I thought about titling this blog entry “AJ the Ring Bearer.” But as you’re about to find out, he was so much more.
In December 2019, while we were all vacation in Hawaii, my stepson proposed to his girlfriend. The wedding planning started the day we got home.
The plan all along, even before we got hit by a global pandemic, was to have an outdoor wedding in the summer of 2021. When I heard it would be an outdoor wedding I jokingly said “Hey, A.J. can be your ring bearer!” Being an animal lover, and one of A.J.’s many devoted fans, our future daughter-in-law took the idea seriously and was very excited.
Months went by, plans changed, and the big outdoor wedding turned into a small backyard wedding. (And eventually turned into a medium-sized backyard wedding.) The venue was now the backyard of the bride’s parents’ home. At which point I realized we had a problem: there was a cat in the house.
I wasn’t completely sure everyone was really onboard with my dog being at the wedding, let alone being a ring bearer. And now with a cat on the premises, I was starting to think of boarding options for A.J. for that weekend.
A few weeks before the wedding I mentioned this to the bride and I was told that she still absolutely wanted A.J. there (have I mentioned how happy I am with my stepson’s choice for his life-long partner?), and that it was the cat who was going to be boarded for the weekend. It turns out this indoor cat is an escape artist, and with people coming in and out all weekend they didn’t want to have to worry about him running off.
So we were all set for A.J. to attend the wedding. But I still wasn’t sure about the whole ring bearer idea. I knew A.J. could do it, I just wasn’t sure everyone really wanted that. But, about 10 days before the wedding, we decided to start training.
It took all of five minutes for A.J. to figure out that if he came running when someone said “Ring!” he would get a treat, and when they said “OK!” he could come running back to me to get another one. Given the fact that we’d be sitting right up front, it seemed pretty easy to get him to bring the rings over to the bride and groom and come right back to me.
One week before the wedding we went to the bride’s parents’ house to help with some preparations. It was also the perfect opportunity to practice with A.J. at the actual venue. After asking the bride one last time “do you really want to do this?” and receiving a resounding “Yes!” we set up a practice run. The groom wasn’t there, so the bride’s father stood in. I asked where I’d be sitting and put a chair in that spot on the lawn, made sure everyone had their treats, and we all got in place. The father of the bride said “Ring!” and A.J. ran right to him. The bride reached under his chin and grabbed the ring (we practiced with her engagement ring), the father of the bride said “OK!” and A.J. came right back to me.
I was very happy with this. But the father of the bride, being a bit of a showman (and another A.J. fan), had other ideas.
“What if we have A.J. come all the way down the aisle? If he just walks over from the front row no one’s really going to see him. It will be much better if he comes all the way down the aisle.”
I believe in my boy, and didn’t hesitate to say “Sure!”
So I took A.J. to the other end of the yard, and we did it again.
A.J. ran up with the ring.
A.J. ran all the way back to me.
We did this a couple more times and we were all really happy with this new plan.
Throughout the next week we practiced a few times. I realized we couldn’t do it too many times because A.J. was getting kind of bored with this trick. Every time we practiced we’d do the rings a couple of times, then A.J. would run and grab a toy. “This is boring, let’s do something fun!” He’s just way too smart.
The day before the wedding we brought A.J. to the rehearsal. This is the first time we’d be working with a lot of people around, and the first time doing this with the groom (who A.J. adores). We ran through it twice, and A.J. ran down and back flawlessly. We were ready.
Wedding Day. I took A.J. for a long walk in the morning. In the afternoon we went to a local park for wedding pictures. I had been so focused on A.J. being the ring bearer I completely forgot to prepare for the family pictures. We should have arrived early so he had time to explore (he’d never been to this park) and calm down a little. I should have brought treats or a toy and had someone stand next to the photographer to make sure they had A.J.’s attention. I should have put him in place, taken the leash off, and had the rest of us position ourselves around him.
But I didn’t.
Instead, A.J. was all excited and ready to explore this new place. We were told “Okay, groom’s family” and I felt like we had to just get up there and take our turn. I stood next to the bride and A.J. sat down with his back to the camera. I tried to move him over, but he didn’t know what was happening and wasn’t interested in whatever we were doing. So I told him to “Heel,” which got him between me and the bride; I’m pretty sure I was barely in a couple of the pictures. When I finally got him moved up front his leash was hanging across everyone. The photographer had to keep calling to him and trying to get his attention. I’m not terribly optimistic about how these pictures are going to turn out.
After pictures we had two hours before the wedding started. We went to the venue and sat around. I fed A.J. his dinner. I took him for a short walk. Eventually guests started arriving. And finally it was time to start the wedding.
I had A.J. on leash as we walked down the aisle. This is when I realized we had one issue we didn’t plan on. As we walked by, people started reaching out to pet him. I couldn’t exactly stop at every row, so I had to kind of drag him along.
I sat at the end of the row on the outside, and partway through the ceremony I got up and walked with A.J. to the very back. I knelt down behind the last row, trying to stay unobtrusive as the groom recited his vows.
By this point it had already been a long day, everyone was sitting, it was quiet, and A.J. decided it was time to rest. He laid down right at the end of the aisle, facing away from the bride and groom. I started to get a little nervous he wouldn’t notice when the rings were called for. Suddenly the nightmare scenario for me (which of course I didn’t think of when we were planning this out) was looking possible: I might have to walk the rings all the way down the aisle.
But I should have known not to worry. The groom turned towards us and said “Rings!” and A.J. got right up and started down the aisle. Unlike during practice and rehearsals, he didn’t run down the aisle: He made his way leisurely down, stopping briefly to be petted when someone reached out for him. He reached the bride and groom, sat nicely while the bride got the rings, and when the groom said “OK!” – he went over to the best man and sat down right next to him.
In the meantime, I’m still at the end of the aisle thinking “He was supposed to come back.” But honestly, the way he did it was so much better! So I went back over to the far end to go back to my seat. But by that time Greg had brought him over to the side where I was, and then he came running to me to get his treat.
I gave him his treat and walked back up front with him, where he laid down quietly until the ceremony was over and we all walked back up the aisle.
That’s all pretty impressive, right? But the night had just begun.
After the ceremony, I took A.J.’s leash off and didn’t put it on again for the rest of the night. A.J. spent some time glued to my side, but then he’d wander off for a little while and go visiting with the guests. When the best man started his toast, A.J. walked up to stand with the bride and groom. We did have a close call when he came into the house with me when I had to refill his water bowl. I didn’t realize the caterers had food down on boxes and coolers right at nose level. We narrowly averted having dog slobber in the food. But throughout the night A.J. was the most wonderful wedding guest, and a big hit with everyone!
I couldn’t possibly have been happier or more proud of my very, very special boy.