First comes love…

About five years ago, I got a phone call from one of my best friends. “Are you busy on Friday?” he asked. I said, “not particularly,” and asked what was up. He tried to sound offhand. “We thought maybe you’d come to our backyard in the afternoon—and marry us.”

He made what would sound like a completely nutty request of me because I’d gotten my minister papers—from the magical Internet—in order to perform my sister’s wedding ceremony. I’d used it a couple of times since then.

Anyway, my friend failed at sounding nonchalant; he was too happy. Present in the backyard that Friday afternoon, along with him and his affianced, was their six-month-old daughter and his fiancee’s older daughter, then seven, plus a couple of my kids—and one other friend.

The tiny backyard gathering included minimal fanfare. I signed the marriage certificate. Afterwards, four kids and I ambled back to my house with the bride and groom. I took the baby from her parents into my arms. The newlyweds kissed the kids goodbye and went out for a celebratory dinner at the same restaurant where they’d gone for their first date. That’s why they’d chosen this particular Friday, the anniversary of their first date.

Marriage had been on their agenda, sure. It just so happened they bought a house and had a baby first. They’d done this relatively quickly, the way people who meet in their forties rather than their twenties often do.

A year later, they threw an anniversary party that more nearly resembled a very casual but festive wedding reception. They scooped ice cream for their guests and everyone wore hats; the bride wore a costume store tiara. The backyard crush of happy people included loads of kids. The laid-back summer party—only formal in that people came from afar, including their families—befitted their life together, which was one of raising two children, juggling careers and home; it was life in full swing. Their life together, given what each of them brought into it, and what they’d created together—home, their baby—was already quite full. So, for them it wasn’t love, marriage, baby carriage; it was love, new house, baby carriage (and big sister), art studio, marriage—and the truth is this: it was as joyful as the traditional version.


In my role as Internet minister, I’ve officiated a few wedding ceremonies for couples—gay couples, straight couples—with children from previous relationships and two “shotgun” weddings. I wasn’t a love, marriage, baby carriage gal to begin with, but after the experience of working with couples on wedding ceremonies in these less usual or traditional configurations, I am a firm believer that the most important thing about a couple embarking upon marriage is their love for one another within the context of being comfortable and happy with their relationship and lives as they are.

Very often, couples with kids—someone’s from a previous relationship, theirs, even theirs on the way—are so focused upon the present (kids will do this to you) that they can’t get starry-eyed about what life is supposed to be like once they are married,  and they can’t get too fussy about the wedding itself, either. What matters more than getting every detail right for the perfect wedding reception is that the couple is (phew!) getting married and that the people they most want to attend are present for the occasion. This may be the kids and a friend or two, or it may be the immediate family. The event may even be a full-on reception with dancing and deejay.

Sometimes, though, the couple has to work together to feel comfortable about the fact that there may be some people attending the wedding who are unsettled by the topsy-turvy order—the love, marriage, baby carriage folks.

A wedding ceremony I performed last summer was one with a reception, a deejay, and a wedding party. The gown was hand-sewn by the bride. The groom carried their adorable, gurgling baby (in off-white dress) with round cheeks, velvet skin, and chubby thighs down the aisle. The bride and groom paid close attention to details—with her hand-sewn gown I rest my case—but perhaps because they’d already turned tradition on its head with the baby carriage before the marriage, they felt a little freer about how a wedding ceremony and reception were “supposed” to be.

In her case, this very crafty bride baked her own wedding cake. Only she chose not to make a cake; she made cupcakes, all iced white and set upon a tiered stand. She called them the wedding cupcakes.

The baby, only four months old, may have looked longingly at the cupcakes, but she did not get a bite.

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Author: Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser's work has appeared on the New York Times, Salon, and the Manifest Station amongst other places. Find her on Twitter @standshadows

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