When I met Nick, making sure Ethan was comfortable with him was key. I got a lot of stick/raised eyebrows from some quarters when I admitted that Nick had met Ethan 3 weeks into our relationship. “Far too soon!”, “What if it doesn’t work out?” But there was a reason. Ethan was, and is the most important part of my life. And the most time-consuming (although Erica is now giving him a run for his money). As far as I was concerned, there was absolutely no point in investing time and babysitting credits in getting to know someone if they weren’t going to get on with my son, or if he wasn’t going to get on with them, or if they came out in a rash at the mere sight of a 4 year old Lightning McQueen obsessive. If this turned out to be the case and I’d already fallen for the guy then how emotionally stressful would that be? Frankly, I’d rather check first.
Ethan was fairly used to lots of people staying over in our house. That sounds terrible…let me try that again… Since Mark had died, our wonderful family and friends had rallied around us, and those that didn’t live nearby often came to hang out with us/check on us and stayed for dinner/overnight. A new or vaguely familiar grown up around the place didn’t phase Ethan, he was very sociable and confident around grownups. But still, I did want to do it sensibly. Once I was sure that I’d like him to stick around, Nick and I devised a plan. Nick helps out a friend with his rally car, and he was delivering it somewhere that week. Ethan pretty much thinking that Disney’s Cars was a documentary, we decided we’d meet at a local park (neutral space) where Ethan could play, and Nick could show him around the car (make a good first impression). Fabulous plan, we thought, how clever we are!
This was planned for the Wednesday, a few days after his 4th birthday. On the Tuesday Nick came over after Ethan had gone to sleep, and was planning to leave around 5am. He overslept, and at 6am we heard little (elephant) feet plodding up the stairs to the loft room. Nick dived beneath the covers and I jumped up to usher Ethan out of the room with an overly bright “Why don’t we go downstairs and have some breakfast?!”
…4 stairs down…
Excellent, free and clear!
…6 steps down…
“Why isn’t HE coming for breakfast?!”
I popped back upstairs to Nick. “Ok, so you’ve got options: you can either come downstairs and go straight out the front door, or you can come for breakfast?”
Instead of our nice, well-planned, neutral space, something to talk about meeting, the 2 of them met over cornflakes and a large mug of tea, on Tuesday morning. And they’ve been fast friends ever since.
Getting married for the 2nd time is always odd. There are things you can and can’t do, hurdles to leap, feelings to consider, endless tiny things that you wouldn’t think would be an issue but pop up during planning. There is also the constant danger of the phrase “Well, last time….” popping up far too often. When you’re a widow and not a divorcee there is an added layer of complications. Here are a few that we faced:
I was wary of implying by my new choices that any part of the 1st wedding had been inferior.
It had been a lovely day, that I will always cherish. Mark and I got married in a flint church in Worthing. I had just started my job as their youth worker and we thought this was a perfect way to introduce ourselves to the community. It was a very traditionally church, so we had the full-on robed choir (singing Bread of Heaven along with the plethora of Welsh voice in the congregation), the bells, the flowers tied to wooden pews, traditional vows and the wedding breakfast in the 13th century Bishop’s Palace down the road. Ushers in Prince Edward jackets and a 3 tiered- white wedding cake. All-in. There were the usual arguments about who made the guest list cut, whether there should be an open bar, the assumption by many that a sit-down wedding in a hotel was the only way it should be done. These things happen when you’re young and everyone feels as though they have a stake (sometimes because they do actual have a financial stake!). But we were proud of our music choices, of the food we sorted, and of the atmosphere we created.
The thing is, 10 years had passed, and I am a very different person than I was at 25. A lot has happened to that eternally optimistic fresh-faced youth worker who was ready to change the world holding hands with the equally ambitious, if slightly more realistic Welshman.
Fast forward to 2018. I am less concerned with tradition. I want relaxed and easy. I’m not prepared to stress about guest lists and who “should” be invited because we went to so-and-so’s wedding. I’m not interested in table plans – people can sit wherever they want, and move as frequently as they want! Micro-managing is not my thing. Nick and I wanted to create one of our favourite places – a festival! The 3 of us were happiest hanging out listening to music at Carfest each year and had the opportunity to create something we really wanted – away from usual wedding expectations. We wanted live music and kids running around with no shoes on eating ice lollies and street food and late night wine drinking around the firepit. And so that is what we planned. We found the lovely Hampsley Hollow – a camping site outside of Calne – and hired it for 5 days. And in it we built our festival. A marquee, a bandstand under which to say our own vows, haybale seating, a farmer’s market full of all our food, a gin wagon, an airstream caravan serving pulled pork, and later a wood fried pizza oven, a firepit, deck chairs and picnic blankets, bunting and bell tents, free-flowing wine, a freezer full of ice lollies and a cake made entirely of cheese…oh, and even fibreglass cows we borrowed from a local hotel!
Two very different days (with quite a few similar attendees), with very different vibes, and, you know, different husbands… But both equally full of love and joy.
As we sat in our holiday apartment, excited at our new adventure, and planning the wedding of the century, one thing was front of my mind (apart from how we could somehow get Mumford and Sons to come and play us down the aisle!) – how we were going to make sure Ethan felt included. I was hyper-aware that he shouldn’t feel like this was something Nick and I were doing alone, we were all getting married – making our little team official. This wasn’t about me moving on and starting a new family, leaving the old one behind. This was about Nick (and his family) joining ours.
Ethan was Nick’s best man – he (and his knitted Yoshi) carried the rings. He stood with Nick watching me walk down the aisle, and with us as we exchanged our vows, and he helped us come up with ideas to make the day as fun-filled as possible. As we were planning and discussing the day we would always call it “our” wedding and he would say the same thing when talking to other people (leading to some confusion at school!). When we were looking for suppliers, he was either with us, or mentioned copiously! We wanted to make sure that we had a photographer who knew how important it was for the 3 of us to all be considered and Annamarie did all that and more. We wanted a celebrant who could deal with things sensitively and include Ethan in the ceremony, and it was oh so helpful that our wonderful friend David was a registrar! He was perfect! Ethan got to help with the guest list, and he spent a lot of time at the site with us, so that he felt totally comfortable and could host his friends when they arrived.
We had a children’s area, with games and toys and a bouncy castle. The dance floor was colonised from early evening by all the children skidding along on their knees – just as all children should do at weddings! I was flicking through photos the other day and noticed pretty much everyone, parents or not, dancing with a small child at some point! For me weddings should always be about all the generations coming together in celebration. As far as I’m concerned it’s not a proper wedding until Granny has boogied with the nearest toddler! Ensuring Ethan felt included added an extra level of importance to this.
I still felt part of Mark’s family
I will always feel like an O’Brien, just as much as I feel like a Waters-Dewhurst (my, ever-so-brief maiden name!). I have 3 wonderful Welsh brothers, and 2 wonderful parents-in-law. As well as the loveliest extended Welsh family.
To be perfectly honest, the whole concept of marrying again was difficult and weird for me. A lot of wedding imagery and tradition involves leaving one family for another: The father giving away his daughter, the changing of names, the archaic meanings behind cake cutting and wedding rings. For me, moving away from Mark was never an option, even if I had wanted to, and neither was moving on from his family. I think that a lot of the Welsh contingent were reticent about their firstborn bringing home an English girl, but I like to think that they’ve gotten used to my weird ways, and the experiences that we’ve had have bound us tight together. Being back in a context that reminded me so much of Mark and the dreams and plans we never got to reach for made aspects of this day bittersweet. There was no point in ignoring it and hoping it would go away. We had to think of this milestone differently.
They have all been so welcoming of Nick and we both wanted them to join us in our celebration. For some of them it was too hard – and this was something I completely understand. It would have been too difficult for them to watch me walk down the aisle to marry someone else. I appreciated the love and good wishes they sent in their stead.
But I still look at the photo we have of the youngest generation of the O’Brien clan sat in our photo “booth” and smile so hard – it makes me so happy that they were there, sharing the joy with us. And looking back at how hard I have worked to build and keep our relationship with them it is one of my proudest moments.
The technical stuff
What to do about names….I remember my sister and I took Ethan on holiday about 6 months after Mark died. I’d heard horror stories of women travelling with their children but without their partner/husband and being interrogated by border officials. We were going to Turkey, a place with not the most feminist of reputations, and I was pretty anxious about it. I brought a copy of Marks death certificate with me and was actually asked to produce it as proof that I didn’t need my husband’s permission to travel with our child!
So after Nick proposed, in my typically ridiculous fashion, I started worrying about what I should do with surnames. I didn’t want to further complicate any travel plans by having a different name to my son. I didn’t feel as if I could ditch a name that represented such a huge and important part of my life. I didn’t really want to have a different name to Ethan, regardless of legal complications. It would have felt weird. But I also wanted to recognise the connection that Nick and I were making, to honour him in the process. And we were now beginning to think about another baby, so I didn’t want to have a different name to them either. My head did nearly explode.
Ethan’s answer was that Nick should change his name to O’Brien because it was 2 against 1!
In the end we decided on a compromise. As a recognition of both where we were coming from and where we were going, Ethan and I have legally changed our names to O’Brien-Day. I grew up with a double barrelled surname, so this feels in a weird way like going home. Nick and Erica are both Day (although if they wanted to join us in being more interesting then they’d be very welcome!).
In the end, the freedom we had in being able to create our own ceremony and celebration meant we could tailor it exactly to our needs. We got “legally” married (again with our friend David as the celebrant) two days previously, ticking all the boxes. But as far as we are concerned, the real celebration and the real joining of our families was on the 18th August 2018. Standing in front of all of our friends and family in a festival that we had created making our promises to each other was the important bit. As the 3 of us walked back down the aisle towards the prosecco and cookies (hand baked by my fabulous friend Susan) I really felt that we had honoured our special circumstances, in all their complicated glory.