in this ring. It’s one of the greatest gifts I will ever receive.

It dawned on me that night that for the first time in my life, I could embrace the knowledge that I was going to be able to start my own family. That Tom would be my lifelong partner, and I would be his—there was no more guess work. No more anxious half-formed thoughts about living alone and focusing only on my career and quirky interests, no more buried questions about whether or not I’d find my person. I had found my person, and better yet, I could celebrate it; say it out loud; start a tap-dance routine about it. I have someone’s hand to hold while we jump feet-first into the best adventure of our lives.

I’ve known Tom since we were teenagers—we had even passed each other unknowingly in the hallways starting in seventh grade. We’ve watched each other bridge the gap from teenagers into adults, with the heartache, loss, ridiculousness, confusion and hard work that inevitably comes along with growing up. We’ve parted ways to find ourselves, but always kept a sonar ‘ping’ on each other—giving the other plenty of space to become who we were, but never turning our backs on a friendship that was kind and always meaningful. Some compass deep down in me always found a true north in Tom, and even though it took a decade to understand what that meant, it was worth the wait. It was because of the wait that things worked out so sweetly, I think… we needed to plant tiny roots in our lives before we could even contemplate something as serious as love. And planting roots was difficult for me in my twenties… I’m a vine-swinging gal. I’m easily distracted by half-formed dreams and shiny objects.

My parents have told me stories about how they fell in love in Philadelphia, where they were both doing an urban study in college. I’ve always loved hearing about how they met and fell in love, and since I was young, I’ve always had the same gut reaction. “What if they’d never met??” I wonder, with a sense of fear prickling through my veins. “What if one of the thousands—millions?-- of variables had prevented them from moving to Philadelphia, speaking to each other, and meeting on that fateful day?”

Now I know what it feels like to look at the person next to you and feel that panic on a personal level. “What if Tom had never moved here? What if he’d fallen in love with some fabulously brainy woman in college, and I was alone?”

The day after we got engaged, Santa Fe felt like a live musical. I suppose a giddy sense of delight had taken over my body. That evening, we popped a bottle of champagne that was purchased in an adobe Albertons, and stayed up almost all night making S’mores by a tiny camp stove and talking. We held hands on the drive home, excitedly broke the news to both of our families, and looked at each other with twinkling mischief in our eyes over shared dinners and beers with friends.

“But what to do next?” we mused. “Where to go from here?” The idea of getting married with just our parents and his siblings on a beach sounded like an excellent idea to both of us, and we talked about it at length. But what about the other people in our lives who we love, and who have also contributed to our lives and who we are?

“We’ll just throw a HUGE party after we get home,” we thought, but a quiet sense of discomfort kept shifting in our bellies.

“A big, BIG party, with lots of dancing and photos from our ceremony so people don’t feel left out. Right?”

We were so excited to have a small wedding, but we couldn’t shake the idea of asking people like his grandmother or my aunt to fly halfway across the country just to have a drink with us and high five a wedding that they didn’t get to see.

It didn’t feel right.

We took a deep breath and summoned our courage to admit that there’s a meaningful advantage to traditional weddings. We decided to keep the feeling of intimacy that appealed to us by finding a venue that would command the feeling of a cozy family dinner, so the night would mostly be characterized by laughter, stories, and passed bread plates.  We also decided to only invite a small group of friends  who we both know, and made sure that we were familiar with every name on our list. Kevin Bacon didn’t win an invitation by six degrees of separation because we couldn’t imagine saying sacred vows to each other with someone’s friend’s aunt’s lawyer sitting in the crowd. We wanted an intimate group of loved ones there; not an audience.

This is not to say that this is what I think all weddings should be like, but I learned quickly that this is what we desperately wanted for our wedding. And in an instant, I realized what it would be like if we kept charging forward with planning our wedding. Wedding planning. It hit me! We were actually planning a wedding!


Wait. Hold the phone. “We just got engaged… when is wedding planning supposed to kick in?” we asked ourselves.

-Did we want to wait a year or two to marry our kindred spirits?
-NO.

-Did we want to elope?
-Hmm. I guess not.

-Were we sure? Were we really ok with letting go of the idea of a wedding where the extent of our reception planning would consist of asking for a second bowl of macadamia nuts to go with our fruity frozen drinks?
-Aughhhhh. YES. Yes. Really. Next question, please.

-Were we thrilled at the prospect of having a huge celebration with some of our favorite people?
-Yes.

-Wow. I guess that means we’re in the process of planning a wedding. Are we the people that should really be trusted with this?
-Pass me a beer.

-How about timing? How about next spring?
-No way. That’s too far away, and blizzard season in CO extends until late May.

-So… a winter wedding, then?
-Ok. Sure.
- We can’t seem to say that without looking like we’re going to cry.But that’s the earliest we could possibly get married. We got engaged June 25th, for crying out loud. It’s insane to plan anything earlier than December.

-Unless?
-Well, unless we shot for October. That’s 3 months away.

-Which is crazy, right?
-Um… yes. Is it? I think so. Yes, that would definitely be crazy.

It started innocently. We just checked out some library books, bought some magazines, hopped online. “We’ll just gauge how impossible it is,” we thought, “and be groovy with the outcome when we learn that we can’t do it.”

You know what I learned? I think the hype about long-term wedding planning is kind of unfair. I see why people take a year to plan a wedding, but I’m here to advocate for anyone who might not want a long engagement.

Everything I found online, and I mean everything, made me think I couldn’t do it. “I got married in 3 months!” one of the only positive articles said that discussed short engagements… “Thank God my mom’s a florist, my friend is a Grammy-winning musician, the venue gave me 50% off, and I already had a dress.”

I didn’t have a dress. I didn’t know a florist, and I didn’t have any favors to call in.

I understand how much flexibility it requires to plan a wedding in less than 90 days, but for anyone who’s considering it, I wanted to add an enthusiastic article to the mostly negative-sounding advice out there.

Here’s what we did. It’s totally unique to us and our needs, and may not fit most people’s idea of a good time, but it worked for us!

  1. We made a few calls to the people who had to be there… the family members, who we couldn’t do the wedding without. My aunt had a choir date on day X, my cousin’s baby was due on day Y… how about a date in-between the two? Check.

  2. After much research, we narrowed it down to our two favorite venue options. From there, we figured out which ones could accommodate the dates we were considering, and then we voted on whether the “awesome party venue” or the “intimate dinner venue” was the best choice. This was the only agonizing part about wedding planning to me—both venues were completely different from each other, and both options were completely magical. The ‘intimate dinner’ venue won out, the contract was signed, and the adrenaline kicked in.

  3. The next step was to buckle down and make a week of big decisions: find a dress on Monday, meet with the venue’s banquet manager on Tuesday, find invitations on Wednesday, and make a guest list by Thursday. I swear, I think a couple could almost plan an entire wedding in one week if they just went into battle with a fierce eye for business.

    Here’s the combination that I think works best: research things to the best of your ability beforehand, but when you go to actually choose one, take a deep breath and have fun with the spontaneity of being in the moment. I looked in magazines and online at lots of dresses… found two shops that carried the kind of styles I thought I’d like… and after 3 hours, had found two dresses that I loved to pieces. When it surfaced that one dress could arrive three weeks earlier than the other one, the choice was easy, and the dress was ordered. Not agonizing for weeks on end was such a great feeling! And not having to wait up to six months before I’d see the dress again was an additional relief.

  4. The rest has been a bit of a whirlwind, but I attribute wedding planning success to three things: list-making in tiny notebooks, nostalgia, and Zen.

    Lists are your friends. They are like a tiny army of soldiers, lined up evenly across sheets of paper to protect you from chaos and forgetfulness. Lists organize your thoughts from big categories down to tiny details, and most importantly, things on lists are crossed off when you finish them… which is the biggest ego boost in the world.

    Nostalgia comes in handy because it can be very challenging to make decisions, and wedding planning is a never-ending series of decisions. Fortunately, my fiancé and I have very similar taste when it comes to the aesthetic, atmosphere and philosophy of our wedding, so I really lucked out on that one. He’s also the kind of amazing person who is both supportive and actively involved in the process, but when he’s stuck at twelve hour days at work, I feel confident making decisions for both of us that I can run past him at the end of the day.

    But what to do when decisions still felt overwhelming?

    Zen.

    I had to turn off the chaos in my mind that wedding magazines, well-meaning advice and blogs can do to a person. I actually had to convince myself that I was not a failure as a woman because I didn’t have hand-made labels on vintage bottles of soda for my guests, and that I hadn’t strung together a series of flower petals on dental floss to create a hand-made 1950’s-era dress. I had to bat away all the chaos to find the simplicity and coherence in our plans, and settle on what was best for US, not Martha Stewart. (No offense, Martha. You do make a fine-looking Thanksgiving table.)

So we settled on a theme—“blending art and science” (which represents our personalities)—and then wove a lot of meaning into the details. I chose a bouquet that included flowers that Tom and I love, as well as flowers that gave a nod to what both of our mothers and my grandmother had in their bouquets. We selected an elegant branch to place at the bottom of our invitation to reflect the nature and family-based philosophy that we wanted to include in our wedding and our marriage.

Our music represents the eleven years of music that we have cherished together, and the woman who taught me cello lessons for eight years agreed to play during our ceremony. For the pre-ceremony and recessional music, I’ve asked to have a cello and violin duet to represent the joy and harmony of two voices, and when my dad walks me down the aisle, I’ve selected a Bach suite with just the single voice of a cello to represent the last time that Tom and I will meet each other as two single voices.

I realize that this is not at all what many people would want for their weddings, and I respect that completely. But I wanted to add a voice to the mix of online wedding planning essays that argues the point that the popular consensus told us--that a wedding is impossible to plan in less than six months; that we would succumb to stress and detail-overload; that people like wedding planners are critical to the success of throwing an event.

Wedding planners definitely seem helpful, and I understand completely how much chaos they can reduce. But for us, a wedding planner would’ve eliminated the (many) hours on end we both spent with our stationer, who shared wonderful stories, advice and artistic inspiration while we made beautiful invitations. I probably wouldn’t have spent as many days as I did impulsively dropping by the jeweler, which ultimately led to being able to design my own engagement ring, and we both bonded with the whole staff over the wonderful and personal experience of finding our perfect, budget-appropriate rings.

Without a wedding planner, I wouldn’t be able to wander through craft stores with my mom joking about interior design disasters, and I’m sure any self-respecting planner would’ve talked us out of the magician who’s going to be pushing coins through dinner plates tableside while our guests enjoy dinner.

A professional would’ve steered me to work with someone other than the woman I found: a small-town, fantastically gifted seamstress who knows how to keep pinning a dress while simultaneously signaling for her assistant to fan me down when she realized that I was starting to see stars and sway from the temperature of the room and the excitement of wearing the dress.

I would’ve felt shy about spontaneously asking someone like Richard, my father’s literary agent, to marry us, and I would probably be tsk-tsked when my fiancé and I jumped for joy at the prospect of designing a ceremony by the seat of our pants; a ceremony that combines uber-traditional aspects with things that are deeply personal and special to us. It’s a domino affect.

Asking Richard to marry us led to him asking us to both write up a ‘loose bio’ to help him learn more about our past and our relationship. And writing that bio, (which I owe Richard 15% for the rest of my life out of appreciation for reading all of, not to mention taking on this insane project of marrying us), is the thing that made me realize why everything in my life has led me to Tom.

My childhood, my college years, my relationship with friends and books and the world at large—they all culminated in finding Tom, who not only brings out the best in me in every way, but who fills a massive void in my heart that I didn’t know was there. It reminds me of the end of the movie “Amalie,” when there’s a flashback of Amelie playing with the reflections of a small mirror as a child, and then zooming across Paris to show her future boyfriend as a child, who is simultaneously playing with the sun’s reflection in a mirror. I could not find a better metaphor for Tom and me if I spent the rest of my life trying.

“Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere,” Rumi once wrote, “they’re in each other all along.”

Maybe I will learn in the next 30 days that we made a horrible mistake by planning such a fast wedding— it’s not out of the question. But if it keeps plugging ahead at this busy but happy speed, I think we may have proved the nay-sayers wrong. I have learned so much about myself and my fiancé in the process of planning this wedding, and it’s only made me feel more excited and confident about our ability to plan things with joy, respect and affection. Infusing meaning in the details has made things easier to plan, and all of these details will help us feel the presence and memory of loved ones even more on the day we tie the knot.

Even happy accidents keep popping up, like spontaneously getting engaged on the day that we later realized was his parents’ anniversary, and then discovering a few weeks ago that our wedding date is the same day that my mother’s maternal grandparents tied the knot in 1912. Amazing.

I can’t imagine planning a wedding where every single detail had to feel pre-planned, modern and “perfect”, considering how special the happy surprises are. When choosing a beer, for example, we reviewed the list for a long time before realizing that we could choose Sam Adams because it was his grandfather’s favorite. When I was lying awake one night trying to think of ways that I could give my own private nod to my grandparents, it dawned on me that no matter what I do, I’ll be carrying my dad’s mother’s name—Kathryn-- with me down the aisle, and into my future identity as Jane Kathryn Glenn.

Even little things have surprised me by how much they’ve threatened to burst my heart, like scanning photos of Tom and mini-me from birth through childhood to make a slide show for our wedding. Here, for example, is Tom fast asleep with his older brother in the back seat during one of their family’s early road trips to Colorado from their home in Illinois.

I love everything about this photo… the ‘80s era Wendy’s kids meal… the fact that they’re snuggling (which is hard to picture now that they’re both tall, suave grown ups… one who works as an Environmental Health & Safety Officer, and the other in professional audio services). I love that Tom’s light-colored hair as a child turned black at some point, and I love that he has the same expression on his sleepy face in this photo as he does in his sleep now.

I’m a lucky woman to have found someone who will hold my hand and plunge into the unknown with me like this—I keep reminding myself of how lucky I am.

I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with this man, this Wendy’s-kid’s-meal-sporting, book-loving, dancing-in-the-kitchen-when-we-make-dinner man. But in the meantime, I can’t wait to walk down the aisle and profess my love for him in front of our families and friends. And Lamont. The Magician.

It’s just not a party without a magician.

I’ll see you on the other side, when I will report back about this theory I’ve shared that slow-cooked love stories and flash-in-the-pan engagements are a good combination for a delicious story. I may just write in capital letters, 72 point font, “JUST KIDDING!” But who knows? Maybe all I’ll need to say, with zen in my soul and a sentimental grin on my face, is: “Just Married.”

With something borrowed and something blue,

Jane Kathryn

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