It started at the dinner. My son and her daughter had announced their engagement two weeks before. They invited my husband and I, parents of the groom, her – the mother of the bride, and her ex-husband and his new wife to dinner. The dinner was the first we were to hear about their wedding plans, the vision they had for what they wanted, and what role we were all to play. We talked first about the location. Then we talked about different things that needed to be done, and we talked about the finances of all of it.
I thought we were all cooperative and supportive through all that. After all, isn’t money the thing that gets people in a tizzy? Not us. It was her. And the mention of the mother of the bride’s and the mother of the groom’s dresses. Joanna, her daughter and the bride, wanted us to have a dusty blue hue – a warm and inviting grey colour. That was her only request. Joanna was leaving it up to us to discuss further coordination, but she made it clear she wanted us to feel comfortable and like ourselves. She did not want the dresses to match by any means – which came as a relief to me. I was nothing like her – Ulrika – Joanna’s mother.
Erik, my son, was wisely staying out of these details of the planning. And in truth, at the dinner, Ulrika said nothing too provocative. It’s looking back on it that I can see the mention of the dress, the way she looked at me up and down, critically, that I understand she was starting the competition there and then.
We left the dinner with plans for Ulrika and I to meet and shop together after the wedding gown and bridesmaid dresses were chosen. She was helping her daughter through that, then we would meet to choose our dresses. She had the upper hand already. We both knew it. I tried to be polite, but I could already see she was determined to control the outcome. She had her dress picked out, finding it in a boutique with bridesmaid’s dresses. She wanted me to choose another she had picked out.
I’m all for being agreeable but she was suggesting a style I knew looked awful on me. I had to decline. I would be self-conscious the whole wedding day. We shopped together for a few more hours, and the tension just continued to build between us. Finally, I suggested that now I knew what she was wearing, I would shop for something that was of the same hue that Joanna wanted on my own. I didn’t need to waste her time, I said, and alluded to how busy she was.
In the months leading up to the wedding, it became a real fashion contest for us. Shoes were another big deal. I had shown the dress I found to Joanna, who approved, but I kept it from Ulrika’s critical eye. The shoes I thought I could show her. It was a bad decision. She insisted we both have a substantial heel, but closed-toe. I had bought open-toed shoes. She showed me her handbag that matched her dress. It was exquisite and far more money than I would want to spend. I found an equal exquisite hand-bag and had a big argument with my husband over buying it.
The jewelry was the next thing. We unofficially decided to not show each other anything more, and save the ‘revealing’ for the wedding day. I knew I would have to have earrings that bedazzled as much as the handbag. My husband would just have to forgive me. I was getting more and more determined that I had to get more compliments than Ulrika from the guests. She would give me that self-righteous look of contempt forever if I didn’t. I bought diamond earrings, a beautiful diamond necklace, and I booked an elite makeup artist and hairstylist. I wanted to win the wedding fashion contest!
The day of the wedding, it turned out, we were both outshone by the stepmother. And not only did I learn a lesson in humility, but I also learned what it was like to loose perspective to what was really important – my son getting married. He, at least, thought I looked fantastic.