I think transitioning from mother to mother-in-law to grandmother is an overlooked challenge for women. The process of planning a wedding or showers should warn us that we are moving into new territory yet the busyness of it all keeps us from realizing that our role is changing. Really changing. Sure we hear the jokes but think they only apply to others. Then we find ourselves the fodder for comedians, aching wrong turns and missteps that leave us wondering what happened and how did my child change overnight into this other? We used to talk, we used to be close, what happened!! Then a baby comes along and mostly all is forgiven because now they have given us this, a fresh start. Only, wait, what the hell, now we don’t even get that? They want to keep that one too? We scratch our heads and wonder when it will be our turn to love and cradle and cuddle, knowing this babe is just the thing to fill up the whole our child left. Any memories of struggling to establish our own family under the watchful gaze of our own mother-in-law with her fingers itching ever closer to our brand new babe are lost in the flush of the placenta, the smell of baby wipes and the sight of little toes.
Ay ya ya, is it any wonder newly weds and mother-in-laws struggle so? No one tells us how to do it, how to breathe through the contractions of the new little family, to trust that a new birth of bigger more openness with happen. Like a pregnant mama at 36 weeks, we want it now. We grow tired of waiting. We are ready to push. We hear everyone tell us that resting right now, at this critical point is what is most important. Rest now, because soon you will be called into action. Allow that family to grow and your chance will come. Oh waiting is horrible. Transitions just really suck. We forget that our choices now during the transition set the stage for how the birth of the new family will be experienced by all.
The knock on our Wednesday evening small group classroom signaled more than just an interruption to our group. It was more than just a notice to let me know my Plum wasn’t feeling well enough to last the evening with his friends. It was a warning that life was going to get rough for several days, that more interruptions were coming, that my schedule and timeline were not my own. One moment we were adults talking around a table, knock knock, suddenly I was in full grandma mode where I would remain for the foreseeable (with no sleep and the inability to see much further than this mug of coffee) future.
Plum has croup, not fun with little lungs that grasp for breath sometimes anyway. Oral steroids and nebulizer treatments are helping to open his constricted airways. Neither help close his little eyes to get rest. I want rest. I had planned much rest after making the Wednesday meal for the larger group. I scheduled much rest as we came to the end of this study and my other one that just finished. I was going to do one slow victory lap around my kitchen with a glass of wine and then collapse contentedly on the couch until I was ready to leisurely climb the stairs to collapse in bed for hours and hours and then rise slowly for coffee and more resting in a comfy chair. I love the studies and work at church but my body was making it clear it was time for rest. I could taste it, I was seeing it. Then I heard the knock, knock. I knew in my gut that knock was for me and that my fantasy rejuvenation time was going to be just that, all fantasy. My head turned in slow motion, letting go of my fantasy to return to reality requires much effort to release those plans: a push of the years in mama mode, the pull of the sickly cough of my best boy. Slow motion propelled into high gear as something took over, the knowledge that grandmas step up to the job when needed. Wine, rest and comfy chair collapses will wait.
Mama took Plum to the doctor who advised limited access to my Sweetness, if possible. Yes, it is possible. Knock knock Plum returned and I waved goodbye to mama and Sweetness for the day, the evening, the foreseeable future which looked like forever when Plum was hyped up on steroids and did not want to nap the day away. As I was pulled back out of sleepy mode I remembered many many years ago while in grad school when our family came down with the flu. All of us, both children even. The real horrible flu. So my mother-in-law at the time, God rest her soul, came to nurse us all. That time is hazy, a feverish sweaty tear-stained memory mush. What has remained after all these years is the selflessness of that grandma who drove an hour to come sleep on a couch, to wipe brows and mope vomit, to make soup and do laundry, days and days of nursing a baby and a toddler and two grown adults now rendered helpless and worse than children. Surely she had plans before that phone call, ring ring, created an interruption that challenged her physically and mentally and was not in any way a fun visit with her grandchildren. She stepped up and delivered. She is one of my grandma role models, one of the women I pattern myself after. There when needed, not intrusive when not. She mastered the transition.
Chef’s mom has served us in such way, I have been blessed in mother-in-law selection. Grandma J has starred in many blog posts for her selfless appearances at every one of my surgeries and the nursing afterward, she shows up for all the kids events and never misses the chance to send a card with $5. Much has happened behind the scenes with her as Chef and I grew into our marriage, establishing our family and our boundaries and making room for us all. Still she shows up and doesn’t judge the state of my refrigerator or flower bed s and always asks for a recipe. She just genuinely allows for my dignity as I make sure she has time with her son alone also. The transition wasn’t always smooth but worth the effort as we built trust and found space for our new family dynamics. She is one of my favorite people, a valued resource who is welcomed into my home and has claimed my heart. Creating all these different kinds of family places is challenging but matters most when someone interrupts our daily life and asks that we show up. She always answers the knock with a yes. Together we mastered the transition.
As a child I remember when my mother’s mom was dying. I didn’t know it then that was what was happening, I just knew my brothers and I were pulled out of bed during the night and taken across town to my dad’s mom. She opened the door as we were being carried up to it and she said no.Knock knock, no. She would not have her plans interrupted. She would not have her home in disarray. In the midst of this trauma, my mother had to find alternative care for her 3 children. I am sure she never forgave her mother-in-law. That night we met an extended aunt in the town I now call home. I have warm feelings for her, I never really bonded with my paternal grandmother. This woman was never a grandma to me, the antithesis of who I wanted to be when I grew into my own role as mother-in-law and gran. She didn’t understand how to transition, she wanted her son to stay her son and the rest of us to fall in line with her plans. Disaster.
It matters not how often you see someone but what you do when that knock happens. When the call comes in and the need is there. Do you show up as a grandma? Can you set aside your plans for wine and victory dances and comfy chairs? One day I pray the knock is from my daughter, I will always say yes. I won’t ask to hold the baby, I won’t reach for the toddler. I don’t do either with mama now. I have mastered the transition after many hard pushes and pulls, I know my role as mother-in-law. Show up when asked, stay out of the way when not. Put a bit of food in the fridge and send a card with $5. Back away slowly. Of course I long to hold the baby, who doesn’t really? I have huge gaping wholes in my heart about the size of new grandchildren who are 10 hours away, a daughter who is emotionally a million miles away. Still, I wait for the invitation and pray that when the knock happens, I can summon the strength to let go of my own needs and accept the request to be present for hers. That is how we master the transition.
Knock knock. Who will answer? Just as God shows up always, I pray we find a way to be present for those who need us and not show up as needy ourselves. Being a servant is really the best descriptor of a gran’s role that I can find, not the lady of the manor. That job already taken. Cookies. Cookies help too. Even daughter-in-laws like cookies. Come to think of it, my mother-in-law always brings cookies. Of course that is mostly because my husband tells his mother that hers are better than mine, but that is a completely different post. Show up, let God work out the details of when we are supposed to get our rest and our wine and know when to back out. Always say yes to the knock. Easy-peasy. Oh and that hole, where our child used to be, God has plans for that. Can you hear Him knocking?