I think I mentioned in my very first post that sometimes I get mad. In most cases, it takes a lot. I’ve spent a lot of time and energy on this over the past seven years. I never wanted my children, whether in utero or in my arms, to feel the slightest bit of stress, and I thought one of the best ways to do that was to be a safe, stable place. At times I took this too far. This became clear when my four year old asserted that mommies don’t poop and mommies don’t cry. I want my children to feel I’m a safe place, but it’s probably a good idea if they know I’m human.
During times of great stress or unhappiness I did what most mothers do and save it up to cry in the shower, where no one could possibly hear or notice, or for that rare solo car drive, when I could scream and punch the steering wheel. My children have never even hear me swear, which you might find especially surprising after last night’s tirade, but it’s true.
I’m still more comfortable displaying my feelings in private, but I’ve learned that my husband’s shoulder is a safe place to let it out (after the kids are asleep), and I’ve tried to take little steps to let me children know I have feelings, like saying, “ouch” when they drop a six pound book on pinky toe. Becoming a real adult, I think, is often about finding balance, and that’s what I’m working on.
To that end, I will admit, my post last night was a bit much.
I was frustrated, obviously, and felt like I just needed to get it out. And I certainly did that. I let it out and hit publish, so my frustration will be forever out there in the Interwebs.
It all started, as it often does, with a text message. My husband finally thought it was time to let his parents know that there is a good chance we will be relocating soon, so he sent a text and included me on the chain. They were both business-like and polite, but I had just finished a second glass of Prosecco, which I am apparently too old to have now, so I chimed in. I told them to stop it, to say they love each other and let it go, because in that moment, I really believed that life is just too short. I realized I had gone too far, so I quickly added that I will stay out of it, but then, for some reason totally unknown to me, I picked up my phone and I called her.
I called her and I told her I thought all of this was so stupid. I explained how hurt my husband has been by all of this, what a waste of time and energy this has all been, and that it just needed to end. She was receptive, for the most part, but did push back on a few things, mostly anything requiring an admission of wrongfulness. My husband’s dad was mad because apparently our oldest daughter stuck her tongue out at him at her sixth birthday party and he felt disrespected. My husband was mad because at this same party his father wiped his muddy, snowy shoes on our formal rug, one of only a few nice pieces of furniture our children and dog have not completely destroyed. Who cares about little kids sticking out tongues and dirty rugs, right? It seems like an easy fix – stop worrying about stupid things.
Only, it’s not really about the tongue or the rug. It’s about a struggle, on some level, for both of them to find their place now that my husband is a grown up. As much as he has struggled to establish that with his mother, it’s just as difficult with his father. He’s the youngest boy, the last son. The older boys are great, but they’re not perfect, and on some level, I think his parents thought he was their chance to have a perfect son.
To further complicate matters, over the past two years, we have all dealt with a lot of tough things. Moves, job struggles, legal battles, serious health issues, and sleep deprivation that would be classified as torture if it were done to anyone but new parents. It’s a lot, and no one wants to cut anyone else a break. Everyone is so busy. Everyone is so tired. But no one ever stops to think, “Hey, I wonder if he’s tired too?” or, “Maybe she was a little short with me because she hasn’t slept in three days and just realized she has vomit dripping down her back.” It’s always, “You weren’t warm and welcoming and seemed distracted, you must hate me,” which somehow turns into, “You are bad.”
There are a lot of other complicated issues wrapped up in all of this, things that have been going on in their family for decades and I have little or no firsthand experience with, and I try to keep that in mind. I knew it wasn’t my place to call, but it just made me so sad, and it just felt like it was time.
My mother-in-law called my husband an hour later and they had what seemed to start off as a good conversation, but it very quickly fell into smalltalk and blaming and trying to rush ahead to avoid talking about what actually happened. After a few minutes, she decided it was a good idea to put my husband’s father on the phone. I don’t know exactly what was said, but at one point, he suggested it would be nice to see us today, and when my husband said we couldn’t, he said something like, “What could you possibly have going on that is so important you can’t see us tomorrow.” This after he ended the last call by saying, “f*** you” and hanging up and months of silence.
It sounds like we will see them on Friday, which will be interesting, I’m sure, though I imagine everyone will be on their best behavior. My mother-in-law did text to thank me, and to ask me to send photos, which I did, although it all feels a little fast. It feels a little like after one conversation everyone wants to just go back to the way things were before the fight, but that’s exactly how the fight happened, and another one is basically guaranteed if things continue on as they had.
I also explained that my oldest son has his fingernails painted right now, something his aunt did to celebrate the Fourth of July, because the last thing we need is for that to be an issue on Friday. I explained it, because that’s the smart, practical thing to do, and my first priority is always to protect my children, but I was angry that I had to explain at all. I don’t have a problem with my son having his nails painted. He was with his aunt and two sisters and mom and cousin, and he was curious. I’ll admit the blue he chose was very dark and that was hard to get used to, I kept seeing it and thinking, just for a second that he had a bruised nail or really needed to wash his hands. Most of the polish was gone in a week because he digs in the dirt and sand and was in and out of the pool, but some of it is still there, certainly enough to be noticed on Friday.
But if I don’t have a problem with it, and my husband doesn’t have an issue with it, what difference does it make to anyone else? The nice thing about being a grandparent, in most situations, is that you don’t have to worry about discipline. That’s the parents’ responsibility. Just enjoy the kids, and keep your criticisms to yourself, or share it with your old man friends in the doctor’s waiting room.
They are very vocal in their criticisms of the other grandchildren, even though we have repeatedly told them we are not interested and won’t engage. One of my least favorite comments is speculation about one of the grandson’s sexual orientation. He’s nine years old and is good at a number of athletics, but he also likes to participate in theater, and he makes movies. I don’t know, maybe he is gay, I haven’t asked him. I tend to not take an interest in the sexual orientation or sex lives generally of children. Whether he is or isn’t, should not be discussed, certainly not in the way they discuss it, but really not at all.
I know this isn’t how the world works, and people need some time to come around to new things. But I only have so much patience, and I save most of it for my children. The patience I do have left only goes so far.
In a lot of ways, it will probably be easier to have a relationship with them when we live twelve hundred miles away. Establishing boundaries will be easier, the pressure will be less, because the stakes will be lower if we only see them once or twice per year. And honestly, maybe that’s the best case scenario here. I’m not sure, but this time, I really do plan to stay out of it.