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...

Tuesday, September 12, 2017


Not a baby anymore!
"Granma, this reminds me of the time we were swinging side by side when I lived at my old house," said my eldest grandboy as we rocked back and forth on the swing set recently.  Like we were doing again, we had just sat, swinging and talking.  I remember it well - it is a sweet memory indeed, but I'm surprised HE remembered.  Bryce is eleven now, soon to be twelve, but he was three or four back then.  And his memory was spot on.  "Remember the time I was in the baby swing?" he continued.  We laughed.  Yes, I remember several times like that, but he was referring to a time that he was well past the age and size for an infant swing.

Bubbles at the kitchen sink
It's not the first time his memory has reached back further than a Granma has a right to expect.  I had shown him a picture of the two of us in the snow.  He recited how he threw snowballs at me and I threw some at him.  He was probably four at the time, so maybe he was old enough to remember by then.  Regardless, I like being locked into his brain.  I like that we both remember - with smiles all around.

Once, I was washing dishes when he commented on how he used to sit on the counter and play in the bubbles in the kitchen sink.  It was indeed a favorite game which we played often between his ages 18 and 30 months, or so.  I think that game stopped when he discovered he could swivel the head on the faucet and wash the entire kitchen...

So as we recently swung back and forth, discussing our memories, I asked him what is earliest memory was.  "It's kind of a silly memory," he confessed.  He remembered going with his mom and her friend, whose name he doesn't remember, to a school.  He thinks he was about two at the time.  I told him my earliest memory of standing on a couch, looking out a window and watching butterflies in the bushes outside.  "It's like you only remember good things," he commented.

Early snowball fights
Oh, how I wish that to be true!  Sunshine and puppies and Granma kisses (I'm arrogant enough to include myself in that list).  And yet, sometimes it is the hard memories that shape us the most.  Hard doesn't mean bad, necessarily.  Sometimes 'hard' makes us strong, with a strength that comes no other way than to be stretched where we don't dare to go otherwise.  Bryce and I have shared some of those times, too - when the set our jaws said as much as the words we shared and when frustration leaked from our eyes.  I remember those times, as I imagine he does as well.  They haven't made their way to swing set conversations, at least not yet, though I would welcome that discussion, too.  It's a real life, a good life, a relationship that I treasure always.

Whatever else you remember, Bryce, always remember how much you are loved.  Nothing, nothing will ever change that.  And that is a good memory - past, present and future.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

An official end to summer

I'm a summer person - I love sunshine and hot weather and flip flops.  I want the windows down and the air off (below 85 degrees, anyway).  I often wonder why I live in Illinois (which is more than just a weather consideration) - though I know the answer:  the grandloves are here, and so am I.  That said, I put on a brave face when Labor Day rolls around, trying not to shed public tears at the thought of disappearing daylight and the resulting cooler temps.

Target acquired:  Corey
Go, Tyler!
Last May, when I was daily reveling the the opposite of the foregoing sentence, I happened into Costco, and found there a box of 200 water balloons.  Now, if you are not familiar with the latest in water balloons, they are amazing!  By hooking the ready contraption up to a garden hose, you can fill and tie 20 balloons in less than a minute.  It might be top on my I-wish-I-invested-that list.  Number two on that list is Squeezers - the perfect way to deliver mess-free baby food.  But I digress.  Back to the balloons...

It's not that I forgot about them, but I didn't find a good time or place to introduce them for family fun.  But with summer waning, the box was pulled from the closet.  I had plenty of takers for a wet war.  After placing the filled balloons in laundry baskets, my fellow revelers and I made our way to a park.  As luck would have it, I had the three grandloves in the car with me, other adults following in another car.  It was suggested that those in our car would take on Colin and Corey in the fight to end all summers - or this summer, at least.  Bless their naive souls, they thought our four against their two would be a beat-down.  I was pretty sure it would be, too, though I was expecting to receive the beating.  Unfortunately, I was right.

Triple Dunk!
Having raised our opponents, and knowing their pension for competitive glee, especially where wet battles are concerned, I expected a soaking.  Expectation realized.  However, utilizing the centipede theory, they didn't walk away dry, either.  We had twice as many arms launching munitions at them - perhaps not as accurately, but effective, none the less.  Of course, targets were not strictly divided by team - several of the mini's helped me cool off with projectiles aimed my direction.  I, in turn, returned the favor.

Thanks to the aforementioned water balloon filling invention, the fight lasted several times longer than the filling.  That, right there, is a win!  What is the proper way to wrap up a water balloon fight?  Well, Colin happened to notice that the laundry basket held its share of water - more than any single balloon!  He also happened to notice that I was showering his daughter with a balloon.  In an effort to defend her honor, I guess, or just because (see aforementioned competitive glee commentary), I know EXACTLY how much water a laundry basket holds!  Thank you, Emma, for photo documenting!

I might still lament the end of summer, but I do it with a smile - and a promise to do it again next year!