Last weekend my niece got married in a grand, green section of Maryland, just outside DC. Despite the dripping 103-degree heat, it was a feel-good occasion, thanks to a bride and groom clearly well-suited to each other, and a collection of singularly smart, accomplished, and downright nice family and friends.
My 9-year-old, Franny, was the junior bridesmaid. If you asked her if she was a flower girl, she would quickly disabuse you of that notion and enlighten you about the differences between junior bridesmaids and flower girls. For instance: junior bridesmaids don’t drop petals on the aisle, they carry a bouquet. Junior bridesmaids are old enough to attend the Bridesmaids’ Tea, unlike their younger counterparts.
At the tea, the bride-to-be paid tribute to her bridesmaids, sharing what made each one special. She told Franny she was buoyed by her joie de vivre and handed her her bridesmaid’s gift. Franny was tickled to learn not only what joie de vivre meant, but also that she now owned a delicate bracelet strung with tiny blush-pink pearls.
At the rehearsal dinner, Franny made a toast to the bride and groom that brought the house down. And as the processional started, she led the wedding party down the aisle, cruising a bit too quickly, but sure-footed and smiling nonetheless. Mid-ceremony, she started to fidget and turned around to examine an arrangement of blue hydrangeas, but got herself together when she saw me give her the evil eye and shake my head.
During the reception, Franny spent much of her time on the dance floor. She shoulder-shimmied and led with her hips in the line dance. When I found her in the ladies’ room applying pink lip gloss, and told her it was time to go, her hazel eyes widened and she gasped in dismay. “We can’t go yet! I promised Turner (age 24) I’d dance with him when the music speeded up!”
Some people are born introverts. Finding social functions draining and overstimulating, they hang to the margins. Some people, like me, are extroverted introverts, shyer than they appear, yet able to enjoy a gathering and even schmooze once they push themselves over the initial stomach-lurch that precedes entering a room full of mostly unknown party guests.
And some people, like Franny, are wired to be social animals. They are most themselves when they’re with other people.
I first noticed Franny’s social prowess when she was around four. We were listening to music in a museum courtyard when Franny spotted a group of bigger kids, all boys, all of races not her own, playing ball. She ran to join them and, despite not knowing the rules, followed along, never actually getting the ball, but laughing and relishing being swept up in the fun, oblivious to the quizzical glances of her teammates.
Unlike Frankie, the disenfranchised preteen protagonist in Carson McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding who yearns to become one with the bride and groom to escape her profound loneliness, my Franny wanted to be a member of her cousin’s wedding not because she was searching for an identity, or hoping to be rescued, but in her words, “because I never got to be a junior bridesmaid and I thought it would be fun.” Franny is happy being Franny. She likes being part of things and she believes, in the core of her 9-year-old being, that she has something all her own to bring to any party.
Weddings serve as a litmus test for many things: self-esteem; contentment; acceptance of one’s place in life; existential despair. Whatever emotional state is lurking inside us inevitably gets projected onto the bride and groom.
Single people watch the newlyweds on their first dance and wonder, Will I ever get married? Will I ever find someone who gets me? The miserably married gaze at the dewy-eyed just-marrieds and wonder what would my life be like now if I hadn’t picked the wrong person? The happily long-time marrieds look at that same couple with fond nostalgia and relish in the satisfaction of having made the right choice many moons ago. And if those long-time marrieds happen to be the parents of the bride or the groom, how sweet it is to gaze into each other’s eyes as if to say, Look what we did.
I have a good feeling about my niece and her husband; both of them have won life’s lottery. They grew up in closeknit in-tact families with whom they’re still close. They’re established in their chosen careers. They draw comfort in religion and tradition. They have a posse of smart, accomplished friends and a starter townhome with new countertops and a view of a lake. Their excitement for each other and their new life, and their seeming “rightness” for each other is palpable.
I couldn’t help wondering about the wedding I imagine Franny will have one day, an event she will be navigating with two parents, two step-parents, a brother, four stepbrothers, and an assortment of extended relatives who have very little in common other than loving Franny. She will not be planted on the same I-know-exactly-what-cloth-I’m-cut-from foundation as my niece and her husband.
But what she will have is her native confidence, her joie de vivre, and her ability to connect with people–particularly, I hope, with the right one.