Dear Byron

What I’ll remember most is this uncanny relationship you built with your two-year-old granddaughter. I’ll remember how she would run to you, her full head of flouncy blonde hair, whipping behind her and collapse across your legs, burying her flushed, chubby cheeks in her hands and head into your lap. You were her safety. You were her rock.  
That two-year-old. She is a smart one. Because that’s how we all felt. You were our safety. You were our rock. We all buried our heads in your lap in our own ways. For me, it was knowing every time we had a crisis with the kids–this kid had a fever and needed to be picked up from school when both Joe and I were working, that kid was vomiting and couldn’t go to school today, or someone needed to stay at our house because Joe was suddenly going out of town and I was working overnight, or we simply needed a night out–you were there. Drop everything. No questions asked. I would look at you with desperate appreciation, and you would look back at me firmly, “that’s why we’re here. Stay out longer. You guys need the time.” And I would sigh and breathe and want to cry, knowing you were there to lean on, time and time again, letting me know that being there for us was all you wanted in return.  
What I loved most of all, was that there was no questioning that your number one priority was always family. And most of all, your wife–the love of your life. At the core of it all, you lived your life to love your wife and family and to protect and take care of us all. Every ounce of everything you were went into taking care of us. I remember how when you became too weak to walk across a soccer field, you would drive your wife to her grandkids’ soccer practice and wait for her in the car. I’ll remember how you would rather be out of breath carrying bags than consider having someone else carry the burden. I’ll remember how you shooed me away from washing the dishes every time you saw my shoulders slump in exhaustion after a long day. I’ll remember how you acknowledged what an amazing dad my husband is for stopping what he was doing to help our son build a lego set he was struggling with. I’ll remember how every time without fail, you would put down your fork, and say, “My Doctor told me to stop eating when I was full”, with a wink and a nudge in my direction. I’ll remember how nothing lit you up the way talking about your kids coming to visit did, and how you were looking forward to walking around the hardware store with your son, checking out new gadgets, just like you two used to do. I’ll remember the afternoons we spent on the lake with you–always the driver of the boat–while the rest of us enjoyed a carefree summer day of sun, water balloon fights, and stops at the ice cream shop.  I’ll remember those pork chops you slow cooked over a bed of hot coals–your famous hot chops.  Oh, we’ll all remember your hot chops.  I’m so sorry if you never had Byron’s hot chops.  

You were never one to want a lot. Just your family. Just to feel useful and needed. Just to be able to provide. Just to see your family happy and comfortable. You spoke loudly with your actions what you seldom said with words: I am here for you. Always, no matter what, because this is how I love you–with everything I can offer.  
You have been the ultimate fixture in our lives. Always steady, always there, never wavering. We all leaned on you.  
Our two-year-old continues to ask, “Where is Abba-abba?” And I will continue to tell her, that you are right here in our hearts. Our permanent fixture.  
Byron, you are truly one-of-a-kind. We all miss you greatly. But you have emblazoned your love into each of our hearts.  
Thank you for being here for us, even in these days when you have gone.  
We will continue to love you the way you loved us–with everything we’ve got.  

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Broken Oven, Glory to You

Also published at:  http://www.scarymommy.com/being-busy-not-badge-honor/

Four weeks ago, in the midst of a baking/cooking frenzy, my oven took its final breath and puttered out. With zucchini bread batter mixed and poured, I stared at it, wild eyed with that blood vessel menacingly popping out of my right temple. With flour highlights in my hair and batter splatters on my shirt and yoga pants, I had a few words with my oven.

The next day, the repair guys were out, and let us know that it was the central circuit board that needed repair. As luck always has it, they no longer made the parts to repair it; however, they said they could certainly send it to the manufacturer for a “small” gob of money to have it repaired. Or, we could spend the large gobs of money to replace the entire oven. Yep, I’d love to send it in to the manufacturer, I replied, as if there was much of a decision to be made. So they removed it, and on their way out the door, explained it would take two weeks and I would be without an oven, oh, and without my stove as well. Huh? What the what??? The nice repair guy grinned sheepishly, “well, there have got to be a lot of great take out options around here, right?” He zipped up his jacket, grabbed the signed paperwork and scrambled to his van, keeping one eye on that crazed vein in my right temple that was slowly starting to declare itself.

No stove or oven for two weeks???? Oh boy. I checked the freezer. Emergency corn dogs and dinosaur nuggets and microwaveable-bagged veggies to save the day. I wish I had some inspirational MacGyver-meets-Martha-Stewart story of how I used chicken wire to make a stove top with flint and kindle or how I made adorable tea party finger foods or how I did the sensible thing and went out and bought a temporary, portable stove-top, but God no. That never happened. The repair guy was right. There has been a lot of take out, and a lot of microwaved, processed foods these last few weeks. And you know what? I liked it. No, no. I didn’t like it, I loved it. I love my microwave. I am one with my microwave. There. I said it.

Since having children, I have felt this great responsibility to feed them healthy, well-balanced meals. Foods that make me feel good about what I am putting in their little, rapidly growing and developing little bodies. They have been hearty-vegetable-eaters, fruit-devouring-monsters, home-cooked-meal-lovers. They have a sweet tooth for home-made healthy baked goods. All this feels so good to be able to provide this for my family, some weeks I am better than others, but in these last two weeks . . . turned three weeks without a stove, I have come to a realization that I was too busy to notice before.

In trying to keep up with my career-family balance, I have constantly felt over-stretched, over-tired, and overwhelmed. I remember leaving a late shift at work, and one of my beloved nurses telling me, as she realized that with my husband out of town, I still had to go home and pack lunches for my kids and had to get up early the next morning to take them to school, “You have to let it go.   Just let it go.” And I looked at her with that same bewildered“HOW DID MY OVEN JUST BREAK” look, but too tired to ask further, just nodded, smiled and kept on walking out the door.

But now. Now I get it. See, the breaking of my beloved, necessary stove and oven has shown me something I’m not quite sure I could have seen myself. That in taking this break from the often insurmountable task of meal preparation and everything that goes into it for my family, I have allowed something to go and it has allowed me to breathe. Those extra hours a day that have fallen into my lap are glorious. They are hours I can spend on something productive or spend on nothing at all but my couch, a cup of coffee and HGTV. They are hours I can call a friend and ask, “How are you?” Those extra hours have lifted a weight, a responsibility, a stress, that gifts me energy and leaves me less tired, less cranky, less irritable. I had no idea that something as simple or as tough as preparing meals was doing this to me. Because, if I think about it, I tell myself, “Come on, how hard is it to make meals?” I don’t have to explain it to you if you are this person in your family. It is hard.

So, now I am thinking what else do I feel this way about? Every task, every responsibility we pile onto our shoulders is just one more “simple” thing, and we say to ourselves, come on, how hard could this be to add this one tiny thing? Well, one thing adds time, time adds energy, energy adds stress, stress leads to irritability . . . ahh, it is all making sense!!! What a simple concept. Where have I been???

I think I’ve been where all of you have been. We have been feeling that we are working mothers and fathers taking care of our family, of our home, of our communities. Sometimes, we lose sight of the value of our own limits and really, our own self. Boundaries blur until there are no boundaries, and we keep on keeping on. We estimate our capabilities, and like the old saying, our eyes are bigger than our stomachs, our undertakings underestimate what is needed from us to accomplish every minutiae of every day—and soon we are stretched too thin doing everything, but unable to do anything with the best version of ourselves.

So, let’s give ourselves a break. What we do is enough. What we don’t do is acceptable. Give what you have to the things that matter the most, and when there is not enough of you to go around, be okay with it. There is no glory in “I am so busy!” There is value to doing things with time, with your full attention and ability, choosing wisely what is important to you and having the energy to enjoy rest, relaxation, and time for calm. Let’s chisel away at this society of “busy”, and let the glory be with broken ovens and microwaves once in awhile.

These American Dreams

Whichever side you fall, you cannot deny that half of the country is hurting. That half of the country is in pain. In disbelief. In fear. Whichever side you fall on, you can acknowledge that there are people excited about this new era. About a leader like no other we have ever known. Whichever side you fall, there are two perspectives that deserve acknowledgement and respect. For after all is said and done, we are all in this together. Please.

My parents came to the United States of America with two suitcases of belongings as their entire inventory of wealth. My mother came to a country where she did not speak the language. My father came to a country and dove into a post-graduate program to receive his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering in a language he had just learned to speak. My mother–from a wealthy family–that wept and begrudgingly allowed her to come to America, but made it clear that this would be a journey she must make on her own.  She wrote home about seeing snow for the first time, about American grocery stores, but never spoke a word about the poorly insulated one room makeshift shed being the only place they could afford to live. She never wrote about the times when their landlord turned off their electricity because they were late on rent. My father, from a farming family in rural Taiwan that made ends meet by eating the over-supply of sweet potatoes generally reserved to feed their livestock. My father, who found his passion in the math and sciences, and dragged his desk out to the sole street light on the dirt road they lived on when it became dark to continue studying.

My father studied hard when he came into his graduate program. My brother was born within their first year of them being in America. To make ends meet, my mom took on odd jobs that she could do from home while taking care of my brother. She gratefully accepted any hand-me-downs to provide for my brother from other foreign graduate students as their kids outgrew clothes. To make ends meet, my mom kept a tight budget, allotting money for food and bare essentials.

My mom tells the story, with a calm and steady voice of when my brother was preschool age. She went to the store to buy milk, and she came short of the 19 cents it cost for his milk. She rummaged through her purse, in her pockets, and ultimately felt as if there was nowhere to hide, but to swallow that lump in her throat and nonchalantly say she would come back for it later.

She tells the story of when she was so excited that my brother had a friend come over for a play date that in the weeks following, she encouraged my brother to invite his friend back. After being met with silence on numerous urgings, my brother ultimately replied, “He said he couldn’t, because his mom said our house was not a real house.” She turned that heartbreak into strength, and vowed at that moment, that she and my father would put every ounce of their energy into providing for my brother and his siblings to come, so we would never feel less than or have the opportunity to feel humiliated in this way.

Slowly, but with unwavering strength, my parents did just that. They carved out a life for themselves. A 5-bedroom, 4-bathroom life in the suburbs of West Des Moines, Iowa. They became American citizens. They raised three children that fully identify as Americans with families of their own, fully entrenched in the communities that they serve.

My parents’ story is the story of one American dream. Immigrants that paved their own way through hard work and heart ache. That made an amazingly better life for their family and fought to provide the wealth of American opportunities within finger’s reach for their children.

But my parents’ story is only one story of one American dream. There is also the American dream of the little boy that grew up knowing he should like girls, but instead fell in love with the man of his dreams as an adult. There is also the American dream of the little girl who grew up with a single mother working three jobs who never got a free ride and wondered if her daydream to pursue college was just a far away fantasy. There is also the American dream of the African American boy who grew up in a middle class family, whose mom is on the PTO, and yet he is still being convicted of a crime he did not commit because he was at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong skin color. There is also the American dream of the boy who came from three generations of law enforcement who puts on that blue uniform for the first time knowing that he is carrying the great responsibility upheld by his family to serve and protect with pride and dignity. There is also the American dream of the boy who picks education over the violence on the streets he walks every day, who never feels the encouragement that his choices are the right choices. These are American dreams. These are the dreams we need to protect.

Whichever side you fall on, remember that our country is about heart, about hope, about fostering these American dreams. As we all breathe our next breath, let’s breathe together knowing we share this air, we share the land we live on, and we share this country.  Let’s respect and embrace one another with open minds with the ultimate goal to carry one another forward.  Let’s leave no one feeling marginalized or left behind. While some of our hearts are breaking and some of our hearts are feeling empowered, let’s fight hard to unite  when we need it most.

What This Win Means to Us

There is something about this Cubs win that is about so much more than sports.

When I met my father-in-law some 14 years ago, there were three things I quickly learned about him.  I learned that he has the best, hearty, deep-from-the-belly laugh. I learned that his greatest pride is his kids. I learned that he was a die-hard Cubs baseball fan.

The minute I stepped into his house, I felt I was home. He squeezed me by the shoulders, and he looked me in the eyes, and he yelled over to my then boyfriend, now husband, “Well, aren’t you lucky?” And the rest is history. I remember spending summer weekends at the lake with his teasing and affable banter. I remember big family holiday gatherings where he would always sneak time to sit right next to me, with his plate piled high with turkey, gravy, and Grandma’s famous potato salad, and he would say, “you having fun yet?” with that wink in his eye.

He didn’t have an easy life. There were obstacles that got in the way of life and family. He was a workaholic to a fault. But as life moved along, he woke up. He redefined his priorities, and he set out to be who deep down, he had always been, buried under those things that had led him astray. By the time I met him, all I knew was a man that loved his children and his family and a man that was wholeheartedly loved by my husband.

My husband gave the eulogy at his dad’s funeral. During the eulogy, he talked about his respect for his father. He was proud of what his father had overcome and who he had become. He was proud of how his father made amends and embraced loving his family as his greatest priority. His death left a hole in my husband’s heart that would take time to heal, but that would never completely mend. I am so thankful I met this great man in my husband’s life. I am so thankful we will always have memories of him infused in this family map we are weaving.

There have been so many times that we have felt his great void. My husband’s graduations from college and law school, our wedding day, the birth of his grandchildren, holidays, birthdays, family gatherings. In all the chaos of these wonderful celebrations, there has always been a moment’s pause, to recognize how much sweeter it would be to have him by our sides, laughing his deep-belly-laugh, and teasing his son about changing dirty diapers. I know if he saw who his children had become today, he would be bursting at the seams with pride.  We miss him.

One of my favorite stories is that of my father-in-law piling his dad and three young kids, including my husband, into the car one early Saturday morning, driving the three hours to Chicago to bring his family to their first Cubs babeball game at Wrigleyfield.  Then driving right back home after the game. When time is tight and money is tighter, you do what you can to create memories for your family and share the things you love. That is exactly what my father-in-law did.  He did it right. To this day, my husband cherishes that trip they took to the great Wrigleyfield and it remains one of the most magical places for us to visit. This summer when we took our own kids to Wrigleyfield for the first time, it was as if we were sharing a part of Grandpa Mark’s legacy with them.  It was as if he was there with us, sharing those Chicago dogs in a poppy seed bun, piled high with onions, mustard, green relish, tomatoes and a pickle spear.

My father-in-law was passionate about Cubs baseball, to say the least. To him, like so many, Cubs baseball is not just a sport. It is an undeniable, slightly crazed passion we high-five and howl over. It is putting all your life’s heaviness aside to cheer for America’s favorite pastime. It is a shared hope that brings us closer together. It is a place to belong. It is the heartbeat that unites us.

Cubs baseball is infused into the identity of my father-in-law and the family that gathered around him. His love for the Cubs has sparked and cultivated our love for the team, which we are now passing along to our kids. During this roller coaster of a history-making series, my father-in-law undoubtedly took a seat on the couch along side each of his children. He has brought us together, to celebrate the Cubs, because in celebrating the Cubs, we are celebrating his passion, his heart, and remembering his constant presence.  Every text that was fired between his kids as the Cubs scored a homerun, made a sick defensive play, won a game, was sent with the unspoken message, “wouldn’t Dad love this?”

We wish he could be here to experience this epic Win. Oh, you would love to hear his deep-belly-laugh in all its glory. You would feel his hands slap you on the back and love to watch him sweep his grandchildren off the ground with his big bear hugs.

This is more than a won baseball series. This is about the history and families of fans that have united behind their love for their team. Fans that remember their fathers and mothers, uncles and aunts, grandfathers and grandmothers that passed on this tradition to root, root, root for the Cubbies–win or lose. But this time, they won it all. And for all of us that are carrying on, generation after generation, this die-hard love for the Cubs, we are celebrating big, for us and those that we wished were right here along side of us.

Fly the W

Grandpa

Making plans with other moms these days is somewhat of an exercise similar to that three-mile run I force myself to do after a two week . . . or six month . . . hiatus from running. It is sweaty, it is a brutal uphill challenge, but when you come out the other end and finish that run–or find that one perfect day where your schedules match up–it feels like the best, inconsequential accomplishment ever. There are nap schedules, there are doctors’ appointments, there is gymnastics and T-ball, there are work schedules, that day your friend is watching her sister’s kids, your child’s preschool friend’s birthday party . . . I’m not even sure how it all piles up, but there are piles, and piles of commitments to navigate. But that is life, and it is rich, and it is wonderful, and it was worth all the hectic mayhem. We are so lucky to have the ability to participate in all these amazing things. This is what makes a family full and alive.

But as we age, there is something else presenting itself and glaring us in the face. It is the aging of our parents. It is their doctor’s appointments, their unexpected emergency department visits. It may be a fall. It may be weakness. It may be feeling dizzy. It may be feeling short of breath. We find ourselves sitting in hospital rooms with our lifelong caretakers. In our visions for our futures, with our homes, with our careers, with our families, we never envisioned this. This is all very unexpected.

I met my father-in-law 14 Thanksgivings ago. I was so nervous to meet my boyfriend’s parents. I had no idea what to expect and even less of a clue how to act. I battled my nerves the whole three-hour drive from our little bubble of a world on our college campus to my boyfriend’s little hometown in Michigan. He told me not to be nervous, “there is nothing to be nervous about! They will love you!” Ah yes. What mother doesn’t love the girl her son brings home? Of course she will think I am good enough . . .

I remember pulling up to their home. I remember finding my now father-in-law in the midst of making lunch for us. I remember that big, hearty hug he gave me, and that gentle pat on the back with those kind eyes. I remember feeling welcome.

I learned in the years to come more and more about my father-in-law. I learned that he worked hard hours, never complained, and put his head and hands to his work to provide for his family. He was always a do-it-yourself, fix-it-yourself man. He worked with his hands. He built the kitchen in their home. He built their deck. He fixed the plumbing. He fixed the car. He built an extra bathroom. Sometimes by trial and error, but he got it done. He was a man of not too many words, but he showed his love and affection through his work. He was the builder, the fixer, the caretaker for his family, for his neighbors, for his friends. When we moved into our new home and the basement flooded, we waited patiently for my father-in-law to visit so he could teach my husband how to replace the base molding that was now water-logged and rotted. After I gave birth to the twins and was in a complete state of sleep deprivation and disarray, it was my father-in-law that, night after night, cooked us dinner without which, I am at a loss to know how we would have eaten or if we would even have remembered. This is how he provided. He was the strength, producing for his family.

As the years have passed, I know it has been a struggle for him. It has been a struggle for him because often times, the walk up those 8 steps leading from our garage to our home is a daunting challenge. It sometimes takes all he has to make it up those steps, feeling winded, feeling light-headed, feeling bewildered, trying to remember when his physical strength had been hijacked. It breaks my heart to imagine what this must be like. To be the strength, and now to find your body unable to keep up with your will and desires to provide as you have lived your lifetime doing.

I can’t imagine, but I want him to imagine what it is like for us. For us, it has never been about what he built, it has never been what he could fix, it has always been about his intentions, the vast amount of love and steadfast committment that went into every project. It has been his effort, it has been his heart.

It is his heart. Oh, it has always, always been his heart that is his greatest strength. It is those words he says when I’ve been working tirelessly all weekend, feeling so incredibly worn, those words of acknowledgement, “you must be tired.”  This is the strength that we see in those kind, always welcoming eyes that I met those 14 Thanksgivings ago. It is that heart that my five-year-olds so affectionately call Grampy and my two-year-old calls Babba.

So, today, on my father-in-law’s birthday, I just want him to know, we see him for who he is. He may not say much, but we hear every word.  Don’t let his sometimes gruff demeanor fool you.  He is full teddy bear.  He is full of heart, he is full of love, he is full of strength.

On your 78th Birthday, we love you Grampy, Babba, Byron. Happy, happy birthday.

A Work Day That Ends in Sushi

Previously published on:  http://www.coffeeandcrumbs.net/blog/2016/4/8/a-work-day-that-ends-in-sushi

My husband and I waited seven years to get married; in those months after we became engaged, before I even picked my dress or wedding colors, I had already started planning for the family that occupied our daydreams. We’d have three kids; I was sure of it. We would have two boys and one girl. Of course, our baby girl would be the youngest so she would have two older, protective brothers. They would come on cue two years apart.

Instead, I picked my strapless A-line dress, we settled on red roses and ivory linens with gold trim, we got married, and we had six miscarriages.

I would get pregnant, and just as we would allow ourselves that hopeful glimpse of the first trimester final stretch, I would miscarry. It was crushing. Yet it became a cycle that I became all too familiar with. My emotions became a pattern of predictability: excitement, anxiety, devastation.

By my third miscarriage, the emotional strain of losing each baby I had lovingly carried  brought me to the point of buckle-at-the-knees desperation followed by a sinking relief. I felt relief that I wouldn’t have to wake up another morning asking, is my baby’s heart still beating? I would let my anxiety wash away, replaced by a heaviness in my heart, and almost a strange sense of peace. It was a dark place to be, but a familiar dark place. A place that I could control.

In the midst of uncertainty, I even developed a miscarriage routine. Routine was something I could do. And something I could do well, on my terms. It was a way to say, “I got this.” Even if I didn’t.

 I would realize I was miscarrying, and continue through my day. Continue to care for other people, to smile and joke, when inside, I was hurting so much. I was thinking, “I know you are hurting, patient-in-my-emergency-department, and please be assured I will do my best to take care of you, but you see, what I can’t tell you is that my baby is dying and I am hurting too.”

My baby is dying right now as I stitch up this cut on your finger. My baby is dying while I try to figure out why you are having abdominal pain. My baby is dying while I tell your loved ones you are having a heart attack. My baby is dying and I can’t take care of her the way I can take care of you.  My baby is dying and no one knows it but me.

After work, I would call my husband, then stop to get the sushi I had craved since learning I was pregnant. I would go home and focus on the pain of my cramps, because that was exponentially easier than acknowledging my broken heart. When everything passed, I would mentally brush my hands off and ready myself for the next time. That was my routine. My miscarriage routine.

I was riddled with guilt over everything about it.

During this two-year period, I felt like a failure. I felt like a weak woman. I felt I was doing something wrong. I felt it was my fault. I felt guilty. I felt inadequate. I felt out of control. I felt ashamed. I had never felt so vulnerable and nothing had ever felt so personal.

A year into the process, I went to an infertility specialist and received the million-dollar work-up. Nothing was wrong. How could nothing be wrong? But test after test confirmed that, “Congratulations! Nothing is wrong!” Translation: there is nothing we can fix. I was started on this medication and that medication, because “It’s worth trying.” I was hopeful, but hopeless. I was exhausted from this constant testing of my emotional strength.

And then it was our seventh pregnancy, and this time–twins!!!! Twins!!! My excitement was quickly followed by a flood of anxiety. My husband and I kept our news to ourselves. We held our breaths.   We had been through this. We tiptoed around our fears, whispering to one another, stifling the excitement we held in our glances towards one another, and we waited. And waited. And my belly grew. And I had no cramps. And I had no bleeding. And I saw their heartbeats. Time and time again.

The infertility specialist said we didn’t need him anymore. I sat still in his clean, slightly-dated office, in the same blue upholstered chair with its thin wooden arm rests, the same chair I had sat in for two years, staring at the same framed picture of him and some big fish he had caught with his nephew, and I weighed the heaviness of his words. Then I broke down in wave after wave of tears. We didn’t need our infertility specialist anymore.

We passed three months. And four months. And five, and six, and seven, and eight!!!!! And two healthy beautiful babies were born.  They are beautiful to this day. I stare at them sometimes, and marvel at how they came to be.

Sometimes when I am tucking in my five-year-old daughter at night, I tell her, “Do you know that you are more beautiful than I could have ever imagined?” What I mean to say is, everything about her existence is more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.

When we decided to have a third, I was ready for the journey. I was nervous of going through the process again, but having had our twins, I knew it was more than worth it. The day we decided we wanted to try again, I put up my defenses against my own emotions.

Five weeks later, just like that, we found out we were pregnant. I braced myself. I was fearful this would become another pregnancy that would fall victim to my routine. I went in for ultrasounds every week. Week after week, there was a heartbeat—I couldn’t believe my ears. And then our beautiful baby girl came into our lives seemingly seamlessly. It was too good to be true, but it is true.

These three beautiful babies of ours.

I realize now after eight pregnancies and three babies and innumerable dreams for our family, there is nothing to be ashamed of. There never was. There was nothing I failed at.

 These days, when I see the chief complaint of “possible miscarriage” show up in my emergency department, I want to see that patient. Not because I can provide better care than my colleagues, but because I want to share my story. Mother to mother. I want to give them hope and I want them to know they are not alone. I am unashamed of the tears that fall from my face when I share in their grief and acknowledge my own. I want them to know it is okay to grieve and natural to feel defeated, and then it is okay to hope again when you are ready.

Sushi has once again become my favorite food. When I eat it now, it doesn’t taste the way it once did. I don’t feel like I am swallowing heartache, loss, and failure. These days, when I stop for sushi at the end of a long day, I bring it home to share with my three children and husband. We talk about what was good about our days, what could have been better about our days, what we look forward to tomorrow. It has become our family favorite meal.  No words can express what these days that end with sushi mean to me now.

I am thankful for everything I have been through. It has given me what I have, it has given me who I am, and it has given me what I have to share. And most of all, it has given me and my husband our beautiful, healthy children.

The Thing About Mother-In-Laws

I met my husband in college. Just two college students trying to make it to class and finish papers before those absurdly-quickly-approaching deadlines. We met each other’s friends, we learned about each other’s hobbies, and about each other’s likes and dislikes. We came to know each other’s favorite study spots, favorite foods; we came to understand how the other dealt with stress and success. We were different in so many ways, but we were beyond compatible and I think we both knew, this was it.

Fast-forward seven years: he proposed, I said yes, we got married. Instantly, I had another side of the family, and so did he. But what has been on my mind isn’t brother-in-laws, or sister-in-laws, or father-in-laws, though they all have their crucial places in our lives; what has been on my mind is mother-in-laws.

It’s a strange thing isn’t? You’ve grown up your whole life with your own mother, who is the center of your world. You know what a mother-child relationship is like, what it should be, based on your own upbringing; and here you are, a grown adult, being thrown into a new mother-child relationship. Except no one is the child, and really, the mother role has changed dramatically.

I think about the parallel lives my mother-in-law and I have lead. She too was present in her children’s lives from the moment they were born. She too made decisions about when she would breastfeed her children and when she would give them formula. She too decided how their foods would be prepared when they transitioned to solids. She too decided when her children would begin to potty train. She too decided what vegetables they would eat, what type of milk they drank, and what clothes they had hanging in their closets. She too planned their summers and weekends together. She too orchestrated every detail of her young family’s lives down to the socks her children wore. Neither of our families would have taken its particular routes without us in them.

I think about what it must be like to evolve from being a mom, directing every part of your child’s life, to now assuming the role of a mother-in-law and grandmother. In thinking about this, I have come to realize the most wonderful thing about my mother-in-law. No matter our differences, my mother-in-law never judges or criticizes the choices I make as a mom. I wish I could bold this, underline this, shout this through the written words on the page. She now stands witness to another person making a separate set of footprints in this path of young motherhood, with footprints that are different from her own. I imagine it must be hard at times to see another person parenting the people you love in a manner different than your own.

But. She never judges me. She never criticizes me for the decisions I make for my family.

And this is why my mother-in-law has taught me the greatest lesson of whom I’d like to be when I enter into her role.

As a young mother, struggling to navigate the raising of young children, this is the greatest gift a mother-in-law can give: non-judgmental eyes, and a gentle, but resilient ever-present support. This is the quiet, constant backing I need for my waxing and waning confidence.  This means everything to me. And while my Type A spirit, will keep me barreling forward in my independent parenting style, my mother-in-law’s influence on how I would like to be as a grandparent and mother-in-law resonate loud and clear. The best way to be–I have come to appreciate–is to respect a young parent’s judgment, way of parenting, and just be supportive and present.

Becoming a mother-in-law, I imagine, must take some adjusting to. You now share this role as the heartbeat of your family with someone you never anticipated sharing this role with.

I am so thankful to have the best mother-in-law to learn from. She has shown me what it is to be kind, to be patient, and to be open-minded. She has given unconditional support, even to a daughter-in-law that is somewhat frantic, somewhat uptight, somewhat of a neat-freak.

The thing about mother-in-laws, is that adding that title to their resume changes nothing about who they are as a mother, because our ultimate goals are all the same: to love the families we share and be present in the best way possible. I am thankful that I have a mother-in-law that gets that.

Thank you to my mother-in-law. You are the definition of love and I couldn’t be more appreciative of having you here to steady our day-to-day chaos.

Happy Mother’s Day. We love you.  Please never move.