Figuring out the Rehearsal Dinner

Other than the wedding & reception, the other big event is the rehearsal dinner. Since Sylvia and I are actually doing the rehearsal dinner the night before the actual rehearsal (two nights before the wedding), I’m not exactly certain why it’s still being called a rehearsal. I guess we have to call it something and that certainly rolls off the tongue easier than, dinner-put-on-by-parents-of-the-groom-prior-to-the-wedding.

Sylvia and I did a little bit of research prior to my mom and step-dad coming up for the holidays just to get an idea of what venues were out there, but we didn’t really look at price or availability so much since I hadn’t taken the time to make any phone calls to either my mom or my dad to see what they’d be comfortable with spending. We knew that we wanted to throw something close to the hotels that we’re booking but it’s kind of hard to research, much less plan a big party in Chicago when you have no idea what your budget is. When my mom and step-dad were finally in town, we all had a discussion and they quoted a number, and once I called and talked to my dad about where he was at, Sylvia and I at least had a rough number and were off to the races.

Sylvia, being the planner extraordinaire that she is, had already looked at a few places just to make the process more streamlined, which is great since she’s a much better judge of venues/food than I am. I tend to like just about anywhere that has food, which isn’t really a valid metric in terms of trying to plan such an important dinner event, so I was glad that she’d done that bit of work up front. We quickly ran into two issues. First was the cost as there were a few places we liked, but the minimum you had to spend at one of them was in the 5 figure range, which didn’t include taxes/tip which is 11%/20% in Chicago. Secondly, a few places were already booked up. Apparently trying to plan a large party in downtown Chicago needs more than 9-10 months notice.

Once both issues cropped up, we knew we really needed to book something fast. Thankfully we didn’t have too much trouble since we had some pricing guidelines from my parents. Within the week after they’d left, the groundwork was done and Sylvia had emailed both of my parents to see what they liked/were comfortable with. We threw the 5 figure option on there just as a lark and because my mom and step-dad had expressed an initial interest in the venue before we found out how much it cost. Over the course of a day, Sylvia and I sort of figured out where we assumed we’d be going since it seemed to hit that sweet spot of location, cost, availability & quality.

The response back from them was actually kind of surprising. My mom was really excited by the 5 figure venue. Sylvia and I were taken aback, especially since the interest from her and my step-dad was still there even after we highlighted that we forgot to note that the minimum spend didn’t include the taxes/tip. Sylvia and I started to get nervous as it really was too much money and I was certain that my dad would balk even though I hadn’t heard back from him yet. While on the phone with my mom, and out of out of sheer frustration that she was willing to spend so much money on what was essentially just a dinner party that wasn’t part of the wedding itself, I directly asked her, “mom, seriously, what gives? Why are you so into this one place when we’ve got other options that are just as nice and so much less money?” Her slow and thoughtful reply was that she wasn’t sure that the others were “nice enough.” Then it hit me; my mom was worried that she was going to be perceived as a cheap or inadequate host. It had little to do with the venue itself, she didn’t want me or anyone else thinking that she couldn’t afford to throw a great rehearsal dinner as her only son was getting married. She wanted me to feel proud of her and the support she’s given me leading up to and including the wedding.

I’m proud of my mom relenting to my demand for why she was resisting anything but the most expensive venue. It’s hard sometimes trying to get at the root of why she thinks the way she does. I’m proud that she could let go and actually tell me what was going on in her head. Hell, I’m just proud of my mom in general. She put herself through at least 7 years of night school to get a masters, all for the sake of wanting to be able to provide a better life for me. I didn’t really recognize or acknowledge it while I was growing up since she wasn’t around, but true understanding of what all she’s done for me growing up has slowly crept into my consciousness as I’ve gotten older and my understanding of her has matured.

Even after understanding where she was coming from, favoring the most expensive venue also didn’t jive with my memories as a kid. Growing up in the South, I remember the concept of extravagance being frowned upon unless you were wealthy. If you were rich, you were basically required to flaunt it or else there would be “talk” that the money was drying up/gone or whatever. Actually there was always “talk” regardless of any real delineating factors because I guess there needed to be something interesting to bring to the conversation the next time you saw your sister/brother/parents/friend/etc. I really don’t know or understand where this culture of gossip started or even if it’s a typically “Southern” thing, but it sure seemed like it was everywhere in my family growing up. Sometimes I think it actually helped me be a better listener as, to this day, people tend to tell me quite personal things about themselves without any prompting from me. Gossip doesn’t really have value if unrepeated and I kind of like the thought that maybe I’m doing my part to devalue that currency as opposed to circulating it. Or at least trying to with pretty moderate success.

Anyway, if you weren’t already known to be wealthy, anything money related was like the worlds most cutthroat game of poker where nobody tipped a hand at what they actually had/were worth. Sometimes someone would try to be just a little bit flashy to suggest that maybe they did in fact have a bit more than you, thank you very much. Sometimes this game would escalate to the point that multiple parties could be outed for what they were actually worth when they essentially pushed themselves to or over the brink of financial ruin. Sometimes the game would just fizzle out after someone was able to tut-tut about it and nobody would take the bait. No matter what the outcome was, it was still sort of generally agreed that anyone showing any hint of wealth, real or not, was being a bit crass. We were all supposed to modest and if you could be modest and also actually have some financial security, you were the yardstick that the rest of us were measured by. The only exception I can remember was cars. It didn’t matter how expensive your car was, it just had to be American made. I’m certain that the history and birth of the SUV is buried in here somewhere.

Enough of the tangent though. Once my mom and I were of equal understanding, I sent and made sure that she checked out some of the info on the other venues so that she could understand that Sylvia and I didn’t pick one super great and expensive option and a bunch of other cheap, crappy ones. Once she realized that some of the places we’d been looking were actually pretty nice and not too flashy, we were all happily seeing eye to eye and she was on board with the modest option that Sylvia and I assumed we’d be going with in the first place. After giving my dad a call and picking his brain about it, he was for it too. Once we hammered out the potentially sticky issue of how both of my parents would be contributing to the tab, we had the venue booked within a couple of days. It was refreshing just how smoothly everything went at this point.

I’m glad that this particular part of the journey is over, and I wouldn’t say that the whole process of searching/discussing/booking the rehearsal dinner has been that stressful, but it’s been a pretty good reminder that even the seemingly innocuous question of “where are we hosting dinner?” can have a lot more going on under the surface than you’d probably otherwise think. It also often made me hungry.

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