A year ago this weekend, I had the honor of officiating at the wedding of dear friends. They’d planned a grand celebration — organ and trumpet, dramatic readings, fantabulous attendants, family and friends, and not one but two flower girls.
In my experience, flower girls and ring bearers increase the “chance element” in a wedding ceremony. I’m all for these wee packages of unpredictability — as long as no one present (and especially not the bride and groom) will be upset if the unexpected occurs. Because it almost always occurs. This bride and groom were not only okay with the possibilities, they were pretty realistic that something unplanned would occur.
One of the flower girls was turning thirty-five — I mean five—a few days after the wedding. She was a very wise and mature almost-five with beautiful manners, comportment, and conversational skills. She listened attentively, wanted to practice more than twice, and with astounding precision she lined up her little mary janes at the same angle as bridesmaids’ shoes when they reached the altar. She took her job very seriously and she made us all look more professional.
But the two-year-old niece…. She was at that stage in which she simply would not do what she did not want to do, bless her sweet heart and crazy blonde curls. We discussed various tactics at the rehearsal, trying to imagine all that could occur. We stationed the grandmothers strategically. I advocated someone in the front row packing a lollipop. (I’ve seen this get a shy ring bearer down the aisle.) At the end we laughed and shrugged and assured one another that it would be what it would be…and that would be more than charming.
It was the five-year-old who was a bit discontent with our laissez-faire methods and attitudes. She had clearly lived her whole life waiting, preparing, and expecting to be a flower girl. This was her chance! What if she aged out before she had a chance to do it again? She looked askance at the rumpled, perpetually falling apart, two-year-old. Adorable in her own way, of course, but…could she be counted on?
The five-year-old Flower Girl (she is so very worthy of the title) reminded me so much of Lilly in Lilly’s Big Day by Kevin Henkes, that I contacted my husband on the way to the rehearsal dinner and asked him to find the book on our shelves (no small task) and bring it with him.
I’m a huge Kevin Henkes fan — especially of his mouse books and most especially of Lilly, with her red boots (just like mine!) and purple plastic purse (note to self: must get one). In Lilly’s Big Day, Lilly’s beloved teacher, Mr. Slinger, gets married. Lilly can only assume she will be the flower girl because…well, “she had always wanted to be a flower girl.”
When Mr. Slinger breaks the news that his niece Ginger will be his flower girl, Lilly is crushed. But she rallies (and rails) a bit when Mr. Slinger suggests she could be Ginger’s assistant. Lilly continues her faithful practice of flower girling at home in her room…just in case.
She held her head high and smiled brightly and raised her eyebrows and turned her head from side to side and carried her hands proudly in front of her and hummed “Here Comes the Bride” and walked the length of her room very, very slowly. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
When I read this practice description to the five-year-old Flower Girl I could tell she felt deeply understood (at last!). She nodded in a no-nonsense British sort of way — a curt “YES, that’s how it’s done!” nod.
And that’s how she did it. She was a stunning Flower Girl — the most proper one I have ever seen. She walked like a small queen, smiling and nodding graciously to the peasants on her right and left as she made her way down the aisle. Many a Flower Girl — even a mature and wise one — would have been flustered by the Spectacular Melt-Down at the back of the church when it was the two-year-old’s turn to process down the aisle ahead of the bride. But not this Flower Girl. Like Lilly, she knew exactly what to do. Her mother would want me to make it clear that she did not pick up the two-year-old and carry her down the aisle, as Lilly did Ginger; rather, our flower girl heroine assessed the situation and then provided the loveliest distraction any of us could have hoped for by commanding the center aisle with her own perfectly executed Flower Girl walk. When she joined the bridesmaids and checked to make sure her shiny mary janes were lined up just so with their high heels…she looked up at me and smiled a satisfied smile. (And in case you are wondering, the two-year-old recovered nicely and was absolutely charming the rest of the evening.)
Lilly’s Big Day is a lovely book, often read for its humor and its insights into a child’s perception of the world. It’s a world to which Kevin Henkes takes us with conviction. It’s the only children’s book I have read in the context of wedding preparations.