First the facts: I love our daughter, and I’m thrilled that she and her longtime partner are getting married in October. They found each other at a critical moment in each of their lives and have thrived together ever since. I couldn’t be happier to see them tie the knot.
I just don’t want to be there when it happens.
At a time when every credible public-health official is warning people to avoid large gatherings as a way of preventing the spread of COVID-19, the idea of inviting 150 people to a country club to eat, drink, and be merry makes no sense to me. But it does make for some fraught prenuptial conversations.
You should also know that My Lovely Wife and I raised a fiercely independent and willful daughter (an equestrian from an early age, she’s known in these parts as The Boss Mare) who has asked nothing from us as she and her partner slowly construct the scaffolding around this most important day of their lives. So, I wasn’t surprised when she briskly dismissed my concerns during a lengthy visit a few weeks ago.
“I think I probably had COVID in the winter,” she said. “Caught it from somebody at work.”
I reminded her that we needed to think of all the other people who might gather for the wedding, but she shrugged it off, arguing that tables would be spaced 6 feet apart at the reception.
“Will the ceremony be outdoors?” I asked.
“That’s the plan,” she replied.
“I’m a little concerned, that’s all,” I noted. “I’m a vulnerable old guy and so are a lot of your relatives.”
I could feel the temperature in the room beginning to rise, so I let it go.
Like a lot of the senior set, MLW and I have been obsessively monitoring the pandemic’s ebb and flow since we first sheltered in place back in March. We’ve been hoping that TBM and her partner would shift gears and opt for a small family-only wedding, waiting until the plague lifts to enjoy a full-blown party. Wedding planning being what it is, though, we knew such a detour three months before the event would be expensive — and, I had to admit, a concession to reality that young people generally prefer to avoid. TBM’s cousin, after all, had already invited everyone and their brother to a grand destination wedding on Labor Day.
But as much as I yearned to experience fully our daughter’s big day, I couldn’t ignore the pandemic’s surge and consistent reports tracking “super-spreaders” of the virus to large gatherings here and in hot spots throughout the country. “It really is irresponsible for them to go ahead with this,” I told MLW one night as we mulled our limited options. “But I can’t tell her that, can I?”
No, I couldn’t.
She showed up again last week with some lacy fabric in hand, asking MLW if she would make masks for her and her betrothed. This seemed like a good sign, so I asked how the planning was coming along. The venue is now limiting the gathering to 150 people, she reported, and the table settings will be arranged to include only members of immediate families. The ceremony would definitely be outside on the golf course.
“So we could still mingle some outside before the dinner and reception?” I ventured.
“No, there’s no big patio,” she said. “We have to get off the golf course and move inside.”
“You know, we’re not going to your cousin’s wedding on Labor Day,” I offered, a bit haltingly. “It’s just too dangerous. The virus is surging again and it’s not going away in the fall.”
“We haven’t RSVP’d yet,” she admitted.
“Well, we’ll come to your ceremony, but we’re not going to stay for the dinner and reception,” I said, avoiding her eyes. “I just don’t think it’s wise. You get to choose how to celebrate your wedding. We get to choose how much of it we feel safe to participate in.”
TBM is pretty stoic, so I couldn’t really tell how she was taking this declaration. The conversation veered without incident toward canceling our meal selections on the wedding website, and she departed soon after. I retreated to my office upstairs and tried to ignore the nagging sense that I was betraying our firstborn.
While I stewed, MLW sent her an email that described our sentiments more eloquently than I could:
“I am very sorry that we won’t be staying for the dinner on your wedding day. I do realize what an important day it is, and I understand your not wanting to change from what you have spent so much time and effort planning. I hope you were able to sense how much anxiety your dad feels about the virus risks. Although I don’t feel as emotional about it as he does, I do share his concerns and am in agreement with the decision to not stay for the dinner. We don’t feel or wish to convey any disapproval of how you are planning your day, we just need to make the choice that’s right for us.
TBM’s response was uncharacteristically prompt and a bit formal, but I took it as a provisional sign of forgiveness:
“I understand, and I’m grateful that you brought the option of attending the ceremony but not the reception up as an option that needed to be made available. I did update the site so that you can indicate that you’ll only be attending the ceremony. It’s under the meal option.”
I’m convinced we’re doing the right thing by limiting our exposure to others, and I really hope the whole affair goes off without a glitch — or any serious illnesses. But we’re only going to experience a small slice of the big day, and that doesn’t seem quite right somehow. It’s all about the memories, after all. And I’d hate to think that years from now my most vivid recollection of our daughter’s wedding might be the fact that we declined the meal option.