Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Reception in Two Days?

When I walked Anna into Alameda School later that morning, Graeme on my hip, mothers stopped us to say they’d seen us on the news, and congratulations. Anna enjoyed handing her note to her teacher—“Please excuse Anna’s absence on Wednesday, March 3rd, she had to attend her parents’ wedding”—she smiled up at Mr. McElroy as he read it. His eyebrows went up, he grinned, and said, “Wow, congratulations!” shaking hands all around.

As Graeme and I walked up to Duncan’s school, Fernwood, his teacher, Mrs. Wong (literature/language arts/social studies block), was getting out of her car. She raced up to us, “I saw you on the news! Congratulations!” then grabbed Duncan and hugged him enthusiastically, then hugged me.

He brought his note into the school office, the secretary automatically murmuring, “You were sick?” without even bothering to read the note he held out in his hand. Duncan shook his head, indicating the note. She read it. “Oh!” she said, “Well, well, congratulations.”

I was grateful to get Graeme back home after delivering his siblings, and thought seriously about collapsing on the bed. The house was a wreck, dishes were piled high, detritus from the van was covering the dining table, and a ramshackle wedge of flowers left over from the marriage marathon was stuck in a bucket of water on the kitchen counter. I decided to tackle the flowers first, putting Graeme into the backpack to keep him out of trouble.

Jannine had been a little nervous going back to work. She knew that all her work-mates knew about our marriage from the e-mails that filled her in-box the previous day, not just the ones she had e-mailed about her potential absence, and that not everyone would be happy about it. Yet, an enthusiastic crowd gathered around her desk shortly after she arrived, full of well wishes. She was astounded at the people who were happy for her, even when they were opposed to same-sex marriage. One woman stopped to congratulate her in the hallway, saying she didn’t believe in it, but she was happy for Jannine because she knew it made her happy.

Jannine was not surprised that some people were ominously silent on the subject, scrupulously avoiding eye contact when the subject came up. Later, as with any marriage around the office, a card went round for signatures, and she was presented at a staff meeting with a weekend at the coast for the whole family as a wedding present.

Jannine called to check in, immediately getting to the issue on both of our minds. Should we throw a party, have a reception, do something?

All over town, same-sex newlyweds were struggling with the same questions. How do we make this meaningful and personal, how do we mark this miraculous occasion, how do we start to honor something so momentous, with only a moment’s notice? Gay and lesbian organizations were trying to decide whether to throw one big party for all the newly married, or stage mass marriages like in San Francisco, or otherwise honor the day.

Lisa soon called about the same thing. Chris had talked to Jannine about throwing a party, and Lisa had gotten the job of following up. She’d already spoken to the church about possibly using their hall on Saturday. Did we want to use it together, and if we did, shouldn’t all the couples who got married at the church that day, or during the days following, celebrate together?

This made a lot of sense, but didn’t feel quite right. Not only because my barefoot children/big skirt fantasy was something I felt too shy to indulge in in front of the other couples who would get married that week, or that as a wishy-washy Unitarian I would feel guilty for being feted among better, more dedicated church-goers, but because it all seemed like too much to think about.

It all seemed like too much to Jannine, too, and to Lisa; when we got together with their family at the end of the day for a casual spaghetti dinner at their house, she seemed a little shell shocked. There had been a lot of publicity for them (Chris was on public radio giving an interview that day), because they were plaintiffs in the years-long lawsuit resulting in the landmark “Tanner V. OHSU” decision giving Oregon state employees benefits for same-sex partners. All this attention was both a joy and a challenge.

Chris and Lisa ended up having an open house on Saturday for their friends. Bottles of wine were brought, and much laughter ensued, though sadly, family couldn’t be there. I suspect that Lisa’s wedding fantasy, far from my accessorized script, involved her family filling the pews and doing those special tasks the church women had so miraculously taken on, and that is not how it went down. Not being able to have family there was definitely a downside to our hasty vows.

Marty and Terri had already started planning their celebration with Marty’s mom. Since Tom forgot the blessing of their rings, they went out and bought new rings for him to bless, and had already scheduled a rooftop reception at Marty’s parents’ retirement home in two weeks’ time that would include a blessing of the rings, a bridal dance, champagne toasts, a buffet, and more than one wedding cake.

It wasn’t until the next morning, Friday, that we decided, yes, we were going to do this; we would have an open house reception, not at the church, not at a hall, but at our own house on Sunday.

We had two days.

First, there were the phone calls. I kept generating names of people we wanted to invite based on who I ran into or what name popped into my head, too scattered and sleep deprived to think logically and perhaps consult our address book to ensure we missed no one. Jannine, bless her, manned the phones between work and organizing photos for a chronological montage of our relationship. I ordered Maid Brigade for Saturday morning (this was surely the right time to throw money at a problem), and arranged for Jannine to get a badly needed haircut.

When Jannine gets a haircut, I have to go along. She can’t even take the kids for haircuts because when she takes them, they come back with bowl cuts, unflattering blunt bobs, or asymmetrical trims it takes weeks to grow out and an expensive second cut to fix. When it comes to herself, she’s worse. Left alone, she would wave her hands around mutely or mutter, “Um, I want it shorter.” I come along to direct, sometimes with a drawing or photo of what she wants to come away with. This works.

It was on the way to the hair salon that we exchanged the only harsh words during this emotionally-charged experience. I confessed that I hadn’t exactly told my mother that we didn’t want to have the family reception she’d offered. Jannine (rightly) thought that we’d come to a joint decision. She was sure she didn’t want to exert pressure on my extended family to stretch their budgets and stress their schedules, or worse, put a strain on family ties. All she wanted was a Hallmark and warm wishes.

I was waffling because I wanted to be nice to my mother, and I agreed with her that my cousins and aunts would want to come through, if they could. They are nice folks. But I agreed with Jannine that it was unreasonable to expect my cousins, especially, to drop everything and expensively haul their large families up to Vancouver, Washington, from California, to toast us with non-alcoholic champagne for an event that was over in the blink of an eye, they weren’t even invited to, and may have already been declared legally nonexistent.

Jannine was exasperated I hadn’t put my foot down. She appreciated the enthusiasm and good will with which the offer was made, but she was firm that down the foot must go. We went into the salon in a huff. I let the hairstylist know what Jannine wanted and took Graeme off grumpily to the other end of the salon.

She came out nicely coifed, and in a better humor. I told her I’d call, that she was right about what we should do. She acknowledged my tough spot, and how great it was that my mother came through, and made me so happy with her joy and enthusiasm. In our first years, an altercation like this could have resulted in silence for days. After a decade, it could have been a vale of tears and a three hour talk in the car. After fifteen, we started to know when to stop sweating the small stuff.

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