Not to brag, but I just emerged from a hot bath, and am now sitting in a gloriously silent house. It is 2:37pm. How did I swing this minor miracle, you ask? In-laws.
Yesterday should have been some sort of official holiday in our house. My wonderful in-laws, Eric and Sandy arrived to live in our city for the next six months! Newly retired, they are making their first venture into snowbirding. Their new residence is within running distance from my house.
If you do not have children, you probably think I have some sort of mental disorder or chemical imbalance to be so completely overjoyed at the proximity of their home. I understand. If you would have told me five years ago I was going to live within walking a few miles of a relative of any type, I probably would have slapped you in the mouth. Have a couple of kids and in-laws become fairy godparents. When I announced to my mom’s group that my in-law were buying a home in our city, there were visible looks of envy on their faces. And it’s not just the free babysitting (although, man of man, that is nice. You wouldn’t believe the price of babysitting nowadays. A far cry from the $2 an hour I used to earn.)
My love for my in-laws was not always so bold. There is nothing wrong with them. In fact, truth be told, I hit some sort of in-law lottery. They are great cooks, they generally plan fun activities when we visit, and they are pretty laid back. My mother-in-law likes wine, cheese, and sweets, so I usually spend my visits slightly tipsy and very full. She was a librarian, so we can always talk about books. My father-in-law fancies himself a writer, so we exchange ideas and read each other’s stories. On the whole, they are pretty good cats.
It was more about me and my level of acceptance with myself when we met. To show up as the freaky, artsy, poor, tattooed daughter-in-law is not the easiest gig. My husband is a chemical engineer, a pretty hoity toity job. He’s smart and educated (yes, they are different). Most ladies think he is attractive- he’s very tall, has killer dimples, and sparkling green eyes. He also happens to be extraordinarily kind and considerate. He’s a catch, as they say, and I’m sure his parents probably thought his wife would be an equally stunning counterpart. Instead, he got himself hitched to a gal who cuts her own bangs, makes art out of old magazines, and considers beer thirty to be an actual time of day.
I was born with a large chip on my shoulder, and always assume people are judging me unfavorably. Recently, I was having a beer with a couple of friends. They were regulars at the pub, and knew the owner. We got into a conversation about what it was like to be a bartender. He described people hooking up by sending each other drinks across the bar. I was stunned.
“That really happens?” I asked.
“Oh yeah. All the time,” he replied.
“It’s never happened to me,” I said.
“Oh, I would never send you a drink. You do not put off that vibe.”
“What kind of vibe do I put off?”
“Well, you seem a little more closed off.” He went on to describe how my body language clearly reads “don’t fuck with me.” I might have been offended, but I actually hear this quite a lot. I don’t have what you would describe as a warm personality.
So going into the initial meeting with my in-laws, I assumed they are not going to like me. I assumed they were going to judge me and quietly tell Ben in private that he could do better. I was wrong. They were beyond happy that Ben found someone to love.
I grew on them, and they on me, but before having kids, we only saw each other a few days a year. It wasn’t until we had kids that we really got to know each other.
Shortly after Liam was born, my in-laws began visiting about once every 4-6 weeks. Sandy has always longed to be a grandmother, and with Liam’s birth, she finally got to realize that dream. She was in love. She wanted to be with him every second of the day, and I mean every second. Most people would gladly hand off a child with a poopy diaper, but she would follow me to the room to play with him while I changed his diaper. I was not always glad when she exhibited this level of dedication.
I struggled to find my footing as a mother. Like a lot of women, the combination of hormones coupled with no sleep was like riding a never ending roller coaster of ups and downs. I burst into tears, laughed uncontrollably, and nearly fell asleep in my food. I always assumed motherhood would come naturally, and instead I seemed to be doing everything wrong. Instead of asking for help, I felt like I had a audience sitting front row, watching me fail.
It didn’t help that I had listened to Ben brag about his mother for years. She seemed perfect. She sewed their clothes. She planned amazing birthday parties where she took the kids to construction sites and let them crawl on the equipment. When Ben and his buddy wanted to go backpacking and needed a guide, she led the trip. Greasy-haired and sobbing, I was in no shape to compete with Super Mom.
One day, Sandy was reading Moo, Baa, La La La to Liam. She got to the page where the dogs say ruff ruff ruff, and she read it in a voice that made Liam burst into laughter. And I mean burst. Every time she did it, he laughed harder and harder. I was beyond jealous. This was my kid! I was supposed to make him laugh! She was doing my job better than me. Boo hoo. I actually had to retire to my room for a few minutes to get my composure.
Fast forward to the birth of Kellen. I had all those same hormone rages and tearful outbursts, but I was also overwhelmed with having take care of a two year old on top of a newborn. My in-laws rented a house and stayed for the first six weeks to help me get my footing.
We had been moving towards a stronger relationship, but that six weeks really changed things. I had no choice but to rely on them. Kellen was born by c-section. I couldn’t lift Liam. It was their job to give him a bath and put him to bed. I had to give over some control.
I also knew my time was limited. Pretty soon, I would be handling two kids all on my own. I wouldn’t be seeing my friends or going to the gym, so I spent those six weeks doing those things. It helped me rebound from the pregnancy quickly, but it also forced me to grow comfortable with them looking after my kids. Of course I could hire a babysitter to look after my boys, but that sitter isn’t going to love them the way a grandparent does. When I left to spend time on my own, I knew they were being cared for by someone who looked after them as if they were their own. There is no greater comfort for a mother. Of course, my boys loved the attention. They weren’t just being looked after. They were being lavished with attention. What kid wouldn’t love that?
I got over my rivalry with Sandy. I started to watch her to see how she did things, maybe see if she could show me a thing or two. More importantly, I let her in. We were spending a lot of time together, and instead of the normal “hi there, how’s the weather” chit chat, I began to tell her how I was feeling. Surprise surprise. She wasn’t Super Mom. She had all the same feelings of insecurity and inadequacy that I did as a new mother. She knew that being the grandmother was the fun job- spoiling the kids and leaving the tough stuff to the parents. She wasn’t trying to outshine me. She was hoping to make my job a little easier because she understood how hard being a mom is.
Yesterday, Eric and Sandy got into town. They came over to play with the boys and have dinner. After the meal, we sat around eating cookies, and I mentioned how the boys were going to get so spoiled over the next six months. Sandy replied with “How can we spoil you? What can we do for you tomorrow?” They had just spent three days on the road, Sandy has a broken foot, and taking care of me was her top priority. Did I mention I hit some sort of in-law lottery?
I said I’d like to go for a run. They offered to take the kids for the whole afternoon. After I finished my run, I came into an empty house and sort of didn’t know what to do with myself for a few minutes. I get time to myself, but almost never in my own house. I go to a movie, to a coffee shop, or out with friends. As I sat luxuriating in the warm bath, I thought “I could get used to this.” Unfortunately, I know these six months is going to pass quickly, and I’ll be back on my own. Afternoon bath time will return to the Toddler Witching Hour, and the calm I feel right now will seem like a distant dream. Enjoy while the time lasts.