Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Another Mother

I was nineteen when we met.  We were opposites even then.  She was big city, I was a country bumpkin.  She was confident, I was insecure.  I wanted to impress, but felt woefully inadequate.  As years passed, more opposites emerged.  She was authoritative, I would rather go with the flow.  She dressed for every occasion, including driving across town after painting in a house a few miles away.  Jeans suited me - ripped or dirty notwithstanding.  It wouldn't matter if opposites attract or not.  We were joined at the hip by something else: her son, my husband.

Nana with great grandson, Bryce
Growing up, I always thought I would call my husband's mother "Mom," but when I got to that point, I found it impossible to call two women - my original and the newly acquired - who were so completely different by the same name.  In time, I settled on Nana, her chosen name to be used with the next generation.  Looking back, that, too, seems appropriate - she wasn't a snippets-and-snails Granma.  I only remember her babysitting for us once, and that was just a couple weeks before Colin lost his only child status.

Shortly after we had announced the advent of her second grandchild, to be born less than a year after his brother, she gave me a full-length, flannel nightgown.  I thought it was hilarious.  She didn't.  Oops.  It wasn't the only misstep we have encountered in the last 38 years.  She told me once, with emotion etched on her face, how hurt she was that I didn't bring the boys over trick-or-treating one year.  She had a special gift for them, which she threw out a month or so later, still hurting from the slight.  As it happened, it was the first year I had let them go out on Halloween by themselves.  It wasn't my fault, but I have always regretted that I didn't cradle her pain with more compassion.  It wasn't just a matter-of-fact misunderstanding - it was an aching heart that needed to be held.

It's not that I have been a bad daughter-in-law.  I haven't.  I just wish that wisdom could be suddenly acquired rather than incrementally earned.  I wish I could have been smarter younger.  The mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship is a difficult one, requiring a delicate balance.  Unfortunately, there is not always agreement between the parties as to where the fulcrum should be placed.  There is a lot of trial and error to wade through.

Having been on both sides of the balance, I have newly realized appreciation for Nana.  She is approaching the end of her life.  Her words are painfully few, locked within and out of her reach.  Many times, I doubt she knows who I am.  Recently, though, I was blessed to have time alone with her when she seemed to fully recognize me.  There were things I got to say - to thank her for never interfering with my marriage, to thank her for the lessons I learned from her, to apologize for a certain Halloween so many years earlier.  Her eyes were locked onto mine as her hand reached from under the covers to take mine.  "We are such different people," I said, "but it's ok, because we love the same people."  I wiped a tear from her cheek as our hearts held each other.

Thank you, Nana, for being my other mother.  With love for the person you are, and the one you helped me become...