Saturday, April 02, 2011

Inclusion: The Wedding Edition

Not long ago our girl was a junior bridesmaid at my brother's wedding. Originally she was meant to be a flower girl, but she's just been growing too fast to fit the flower girl role. In the weeks leading up to the big day, there were many adjustments and alterations, not only to our plans, but also to the glorious and very grown-up (strapless!) bridesmaid's dress that his fiancé had chosen for Sweet M to wear.

My brother and his fiancé went out of their way to include our girl in the bridal party and we were very touched by their consideration. And so, together, we navigated the complicated terrain of our girl's sensory issues (no scratchy fabrics, dress can't be too tight), her language impairments, and her potential for some sort of emotional dysregulation. I think at some points they may have thought we were probably just coddling her. Sometimes it's just hard to remember that for all of her progress, our girl remains very much on spectrum. It's just hard to understand that someone can look so, well, normal, and yet be so very, very different.

When the big day arrived we were in California, driving to the Wayfarer's Chapel where the wedding service would be held. Our girl had been coiffed and coached: the job of the bridesmaid is to walk slowly up the aisle, the job of the bridesmaid is to hold flowers in front of her waist, the job of a bridesmaid is to smile a lot of the time, and look happy and serene. The job of the bridesmaid is to remain calm even if the pantyhose are a little tight and the weather is a little chilly for a strapless gown. Sweet M did it all, with grace and aplomb, and we couldn't have been more proud of her.

After the ceremony there was a sizeable reception party. My own family of origin is not an especially celebratory crew. A mix of Irish stoicism and Pennsylvania Dutch austerity, we're not given to big ceremonies or lavish celebrations. I can't remember the last time I've been to a big wedding party.

Fortunately for us, and perhaps for my brother most of all, he's married into an enormous, joyous Filipino family who know how to have a good time. I'm not usually one for ethnic characterizations, but cultural differences exist, and this one definitely works for us. His new in-laws' joie de vivre is contagious. There was a beautiful ceremony followed by a reception with dancing, and speeches, and all of the usual wedding party antics.

And that is, of course, where things got just a little complicated for our girl. We'd scripted and coached every aspect of the bridesmaid's job that we could think of, but we'd forgotten to explain the rules of the bouquet toss.

So picture the scene: it's been along day. We'd started at 9am with a salon visit to get our girl and her grandmother coiffed for their roles. Then we'd driven quite some distance to move into the hotel near the wedding venue, where we dressed for the wedding. Our girl had done well with the various unfamiliar items of clothing -- the pantyhose, the strapless bra, the dress tape and safety pins to ensure that dress stayed put throughout the afternoon and evening. Then we drove to the wedding, where Sweet M did a brilliant rendition of bridesmaid's behavior. Then onto to the reception with cocktails and a long dinner with lots of new foods, new aromas, new people, surrounded by loud disco and techno-pop music, people dancing, and joking, and having a wonderful time.

Our girl was handling it all well. Then, towards the end of the evening, the master of ceremonies called all the single women out to dance floor for the big moment of the bouquet toss. The dance floor filled with the hopeful gals, our girl among them. The lovely bride turned away from the hopefuls to toss the bouquet over her shoulder. Our girl was, with all the other single gals, arms up, waving, hoping to catch the prized flowers. The bride did one teasing decoy toss that threw them all off-guard, and then tossed the flowers high into the air.

From the edge of the dance floor I was calculating the arc of the falling object in my mind's eye. I was hopeful as it looked as though it was going to land, remarkably, right in our girl's outstretched hands. The fact that I hadn't coached her on this part of the festivities, with its social demand of being a good sport, wasn't going to matter. It looked as though it was going to be okay.

But then, in a fraction of a second, it wasn't. A tall beautiful woman next to Sweet M caught the bouquet.

What happened next is a bit of a blur in my mind. It happened fast. Our girl lunged for the bouquet and grabbed it from the hands of the lucky winner, wrestling it away from her. In the process her beautiful strapless gown slipped down over her little strapless bra, the shimmering aqua décolleté settling somewhere near her waist.

In the throws of a social catastrophe in the making, you make choices in nanoseconds. Priority one: get the dress back up over the bra. Priority two: deal with the inappropriate social behavior as quietly and as well as you possibly can. Priority three: Minimize embarrassment for the girl (and for ourselves -- "Who are that girl's parents?"), and ease any unhappiness amongst others that the gaffe may have caused.

By the time I'd gotten over to the girl and pulled the dress back into place, the single gals had dispersed and I couldn't find the real winner of the bouquet. In my dismay at the turn of events, I couldn't actually even remember who had caught the roses.

Once back at our table, I talked quietly with our girl about the bouquet toss. She was so pleased and proud to have the white rose buds with the rhinestone studs pinned into their centers.

"Hey sweet girl, you didn't exactly catch the bouquet, did you?"

"Well, not exactly," she paused to consider her words. "Technically I fought for it."

"Yes, that is what you did. If you play this game again in the future, you can't fight for it, you have to just let whoever catches it keep it."

"Okay, I get it. But I wanted to get the diamonds."

"Yes, the diamonds in the flowers are beautiful, but you still can't tackle people to get the bouquet."


With wardrobe malfunction and teaching moment behind us, now we just needed to find the woman who actually caught the bouquet and apologize. But our social reparations were interrupted as the evening's festivities weren't done yet: now it was time for the single men to come up to catch the garter.

The unmarried gents gathered around. The beautiful bride was installed on a chair in the middle of the dance floor, her leg lifted in playful provocation, as the groom engaged in the somewhat ribald ritual of retrieving the garter from under her voluminous gown.

Moments later the groom tossed out a garter. The men scrambled to catch the prize and then our girl, sitting on the sidelines, bolted up and joined the men in the scramble. My heart dropped. Now what should I do: haul her off the dance floor screaming, or let her wrest the garter out of some fellow's hand?

Then, in a moment of pure grace, my brother tossed out another garter. And another. And another. The scrambling continued, as he tossed out garter after garter. There were garters a-plenty for the guys and for our odd-ball girl, who emerged from the fray with a black and white satin treasure with a small white bow.

"Hey, look what I got!" she exclaimed.

"Yes, you got a garter."

"What's a garter?" she asked.

"Women used to use them to keep up their stockings."


"You know, sweet girl, when you're at a wedding again, remember that the garter catching is something that the guys do. It's just for the guys. The bouquet is for the girls and the garter is for the guys. Weddings are about making it really clear that guys are guys and girls are girls."*

"Okay," she replied, brightly.

"By the way, dear girl, why was it so important for you to get a garter?"

"Well, I never heard of a garter before -- I just had to see what it was."

And that's our girl: on her own personal quest for gems and knowledge. And she got them a-plenty, thanks to grace and goodwill. We're so grateful to have enjoyed this occasion with our girl held close in everyone's hearts. This is inclusion: the wedding edition.

• • •

*Note to my more politically engaged readers: A more nuanced analysis of weddings and gender will have to wait for another day. Here we're just trying to get to an understanding of gendered norms. Later we can deconstruct them with our girl.


Anonymous said...

OH - You are such an incredibly wonderful mother!! With such a great girl! Please, give me the grace that you have, when My little Em is dealing with the world... You put me to shame, and fill me with hope. <3

Bruce Schmiechen said...

Congrats - but totally off-topic, I thought you might appreciate this:

MothersVox said...

@visionofautism-Thank you so much for your kind words . . . trust me, I'm not always as sanguine as I was at this wedding. I've been blessed with a research leave from my university, so I have caught up on 10 years of lost sleep and actually have a lot of patience and internal space these days. It's a gift to have this right now. The good news is that Sweet M has so much internal space now as well . . . not when she's got her eyes on a prize, but most of the time. There is a lot of reason to be hopeful for your girl Emma . . . keep on snuggling her and you'll see. Our girl is doing things that we never, *ever* thought would be possible.

@Bruce_Schmiechen-Love your new site! Great title! Thanks for stopping over. I still miss Steve Tamarin and it's been more than a year. He was such an amazing person and healer. I had to go to a new doctor last week, and the new guy is wonderful, but there is/was no one like Steve. No one before and no one since. There's a hole in our lives. We're used to thinking about how managed care kills patients, but we seldom think about how it kills doctors.

Bruce Schmiechen said...

Yeah, I still miss him terribly - I get this weird mix of sadness and joy when I think about Steve, which is a lot. I knew him for 40 years and he'll be with me in so many ways until I'm gone...

I hope I'm remembered by my own circle with even a tenth of such wonderful memories of a life so well lived.

Ashley said...

Hi - My name is Ashley and I found your blog through the blog Mama Be Good. Sorry to post this as a comment to your blog but i couldn't find an email address. My husband Ryan is working on his PhD in Clinical Psychology and for his final project he is researching ASD in children. If you are willing, would you be able to fill out a really quick survey to help in this research? The survey can be found at Thanks for your help with this research in advance. Contact me with any questions you have. Hope you're having a good weekend :)

MothersVox said...

Ashley, Hi. I posted your comment so that other people who have children on the spectrum can also find the link. Please let me know if you want it removed.