I haven’t seen a lot written on this topic, but I have observed on several occasions that impending weddings can really bring out the worst in parents.  I’m not sure what it is, exactly – my theory is that it’s something to do with the fact that your “child” leaving home (which marriage would have been, back in Tolstoy’s day) is, for parents, the equivalent of a deadline on a tough assignment at uni or school.  The deadline’s coming up, you’ve got to hand the paper in tomorrow – how do you feel about that assignment?

Well, it depends how well you’ve done, doesn’t it?  If you’ve put a lot of effort into it, and you really know your stuff – you’d be proud to hand that paper in.  You’ll be confident that you’ve done the best you can, and that it’s the right time to hand it over.

But what if you’ve done a lousy job on it?  Perhaps you were too busy to work at the assignment properly.  Perhaps you were too lazy.  Perhaps you didn’t think it was that important, and you’ve left it to the last minute.  But, for whatever reason, the deadline is tomorrow, you know you’ve done a lousy job, and when the deadline arrives and that paper gets handed in – it will be a lousy paper for the rest of eternity.  You can’t reclaim lost time.

This is what I think weddings do to parents.  If you’ve put a good job in with your kids, you’ve had quality time with them growing up, you’re proud of who they are – a wedding is an amazing celebration.  Sure, there’s a little bit of sadness that they’re leaving – but there’s also an immense joy in watching your child step out into a new world of adult responsibility.

But for some parents, I think it’s the opposite.  I think they know that they could have done better with parenting.  As long as their teenager/young person was at home, they could always ignore it – because there’s always more time for things to get better – theoretically.  But when that son or daughter is up the front of that church – that’s it – your parenting days are over.  You will be remembered as either a good or bad parent – but you certainly can’t go back and undo what you’ve been doing while your child is growing up.

I think that haunts many parents who don’t feel that they’ve done a good job.  At least, that’s my theory to explain why so many of them go absolutely insanely nasty around wedding time.  Trying to micro-manage the details of the wedding.  Getting upset with their kids for moving out of the house.  Giving them long lists of jobs to do.  Complaining about the person they’re marrying.  Bagging out their choice of clothes, music, reception, etc.  It can get really vicious sometimes . . .

When, really, what the parent is trying to say is, “I love you.  I’m sorry I didn’t do better.  I can’t undo what I’ve done.  I’m really sorry to be losing you.”

Certainly, that’s the way Tolstoy portrays Old Count Bolkonsky and Marya in this chapter.  He can’t really answer that question of what he would do without his daughter, so just decides to make unspeakably horrible comments about her hair and her clothes.

However, horrible as that is, the biggest disappointment – like somebody falling over and not noticing it until too late – is that Marya is starting to think that there’s a chance that Anatole might like her.  Completely misreading the Anatole/Bourienne situation, she is setting herself up for a major heartache . . . I guess you’ll all be back tomorrow, then?

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4 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 3.4 – Of Parents and Weddings

  1. Well, Matt, that’s certainly an interesting take on parents and weddings – and on Old Bolkonsky and Marya, too, for that matter. You may well be right – but, in any event, I did find myself thinking, after reading today’s chapter, about what a fortune Dr Phil would make on the Bolkonsky family. He’d be able to devote a whole season just to them.

    But it was, again, a great chapter – such massively different characters so acutely, sharply defined: a great testimony to Tolstoy’s skill that he is able to hold them together so well, and to have them maintain that facade of respectability when, so little beneath the surface, they are each such idiosyncratic personalties.

    And for some reason I found myself wondering what it must feel like to be an actress who is offered the part of Marya – kind of a back-handed compliment, if ever there was one!!

  2. I think, Matt, that it’s a matter of parents (especially the mother) trying to make the bride and groom’s day, ‘her’ day . . . although my parents put on a lovely wedding for my first marriage, I got the impression that my mother was making it ‘her day’ . . . sounds nasty to say that, but I look at things realistically.

    When it was time for us (the bride and groom) to drive around the neighbourhood, honking horns, with the rest of the wedding party, my mother insisted that we go straight up to my grandfather’s house (her father) and let him see me in my wedding dress.

    I don’t think the poor man (who was sick) was really ready to have the wedding party descend on him, but my mother? Oh, we just had to do that!

    ‘Nough about my mother . . .

    As for not having done a good job – oh, does anybody think they had a perfect childhood and upbringing? I see few people who don’t put their parents down for ‘something’.

    There’s so much I could say on this topic, but I’ll refrain – don’t want to get myself in a big knot thinking about it.

    I will say this though – I worked as a photographer at a studio in the mid-seventies – my first husband was the one who ‘did’ the weddings – I had to ‘do’ some myself (when I couldn’t get out of it), and I did ‘assist’ at some of his assignments.

    I hated the weddings! Just getting everybody in the wedding party rounded up for the group pictures, is enough to blow your mind! And you know who the worst person is to deal with?

    The bride’s mother!

    It’s enough to turn you off weddings all told – I was always glad when they were over.

    ………………………………….

  3. Further comment . . . just can’t resist . . .

    When you get old enough to have kids in their mid-thirties, you will truly be enlightened.

    At one time, if kids went astray, didn’t make ‘good’ in their lives, other people – other parents or people that weren’t even married – blamed you, as the parents.

    Now? The kids themselves blame you for their not making ‘good’ . . . it’s because I didn’t have the right building blocks, Mum . . . not that I mean ‘you’, of course.

    Ya’ can’t win!

    But in my opinion? Everybody over the age of seven knows the diff ‘tween right and wrong.

    For any of you people here ‘tween the ages of 20 and 40, ask your parents what their thoughts are on this … you’ll find it interesting.

    If you happen to be over the age of 50, here’s a tip . . . when your kids start blaming you for their failures, just say this:

    The reason I wasn’t a good adult, was because of you kids! It was all your fault!

    That’ll get ’em!

  4. My post – Oct 7th, 2k8

    I don’t really have much more to say on that topic – about parents and the weeding, that is.

    There is nobody new to add to my list of characters.

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