I recently attended a bachelorette party for a friend some years my junior. Five years my junior, I think. Or maybe eight-ish. I’m not sure. The years in between have become less significant as we’ve grown older. But the fact remains that, as far as marriage is concerned, she's a babe in the nuptial wood and I am a tween.
Then again, if married years are like dog years, I’m well into adulthood. Let’s just say I’ve been down the road a pace, and I swept into that bachelorette like Barbara Streisand in "Hello, Dolly!" (It’s worth clicking through to that link, btw, if you’re not familiar. Or hell, go rent the VHS.)
Having been married myself now for 12 full, extraordinary, exciting, and sometimes difficult years, I actually have some legitimate advice to offer. I think every budding bachelorette should consider inviting someone of my ilk – okay, era – with a well-exercised but not-too-staid perspective on monogamy. Because let’s face it, ladies. We all know it’s not a bundle of unicorns and rainbows. And say what you will about marrying your best friend; even besties have a way of getting up in your craw and driving you to the brink.
Thankfully, I was not the only 40-something at this happy gathering. I say “thankfully” because this time around, I needed backup. I needed some seriously steadfast honest mommy solidarity. Let me explain.
When hanging out with millennials, I tend to experience something I’ll call Time Warp Syndrome (TWS – yes, it’s common enough for an acronym) in which I fancy that I, too, am still very much gathering my rosebuds while I may. In other words, I forget that I have bunions and forehead wrinkles, that I have been through rigorous, un-medicated childbirth more than once, and that my cleavage invites comparisons with empty windsocks more readily than ripe fruit.
All of these truisms somehow evaporate in a fog of delusional, platform-heel-propped, maybe wine-enhanced thinking. When I speak fondly, even sassily, of my still virile groom in the company of anyone born after "Thriller" dropped, for example, I am certain that it is the flush of youth coloring my cheeks and not an early menopausal hot flash. Because it is completely altogether impossible that such a thing would happen to me. Ever.
Anyway, at this particular gathering, my TWS came to a crashing halt when I audibly gasped and said “What the WHAT!?” when one of the uncoupled maidens in attendance mentioned buoyantly that she graduated from college in 2011. “Wait, I’m sorry,” I shouted down the bar incredulously. “Did you say twenty-eleven?!? That was basically LAST YEAR! Hold up…if I’ve done my math right, this means you weren’t even alive in the 80s.”
Here we were, gathered to celebrate the tender, dew-glistened devotion of newlyweds and I run roughshod over the very notion of youth like a brush hog in a rose garden.
This is where my peer parent posse steps in to save me from feeling like a tactless dolt for the rest of the evening. All married, all moms, all gorgeous and side-splittingly hilarious, I felt like I had found my tribe. My Rad Woman Tribe. One of them, a longtime friend from grad school, actually said, “No shit, right?” after I yelled at the spaghetti-strapped redhead about being 26.
When I inquired after this friend’s daughter, she said flatly, “My kid is lazy. She’s great at lots of things. Except for movement. Movement is not her thing. The only way she’ll pick up any speed is if I say ‘You’re a pony! Run free, little pony!’ Then she’ll gallop up and down the sidewalk for a full 45 minutes. This is a regular thing, and it’s the thing that keeps me sane.”
“Giddy up!” I hollered, and we snarfed our Pinot.
Across the table sat a woman who I almost mistook for Sybil Danning in "Amazon Women on the Moon" (1987). In answer to my affable conversation starter about her 15-month-old, she said, and I quote, “He was such an adorable baby. Then he started walking and being a little dick all at the same time.” As I gasped for air, she went on to tell me about the time he was crusted with day-old Barney Butter and probably some vomit, but President Obama held him anyway. She has a photo to prove it.
Sybil’s neighbor (the spitting image of Morgan Fairchild in "Flamingo Road") waxed poetic about her only son: “He’s a total angel. Then he’s an asshole. Angel. Asshole. Angel. Asshole. This is how it goes.” And then after a mouthful of gnocchi, “We’re going to try for another.” I laughed so hard I had to beeline it to the bathroom past a bewildered waiter faltering through the specials.
These superwomen, these uproarious White House Correspondents and Health Care Professionals and Gender Studies Professors-cum-Britax-schlepping renaissance women have come to represent something essential to my survival as a female. Hidden within their out-and-out hilarity is the wisdom of the ages. It is the magical sorcery of the feminine life force that has kept mothers going through every kind of hell since the beginning of time. And I’d be willing to bet that after driving home that night, each of these whip-smart, wisecracker moms looked in at their sleeping children – enchanted, moon-gilded, storybook profiles sunk perfectly into pillows – and felt their hearts burst with awe.
A few days after the bachelorette party, I attended the wedding shower along with Pony, Sybil, Morgan, and about 20 other Rad Woman Tribe contestants. Each of us was invited to offer two things: a telling memory about the bride-to-be and a salient nugget of marriage advice. I started crying before even opening my mouth because if anyone deserves a Cinderella story it is this fine dame.
What I had wanted to say with the utmost self-assurance and resolve is that deciding to share the rest of your life with another person really is one of the most incredible things you will ever do. It is so much more than anyone ever makes it out to be. It’s so much harder and so much more magnificent and humbling, and you’ve got to dig deep and go long and summon all your Wonder Twin Powers to nurture it for as long as you can stay alive. Provided he keeps making you smile that way.
Toss in a couple kids and it’ll be like starting all over. Only then will you begin to see the true nature of your betrothed, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, in manic sleep deprivation and fully alert. This is when you have to be even more nimble and resilient and good at laughing at yourself because you will do things that in the moment feel excruciating but later on will make you snarf your Pinot like the best of them. Just ask Pony.
As soon as you think you’ve got all this down, you won’t, because your gummy, squishball babies grow teeth and start talking to you, no joke, and while you’re sleeping they morph into toddlers with outsized attitudes plus an entire trunk of tricked out super hero costumes and, if you blink, aspiring alpinists who launch off the top of every climbable thing.
And they will most definitely learn to fart with their armpits and use their food to make walrus teeth and become better skiers than you are by age seven. For good measure and just in case your mind isn’t already blown, they become readers of books with the most adorably oversized dark-rimmed glasses and make their own breakfast and tell you it’s going to be okay when you can’t help but cry in front of them and God knows what else.
Also, believe it or not, ages and ages hence, you will end up at a younger friend’s bachelorette party getting slaphappy and maybe a little belligerent telling stories about explosive poop incidents on single-prop planes and double-meltdowns in the dairy aisle and that time you came reeeally close to mixing an ounce or two of whiskey into your teething infant’s bedtime bottle. But that’s okay, because you are human and I forgive you already.
Most importantly, you are still not afraid to love, which might be one of the highest achievements any of us can aspire to.
I’m well aware that I’ve dated myself quite enough already, but I’m going to quote that old codger’s weepy “To the Virgins…” poem one last time anyway, because it’s your day, sister, and it’s high time for your induction into the Tribe:
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.