Flower girl survival guide

We survived!

In fact, the big day went as well as I possibly could've hoped.

All year, Nov. 26 loomed large on our calendar. It would be the biggest day of our year, the wedding of my husband's younger brother. 

Much as I looked forward to this occasion, I also took a deep inhale: We're talking an out-of-state wedding where my husband would be best man, my 3 and 1-year-old daughters would be flower girls, and I would be the 6-months-pregnant lector. Eep! 

I was braced for a challenge, especially with a 1:30 pm wedding (the heart of nap time) and ivory flower-girl dresses that could pick up anything. I've learned that the odds of spills and stains, falls and gashes go up exponentionally on holidays and special occasions. It's Murphy's Law of parenting.

And yet, nothing went wrong. We had our little tussles, sure, and moments of itchy-dress protest. (Perhaps I should've looked into slips. There's not much you can do when the flower girl complains of an uncomfortable dress an hour before the wedding. She just has to deal.)

But we all emerged unscathed. We pulled off all the group pictures asked of us. The girls both walked down the aisle like champs. Their dresses remained ivory and intact. The day went beautifully -- and we all had fun. 

Looking back, I can identify the keys to our success.

Of course, I prepared as thoroughly as possible. The week before, I kept a rolling to-do list; every night laying in bed I'd tap an addition into my iPhone. I ended with 12 to-dos and a gigantic packing list. I knew I would feel more relaxed going into the big day having prepared well. Specifically, this meant packing a big bag of goodies for the girls with a smaller church bag inside. I wanted to feel ready to occupy them for 12 hours. 

I also managed my expectations. I've witnessed enough weddings recently where I could more clearly see, from an objective vantage point, that kids are charming and entertaining. No. Matter. What.

The mishaps a mom may cringe over often deliver the most humor to the rest of the group. Your drama is their comedy. A balling ring bearer. An errant flower girl. A loud comment articulated at the wrong moment. 

I kept this in mind. 

That said, here are five tips that helped our day run smoothly. 


1. Helpers. I've written before about what amazing grandparents my parents are. Having them at our side for the entire wedding weekend was crucial. And boy, did we put them to work! 

Mom occuped the little ones during the rehearsal dinner the night before so Ted and I could enjoy socializing with relatives and family friends. It was such a treat!

My mom can turn a closet into a playroom. 

And for the long wedding day, their gentle touch was there every time a tear threatened to drop. (If you look closely at Maria's face, you can see she was on the verge here.) 

We all stayed at the same hotel, with nearby rooms, so Mom could slip away and let Jane nap after the wedding Mass -- and then offer some extra cuddles as she tried to transition from her quiet, dark room to the bustling reception. 

My brother and his wife were also amazingly helpful. Jodie helped in various ways and became Head Jane Herdler for a long stretch in the evening. Tony snapped candid pictures and took fabulous videos for us throughout the day. Because, when you're the mother of the flower girls, do you really want to be the one holding the camcorder as they walk down the aisle? Can you even?


But do you want to capture those moments? 


Ted and I were able to be in close touch with the girls all day but also enjoy visiting with everyone. (More than 400 people attended the wedding!) I know I would've looked back with some regret if kid-chasing had consumed my day. 

Whether you can enlist a parent or hire a babysitter, I strongly recommend setting up a helper. Or two. Or three.


2. Snacks. You can't really control over how much sleep they get, between having to ditch their primetime nap on the wedding day to sleeping in an unfamiliar environment the night before. (Maria awoke wailing at 2 am, stayed up quite a while, then rose for the day at 7 am, far earlier than her typical wake time. She told me she was tired right before it was time for us to head to the church. Oy.)

But you can ensure they are well fed. On a wedding day, this comes down to frequent snacks and drinks. Lunch was prepared for the bridal party, but I also wanted to be equipped with a ton of snack options -- none of which would soil an ivory dress. Here's what I came up with: 

God bless raisins and the tiny fingers that clasp them. 

Preparing these snack bags made me feel better going into the wedding. And that counts for a lot right there. 

I tried to encourage the girls to snack frequently throughout the day. I'm also a big proponent of stuffing their faces during church to keep 'em quiet. Some onlookers must think they haven't been fed in hours, even days. But it sure hushes them. 


3. Sticker books. I love me a good sticker book! Nothing keeps little ones occupied better for road trips or church. Creative, fun, imaginative, totally consuming. So long, iPad! 

Usborne makes the best sticker books -- hands down. They're worth their weight in gold. 

We turned to Usborne's "Weddings" book for this occasion. Obvi. 

It got us through that long, often painful window between pictures and the actual wedding. 

I'm struck by what a wide age range can enjoy these sticker books. The older you are, the more advanced you can get. But little hands, like Janie's, are happily occuped by them too. 

You can order Usborne's sticker books through my contact, Cheryl Simon: cherylbooks@gmail.com. Check out her awesome inventory here. Sticker books are just one part of the equation. 

I just peeked at Cheryl's latest catalogue, and it's packed with great titles for little ones. Seeing Little Red Riding Hood next to Anne of Green Gables makes me swoon.

Cheryl is terrific and a real pro; she teaches literacy workshops. She created this graphic on sticker books. 


 4. Surprises. Remember, you want this day to actually be fun for your little ones, so try to cultivate a sense of adventure.

Getting dressed up in such fancy clothes is exciting. Embrace that. Maria pretended to be Cinderella and re-enacted losing a shoe as we sounded the clock striking midnight. 

My biggest surprise for the girls was to present them with gorgeous pink capes I had ordered from an Etsy shop called Baby Bundles Company.

I don't know who loved them more: the girls or Mommy. I think they channeled Elsa and Anna.

This is the reaction they elicited: 

Suddenly you've got big smiles and big fun...in other words, the best photos of the day. The girls are finally outside, they feel fancy and free; you're golden.

I cannot recommend these capes more highly. They're fleece, so they don't wrinkle. They're comfy and cozy and easy to slip on; no tiny buttons to mess with. They're just the right warmth. 

And they absolutely burst with old-school charm. They'll make your little girl look like the First Daughter on inaugaration day. 

The capes come in black, pink, leopard or a dreamy white. But you can request any color. 

For Minnesotans, they work nearly year 'round: fall, winter and spring for sure, plus the occassional cool summer evening. 

They make the perfect finishing touch on a flower girl. They sparked a chorus of oohs and aahs from wedding guests. I wish I had the audio!

"Forget the bride and groom," someone said, watching the photographer snap away as my girls pranced behind her in their capes. "She should be getting those little girls!"

The capes aren't just for weddings. They'd add glamor to any special occasion. They'd be gorgeous for the upcoming holidays. (Perhaps in red?) Or family photos. Or Easter! Much as we yearn to wear short sleeves or go sleeveless, we know how chilly many March and April Easters can be here. 

Best of all, by purchasing a Baby Bundles Company cape, you're supporting a new mom, Bethany, a talented seamstress who has a 9-month-old son. 

Once you peruse Bethany's gorgeous dresses on Etsy, you can't help but hope that one day she has a daughter of her own to personalize her apt slogan: "Making little girls' dreams come true with a dress!" 


5. Bribery. Last but not least, we found bribery to have a most useful effect on the wedding day. I know some parents out there are purists and would eschew this method, but if you ask me, bribery is what wedding days are made for. 

When it came time to walking down the aisle, the cousins started off as a wayward cluster: ages 5, 3, 2, 1 and 1. 

Then Maria marched forward with a show-stopping smile on her face. She was headed straight to her toy and nothing was going to stop her. She knew something was awaiting her at the other end, tucked inside Grandpa's suit jacket. And that little mermaid kept her happily occupied for much of the remaining day. 

You've gotta let kids be kids. (And the big kids behind Maria have a toy in hand too: their phones.) 

For some young ring bearers and flower girls, practicing walking down the aisle is helpful. We didn't practice, lest it feel like a drill or chore. I wanted it to be more free-flowing, to tap into a natural impulse to happily enter the church. 

As much as possible, I wanted to let the girls play and enjoy the wedding. We all made great memories of the day Melissa became their aunt.


Christina Ries is a freelance writer who lives with her husband and two young girls (and another on the way!) in Inver Grove Heights. Write her at christina@mnparent.com.