Wedding planner, aka mom, is in over her head


Our daughter, Kelly, is getting married this year. We’re very happy about it and excited to celebrate the big day in November.

It’s just getting there that is causing gray hairs to pop out of my head. 

Kelly asked me to be her “unofficial wedding planner.” Note the ‘unofficial’ designation. I’m pretty sure that’s so she can yank the title and responsibility from me, if needed.

It has been 33 years since I have helped plan a wedding (my own) and even then my mom dealt with most of the details. Unlike me, my mom didn’t work outside the home and I was the last of the four kids to get married, so she had experience. 

When I got married there was little thought into our big day. 

We were married in my church and the reception was at the same small country club where my sister’s reception was held. It was nice. Why not? 

The music was a DJ since they were gaining popularity over live bands for the budget conscious bride. 

The flowers were a combination of silk and real made by a co-worker at the insurance company I worked for. We’ll just forget about them breaking apart in the matron of honor’s hands as she walked down the aisle. 

The cake design was chosen from a photo another co-worker showed me. In reality, it was much smaller than the photo I saw. 

The food, by today’s expectations, was embarrassing. We had a cold meat deli luncheon buffet because of the timing of our late morning wedding and the cost difference.

The invitations were chosen from a book my then future brother-in-law had at his newspaper office. He sold them to us for his cost. 

The photographer was the then local sheriff’s father who enjoyed taking photos. We got a free bonus when his professional photographer son came along to help that day because the elder man wasn’t feeling well. 

My dress was “last year’s design” and thanks to no necessary alterations cost my parents a measly $150. 

Did I mention this was 33 years ago?

Today, and probably in large part due to social media, weddings are much more elaborate. Thankfully, with our daughter’s wedding, both families are contributing financially, as well as the bride and groom. 

After the fun of the surprise engagement (surprise only to our daughter. Everyone else was in on it. Even her brother flew half way across the country to celebrate), we started looking at dresses just to get an idea of what kind of design Kelly liked. I’m sure all color drained from my face when I saw the price tag on a sash belt the woman added to one dress my daughter was modeling. More than $400 for a ribbon with a little bling on it???? I need to start making bridal belts at my kitchen table!

Thankfully, our daughter chose a dress that included a sash with the bling on it as she sashayed around the bridal shop saying, “I love it! I don’t want to take it off.” 

Next came a wedding venue decision because today’s wedding venues require a year or more advance scheduling. Who knew this? My husband still fails to comprehend why so much had to be planned and scheduled more than a year out, but when a venue owner tells you they’ll have to check to see if the date you want 16 months away is still available, you start to feel the pinch. 

Kelly wanted me to come along as she and her fiancé, Kevin, looked at venues. Simply with our families alone we knew we needed space for about 150 people. 

The first stop was a pretty country club set on a golf course. It had one major quirk: some people would have to eat in another room. None of us liked the idea of having to choose who would be seated in “the overflow room” for dinner so our search continued. 

Kelly found a venue online that was described as “affordable.” It was a 45-minute drive from home, but was said to provide the “rustic chic” décor our daughter desired.

As we pulled in the drive the three of us gasped in unison. An enormous, gorgeous palatial home sat behind a small lake. The home was so big it looked like a ski chalet. 

“I thought you said this was affordable?” Kevin asked Kelly as I sat in the back seat trying to close my gaping mouth.

“It said it is!” she responded as she quickly searched her phone for the financial description of the locale.

“It says two dollar signs,” she said as she stared at her phone then back up to the home as we slowly crept down the long gravel driveway. 

Since we had scheduled the appointment, I told the couple, “We’ll just politely check it out.”

In the shadow behind the grand home sat a couple barns. Adjacent to that were grassy fields, homes to both horses and goats. A small silo was next to a pretty brick patio with white lights strung overhead and a few brick fire pits placed strategically. 

We took a deep breath realizing the large home had hidden the quaint barns and cute patio. 

The owner greeted us and showed us the venue. The interior of the barns provided the “rustic chic” setting our daughter wanted. In the horse barn were beautiful oak stables along with crystal chandeliers hanging from the high ceiling. A couple of horses peered out at us as we took in the surroundings. The owner explained the barn is cleaned thoroughly before weddings and the horses can be inside or out, whichever the couple preferred.

The bride and groom smiled at each and I knew immediately that the horses would bear witness to the day’s activities. I knew they could envision themselves celebrating their wedding here. The barn just fit their animal-loving personalities. 

Connected to the horse barn was what appeared to be an older barn with a hayloft (sans hay) and a cobblestone floor. 

If the weather cooperates, weddings can be held outside under the pergola next to the small lake. If Mother Nature isn’t agreeable, everything can be moved inside with the ceremony taking place in front of the large white barn doors placed behind a slight riser for the wedding party.

As our tour was concluding, I asked the $64,000 question, hoping it wouldn’t be a $64,000 answer: What’s the cost? 

The woman gave us a price and then said we could reduce that to nearly half if we pushed the date into the following “slower” months. I looked at my daughter and her future husband and said, “For that much money, can you move your wedding back a couple weeks?”

Like two little kids eyeing a big ice cream treat, they nodded quickly in unison. I knew this would be where they would marry.

Engagement photos were the next hurdle. 

When I became engaged, there were no photo shoots and rarely was the future groom even in the photo. In fact, for my engagement photo, I used a headshot I had taken for a promotion at work. 

Today, couples take engagement photos to a whole new level.

Our daughter has an eye for the artistic. She did not want the posed photos or the “line them up and shoot” photos from our era.

Kelly found an photographer near Kankakee who did outdoor engagement shoots so on one of the coldest days last November, I tagged along as the “dog handler.” Who knew an unofficial wedding planner would also be a dog handler? Kelly and Kevin wanted their dog in their engagement photos but needed someone to hold on to her for the photos in which she was excluded. Insert mom/wedding planner/dog handler here.

We drove to a state park I’ve never heard of and met a sweet, funny photographer with pink hair highlights neatly formed into braids. As I struggled to stay upright thanks to strong winds and a strong dog, the happy couple faced the cold and attempted to look warm and happy. I’m pretty sure they were happy as much as I’m certain they were not warm. 

We walked through trails and fall leaves to find the perfect locations and lighting. They even gathered up fallen leaves to toss toward the camera and later each other.  My how times have changed!

Despite the cold and awkwardness of some poses, the photos were beautiful and unique and the couple was pleased. 

It was imperative that the engagement photos be done early in order to get the “save-the-date” cards mailed before we turn around and mail out invitations a few months later.  Who came up with this idea? 

I’ve received “save-the-date” cards so this wasn’t new to me but I think back to the carefree days of old when we just sent invitations to the surprise of the invited guests. 

Our next task? Flowers. Have you ever seen wooden flowers? I guess it’s a new trend and I have to admit they are beautiful.

We still have a lot of details to finalize but I’m pleased with how much we’ve already accomplished.

What an experience this has been for an “unofficial wedding planner” who hasn’t planned a wedding in more than three decades. I thank God for our friends and families who have stepped up to help out with their talents and I look forward to the wedding day itself when we can celebrate the marriage of our only daughter. 

I’ll be standing in the background taking it all in and hoping my waterproof mascara really works.