My two best friends' weddings
Time to get a hat, and then another one, for Mary Johnston, as son, Simon, then daughter, Emma-Louise, prepare to walk up the aisle. In this moving, heartwarming account, the Belfast journalist reflects on the bittersweet emotions of seeing two of her brood embark on married life
Someone recently likened my situation to that of waiting for a bus. Not a one - then two come along at once.
We've two weddings within six months of each other this year, when first my eldest son, Simon, and then my eldest daughter, Emma-Louise, plight their troth.
I wonder if they realise that's what they're doing, plighting their troth?
Anyway, it's a strange feeling and not without much deliberation on my part.
I'm a little concerned that I might be losing them, but hopefully not.
We're an extremely close-knit family and with a bit of luck, our daughter-in-law and son-in-law will add to the equation.
With so many people suggesting that it must be mayhem and manic at the moment in our house with preparations, I'm a bit concerned that I must be missing out on something and failing to do what I'm meant to do, as everything's pretty normal, so far.
Simon gets married in a matter of weeks and as far as I can see, all I have to do, is turn up and with a lot of effort, try to look the part. What is the part though?
It seems so grown-up to be the mother of the groom, especially when he's 32 years of age. Where have those years gone? I keep getting flashes of him as a somewhat serious little three-year-old, obsessed with cars and driving his little red chubby car around every room in the house and doing lots of reversing, requiring much concentration on his part.
Then later, when he'd moved on to Lego big-time, he'd make things and spend hours on their construction, only to blow them up. (And there was I thinking my kids hadn't been affected at all by the Troubles!)
Then there was that Halloween when he and his friends, aged only 13, first experimented with alcohol and I couldn't believe it. He was grounded for six weeks. I don't know what the punishment achieved, other than he was a great help around the house, having a natural aptitude for all the trades. I had him put up outside lights, erect shelves and do other bits and bobs.
Then came those teenage years and the tales, thankfully untold until adulthood, university, graduation and the first job. Simon, an accountant, first met Fiona, also an accountant, when they were both studying for their Institute exams on Saturday mornings at the chaplaincy at Queen's University. He works in corporate finance and she's a tax expert and neither could ever be accused of being a number cruncher or boring.
Both work hard and, boy, do they play hard, too. From the moment they started dating, I liked and got on with Fiona. I have to admit that I started thinking about her as suitable 'marriage material' some time back. Is that an awful thing to say?
I refrained from expressing my opinion to my son, who would not take kindly to anybody trying to influence him in personal matters.
She's a warm, friendly, intelligent and independent girl and pretty, too. They got engaged a year ago and will marry at the end of this month. It's said 'your son's your son 'til he finds a wife'. My wish is that both he and his lovely wife will always be very much in our family's life.
My daughter recently got engaged to her boyfriend of four and a half years (same duration as Simon and Fi) and is planning an August wedding. She currently lives in Manchester, where she works, but because she's such a homebird, not only insisted on her boyfriend buying her engagement ring here, but will naturally marry here and eventually settle here.
Emma-Louise tends to take everything in her stride which, again, is just as well, as I'm not the best person in the world at 'event management'.
She's booked the church, the venue, the band and DJ and the photographer so far, and tries to fly home as frequently as work allows to hunt for a wedding dress etc.
What am I meant to be doing? I'm not sure that it's quite kicked in with me that my wee girl will be living in a different house from the family and will be a married woman with additional responsibilities.
I haven't been reflecting on her as a child as much as I have about my son. Maybe it's something to do with the old-fashioned idea of him becoming the man of the house and taking care of his wife, whereas that role of protector falls to Jonathan in Emma-Louise's case. As a child, she was full of beans, involved in everything - gymnastics, ballet, drama and Brownies - as well as climbing trees out the back and messing about with her big bro and his pals.
Emma-Louise appeared onstage at Belfast's Lyric and Arts theatres and the Grand Opera House when she was just about eight and won a scholarship to a school of Performing Arts in New York when she was 10, and we let her go.
She was a happy-go-lucky teenager, worked abroad briefly, then graduated and got a job almost immediately. Nothing fazed her then and that's how it's been ever since. Nothing, that is until Jonathan Crawford came along. He's tall, dark and handsome, but she says it was his work ethic that impressed her. The boy turned up trumps when Emma-Louise realised how they shared a love of adventure and both enjoy sport, travelling and exotic destinations.
Besides, he's warm and friendly and game for a laugh. Jonny gets the thumbs up from all our family and we look forward to welcoming him into it.
I dare say your offspring getting hitched is yet another event in the circle of life and a welcome one at that. It used to be the norm to pair off. I remember my own mum saying when she was old that it was a comfort to her to know her children (middle-aged at the time!) would have someone to look after them when she was gone.
That's the thing about being a mum. You may let go, but it's easier if it's letting them go into the loving arms of someone else.
Anyway, we're lucky enough to still have another two left at home ...