My wedding story begins with a dress. Not just any dress, but the kind that makes people's heads turn when the wearer walks into a room.
When my fiancé, Adam, and I got engaged last spring, my wedding dress was the last thing on my mind -- telling my kids was the first. It remained at the end of the list until about three months before the wedding date.
Then, one Sunday, shortly after the invitations had been ordered, I was walking through Nordstrom's and I saw it: long, beaded, cream-colored, utterly gorgeous and, most important, my size. I returned later with my best friend, Lilly, who insisted on purchasing it for me, despite the fact that the alterations were going to cost half as much as the dress itself.
That dress, which made me feel like Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor combined, became the biggest bone of contention between me and my family -- one that has led to more arguments than, well, my decision to marry my first husband. It was deemed inappropriate for a second wedding, too showy for the time of day, "totally wrong." After my mother and all her friends had weighed in with their opinions, you would have thought I was planning to get up on the bimah and ask our guests if they wanted to buy a vowel.
A second wedding is like the first on many levels: you still have to pick the venue, order invitations, hire the rabbi, decide where and when to have the reception, select a bouquet, choose a cake and a caterer, rent the tuxedos and, of course, buy the damned dress -- unless you are one of those highly intelligent people who opt to elope.
But a second wedding is a lot more complicated. With a first marriage, you feel like you are starting out on this fresh piece of road, like the whole world has been created anew just for you. A second marriage is more like a jigsaw puzzle. There's the piece that's you, the piece that's your intended, the piece that's the kids (if applicable), followed by your family and his family. Then there's that whole other dimension of ex-spouses, if they are still in the picture, and their respective families.
By the time we were a month out from the wedding date and all the issues were if not solved then at least on the agenda, I felt like AOL trying to merge with Time Warner. It's been hard to keep in mind that this is supposed to be the most romantic time of my life.
There was a time when I didn't think I would feel that way ever again. After my first marriage gave its last gasp and I felt like I could finally breathe again, I was content just knowing the only people I had to worry about were myself and the kids. I certainly did not expect to turn around and fall in love so fast. The idea that this same someone would fall for me and want to spend the rest of his life with me and my two admittedly high-energy boys still amazes me.
I am further fortunate in that my kids adore my fiancé. The boys love to remind me how "We're all getting married to Adam!" With the help of our rabbi, Stewart Vogel, we have even managed to devise a way to involve the boys in the ceremony without too much pressure.
The support of Rabbi Vogel, my mom and dad and Adam's family underscores the most important lesson I've learned from this whole experience: You can't embark on a second marriage without the advice and assistance of a lot of people. We needed a lot of help to pull this occasion off. Again, the wedding reflects the marriage. Adam and I are not going to be able to live "happily ever after" without this network of family and friends to lean on and learn from.
Which brings me back to the dress. Although I stubbornly held my ground for a week or so, in the end, I realized that the chosen attire was, indeed, a bit much. It took another weekend -- and my mom's keen eye -- to find something I believe reflects the kind of wedding I hope to have: simple, elegant, a little fun and yet still makes me feel like royalty.
It might be a second wedding, but it's the first time I'm marrying Adam. It's our jigsaw puzzle to create. And that's the way I hope I will still be looking at it, God willing, 50 years from now.
Wendy J. Madnick, former Valley editor of The Jewish Journal, is communications manager of Cure Autism Now.