The other day I took both boys to the orthodontist. Kyle usually drives himself, but his car was in the shop. I had just returned from the dentist. I had two fillings — both related to clenching my teeth. It was lunchtime and the waiting room was clearing out. As I sat in the orthodontist’s office all numb-mouthed, the orthodontist’s wife, who also manages the offices, came up to talk with me.
“Beth, you Adams’ have had quite a year. How are you all doing?” She asked.
“Yes. We have. With Eli’s broken jaw, Dave’s bad concussion and my broken hand, you would think we were accident prone. I like to say we are active.” I laughed and then explained why I was also talking funny. She said I didn’t have to talk, but then continued the conversation. After telling me about her six kids and telling me,
“The last one to leave home is the hardest.”
“I have the two. Kyle and Eli,” I said.
“Wow!” she said, and continued, “I just assumed you had more.”
Ok.I never hesitate to mention the truth anytime anyone, I mean anyone, including the sweet wife of my sons’ orthodontist, says anything about how I should have more children, which is,
“Yes. I wanted more. I tried for years.”
She was silent. And sure, that particular sentence usually does stop people in their tracks. My guess is within about ten seconds, she had done the math, and realized that Kyle will quickly be followed by Eli. Meaning, I am also at the end.
I am sure she was relieved when I was suddenly called back to talk to talk the orthodontist. Wait. Maybe she just #911s him when things get uncomfortable.
Anyway, with Kyle graduating from high school in two months and Eli graduating in two years, of course I have found myself extra reflective and totally weepy. My mom was right when she said,
“It will go by fast. Enjoy every moment.”
Honestly, I think I have. Nevertheless, I still cannot believe we are here. In fact, I am shocked! Wasn’t Eli just practicing his pogo stick moves for the elementary school talent show? Didn’t Kyle just get bitten by a snake? Wasn’t Eli just learning to ride a bike? Ay-yi-yi!
Instead, here is where we are. I am surrounded by two giant and amazing man-children. Kyle is trying to figure out how he can he bleed every last moment out of high school. While he is making all the minutes count, he is also trying to decide which college to attend, how he can order a tux for prom, can he will handle life away from his girlfriend if he goes away for college. Then there is the huge concern regarding his braces. The question: will he have them off in time for graduation? We are doing everything possible to make that happen and we also understand why Kyle keeps complaining of these pounding headaches that hurt above his eyes and along his jaw.
“You might be clenching your teeth. We get it. Dude, life is stressful.”
Eli is not far behind. Not only is he planning his cross country running career, he is pining for the day his braces to come off, waiting for the snow to melt so he and the dudes can go mountain bike riding, and wondering if his dad will help him upgrade his gaming computer. Eli also thinks that college away from home might be very cool. What? Eli, man, you are my bestie. I thought you would stay close. In truth, I am certain Eli will soar near or far. We imagine he will write for Saturday Night Live or for Seth Meyers, or even the next Bob’s Burgers’ franchise.
Ultimately, my love for them has always been and will always be fierce, protective, long winded and powerful. I will cut anyone who crosses their path. Ask the ones I have cut. They will tell you that I do not mess around. I will also do my best to give them the space they need to carve their own path. I want them to follow their dreams. I want them to fly — wherever they want to fly to. Of course I also want them to make good choices, be kind, thoughtful and gracious.
Alas, how do I transition from fiercely dedicated day-to-day mom to the mom who wants help them spread their wings? I have been worried about this moment since Dave and I started making babies. In fact, I always believed that if I modeled healthy boundaries and relationships that the boys and I would find healthy ways to ebb and flow. I always thought it was about maintaining a dedicated relationship with them. I like my sons, so that is easy to do. I also think Kyle and Eli know I am always there for them. I am loyal and I have been their strongest advocate. For them, I have and I will fight fire, monsters, bullies, or stupid people. I also see the importance and the need for them to live their own life, even if it is a life that I cannot imagine. I truly believe that they need to stand in their space, not mine.
Further, I was convinced that if I modeled a healthy and reciprocal relationship with my mom and my mother-in-law, that my relationship with my boys would remain strong. It was not hard. Dave’s mom and my mom are good people and are important to me. What they both do not realize (and do not need to realize) is that I spent way too much time trying to make sure they were happy, or better, I spent way too much time trying not to hurt their feelings, get along with them, and to accommodate them. But then, I began to see that maybe I missed the most significant lesson of all. In my attempt to show them my sons that I love my mom and mother-in-law, I forgot to stand in my own space, or better, I made accommodations and concessions for the women in my own life thinking it would reflect on how my sons treat me (kind of selfish really).
For my mom, I stopped blogging. Ha ha, any of you early bloggers out there may think I stopped blogging because Heather Armstrong (Dooce.com) and I had a fight a million years ago. I wish it were that easy. I stopped blogging because it hurt my mom’s feelings over and over again. I did not how to reconcile integrity in my writing with breaking my mom’s heart so I stopped. Sure, in her defense, maybe I could have been more mature about how I shared. I think if I had trusted myself, (maybe) I would have arrived at a place where my mom would feel less pain and more pride regarding the words I put out to the world. If not, at least I would have learned to stand in my own space, not hers. At least I would have the confidence to know that I am not trying to hurt her. Instead I was weak. I went out of my way not to hurt my mom’s feelings. I always managed to hurt them anyway. I promise you that writing this will might hurt her feelings now. As a result, our relationship evolved. Now I simply avoid any sort of complicated interaction. I try to agree with her. I support her perspective and try to reassure her that things are ok. I only wish I would have seen that it would be ok. In truth, I think my mom and I were much closer when we were dialoguing about how I was hurting her online. I wish I would have trusted myself. I want to give that openness to my sons. Sure, it be painful to view yourself through someone else’s lens.
Then there is my mother-in-law. She is broken-hearted, because by the time she wanted to be included online, I had a not-write-much-about-family-especially-moms policy.
…There we were. We were at the end of a long trip. My mother-in-law still insists she paid for all of it. She didn’t. Even though it was her gift. Even though she takes both Dave’s brother and sister on trips, cruises, and more trips, this was her gift to us. We are grateful. It was thoughtful. And, we also paid for a lot of it ourselves. She still does not get it.
It was July, 2014 and we were staying in Killarney, Ireland. It was our last day at our quirky bed and breakfast. We were sitting at breakfast in a room full of hotel guests. I suggested we stay at this bed and breakfast because I know my mother in law loves quaint bed and breakfasts. As breakfast finished, my mother-in-law looked up at me and proclaimed,
“Beth, everyday I read your blog. Everyday you write about Davy and the boys. You never say anything about me. You never post any pictures of me. I feel invisible.”
I felt embarrassed that she called me out this way. I felt sad that I had made her sad. Then she sat there quietly staring at me.
I responded. “I do not write about friends or family. This has been a complicated trip. I always hurt people. And I do not want to hurt you.”
“You already have!” I wanted to say, but didn’t
“Seriously. I know where telling the truth gets me.”
Then I wanted to show her what I had privately journaled (and why I try to follow the don’t-publicly-hurt-people rule). I should have shown her all the pictures I had quietly taken of her and her son. I refrained back then. I will share our story now:
We were at a little family owned pub restaurant in Eastern Wales a few miles from Tintern Abbey. My mother-in-law asked that we order three desserts to share. The yummy desserts arrived. My mother-in-law sat at the table while Dave and the boys first stood and then eventually sat around her. She took a few large bites. Abruptly she swatted at Eli.
“Stop.” she proclaimed.
She decided Eli had taken too much of the mutually shared desserts. I was watching. Regardless, reality had no impact. She looked at Eli, who was standing there holding a clean spoon, and assumed he was the one stealing all of her precious dessert. Both Dave and Kyle each had taken a few bites. Eli had not had taken any. After she started scolding Eli, Dave and Kyle stopped eating. Undeterred, she was convinced. She continued berating Eli (age 11), the youngest person in our group. Dave, snapped, asking her to stop.
“Mom, he is not eating your dessert. He has not had any dessert. I thought you suggested we all share.”
She would not stop yelling at Eli. Dave demanded she leave Eli alone, urging,
“Mom, knock it off! Eli is not eating your dessert! Really! You need to stop this now!”
She ignored Dave.
Undeterred, she persisted, gobbling up her dessert and scolding Eli (who was now terrified and standing a few feet from the table). I thought my head would explode. A story she often tells circled my mind. When Dave was very young his aunt scolded him for eating popsicle in the living room of her house. I remember how upset my mother-in-law was and still is by this. Dave does not remember the story. Maybe Eli will forget this moment. My mother-in-law never forgets. Surely she would correlate, right? No. In this moment it seemed she was unable to see how her tunnel vision was hurting her grandson.
I needed to rescue him. As tears quietly fell down Eli’s cheeks, he motioned to me. I needed to set a boundary. Angry, heartbroken and frustrated, I firmly asked her to stop. She swatted back,
“Well. Then. Beth. Eli needs to stop eating ALL of my dessert.”
“He is not eating ALL of your dessert!” I firmly said.
At that, Dave and I stood up and asked the boys to follow us. We walked over to the backside of the little Welsh restaurant. In his traumatized frustration, Eli said,
“I keep trying to be grandma’s friend. She never listens. She wants it her way. I don’t understand. I am done.”
Last summer (June 2017) Dave, the boys and I found our way back in Eastern Wales. We made our way to Tintern Abbey and decided we would find our way to that little inn.
“Hey Eli let’s find that little inn. You can have all the dessert you want. You can have it all to yourself.”
We found the inn. We had built this place up in our memory, imagining the little farm in the back, the great food and the welcoming innkeeper. As luck would have it (or not), we arrived too early for dinner, which meant we were also too early for dessert. The dispassionate owner couldn’t care less about our pilgrimage. Dinner would be served in two hours. He told us we could wait or we could leave. We decided to pass, and probably ate dinner from food that was purchased at a grocery store. Nevertheless, we were there for Eli. And Eli knew it. Eli still wants his dessert. We oblige regularly.
Here is why I am sharing this story now. Since that moment in Killarney, I realized that holding it all in or letting it all out publicly has no impact on the health of my relationships. I cannot control wether my mom likes what I write, wether my mother-in-law is happy with me or wether Kyle and Eli’s future loves are cool with me. Now taking a huge breath I see that what impacts my relationships is communication, trust, a willingness to listen, accept, heal, and to forgive (on all sides).
Just like my mom and Dave’s mom are responsible for their relationships with their children, I am the mom of these two boys. I am responsible to them. Meaning, my relationship with them is not dependent on how I do or don’t get along with my mom and mother-in-law. And as far as my relationship with Dave’s mom goes, I think my mother-in-law is pretty thick skinned and I should trust her. Things are not black and white. If she wants me to write about her, then I should. Hey, she might even be amused by her hoarding-desserts story (Yes. Plural desserts). Or at least she might soften when she remembers that at the end of this trip I asked Dave to give her his first class upgrade so she could have a special flight home.
Ultimately, what I also did by keeping this story and all the other stories hidden is hide a part of myself, which is totally counter to what I want to teach my boys. I have encouraged them to stand in who they are. I have encouraged them to give me feedback, even the shitty feedback that either breaks my heart or calls me out. On several occasions, for instance, both boys (and Dave) have suggested that I talk (explain) way too much. We may disagree on this point, but not only should they be able to give me this feedback, I should be willing to listen and consider their perspective. Guess what? They are teaching me to be more succinct. Yay them.
And here is the big one. Along the way both boys have pleaded with Dave and me to stop fighting. (Dave and I are robust and impassioned, expletive-laden communicators, by the way). Recently, it was Eli who said to both of us,
“You need to knock it off. You are acting like bickering children.”
Eli was right.
But because I have been in a pattern of hiding who I am so I don’t hurt my moms’ (plural) feelings, I hid an opportunity to publicly share the fact that marriage is super hard, but marriage can also be really good. I have hidden the growth we have made as a family. Man, I love them. I am sorry for hiding.
Ultimately, what I realize is getting along with Kyle’s girlfriend or Eli’s future wife is not dependent on how Dave’s mom gets along with me. Just like I want my sons to carve their own path, I need to trust my own path too. I adore my sons and hope we will figure out how to stay close around all of life’s turns. I hope do not annoy Kyle’s girlfriend. I probably will. But I also get it and I do not mind. Because the people they love are important to me!
NOW I hope it is ok that I end by leaving a personal message to Kyle and Eli here.
Boys, you are my heart!
In the end and moving forward, I apologize for hiding me. There is no shame in my past or in your future. I think it is ok that I miss those days of yesteryear. Dudes, you were very cute with all of your sweet dance moves and late night jokes. I also LOVE the men you are becoming. You are both very cool.
A little about me: personally, I think it is ok that I voted for Obama and that it took a very long time to finish college. It is also ok that I am still sad that I did not live in the dorms and it is ok to say that I wish had gone to a small liberal arts college in Minnesota. Ok. Sure. That means I probably would not have met Dad. And maybe that implies that yes, there would not be you. So really, because I am saying it (writing it) out loud, I am also able to come full circle and see (and say) that I ended up absolutely where I wanted to be — with you (and dad).
Please know that if you end up going to BYU, or voting for Mike Lee, not only will I still love and accept you, I will listen to you — always.
Mostly, please learn from me. I do not want to let my fear of losing you force me to hide myself anymore. My moms are strong women. Moving forward, my mom can deal with stories about our life, or she can tell me she hates my writing voice and how much pain I cause her. Nevertheless, we will both be ok. My mother-in-law and your grandma can continue to think Eli is a dessert thief, and that I am the Second-Amendment-repealing, antifa, liberal, atheist woman-who-stole-her-best-friend, your dad. But guess what? She will also be ok. I love them and I love you. And if I want you guys to be ok and feel safe being yourselves, and if I want to maintain my relationship with you, then I need to stop being so afraid of losing my mom and Dad’s mom, or mostly, I need to not be afraid of losing you.
Get it? Be you! Trust yourselves. Remember that life is a journey. No one expects you to be perfect ever (especially not out of the gate).
I love you!