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 my boys 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. Again and again she told me how my words hurt her. Then I let her feedback dictate the terms of what I wrote. Ultimately, I did not how to reconcile integrity in my writing with breaking my mom’s heart so I stopped blogging. Sure, in her defense, maybe I could have been more mature about how I shared. I think if I had trusted myself, I would have gained that maturity. I think I have. I bet if I had kept writing, 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 and I did not have faith in either of us to grow. As a result, I was careful. I went out of my way not to hurt my mom’s feelings. And of course, by trying not to hurt her feelings, I always managed to hurt them anyway. My guess is that writing this will may hurt her feelings now.
In the end, our relationship did evolve. Instead of sharing myself, I closed myself off. Now I simply avoid any sort of complicated interaction. I sincerely try to agree with and support her. I respect her perspective and try to reassure her that things are ok. Upon reflection, I only wish I would have seen that had I continued blogging, we would have been ok. And actually, I think my mom and I were much closer way back when we were dialoguing about how I was hurting her online.
So in attempt to learn from my own experiences, I want to give that openness to my sons, even when it stings. Wish me luck.
Now onto my mother-in-law. I value her opinion probably to a crazy fault. She feels very differently about blogging than my mom. Instead of wanting things private, she is outspoken, often conveying how broken-hearted she is that I do not write about her online.
Here is a little story to illustrate why writing about family is difficult gymnastics routine at best, and why I understood my mom’s needs for privacy. Truth and perspective are messy:
…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. I know even the suggestion that she did not pay for our entire trip infuriates her. My guess is the fact that I am writing that she did not pay for everything will bother her more than anything else I write.
Here is the thing. She takes both Dave’s brother and sister on trips, Mediterranean cruises, and more trips. She also helps them out a ton financially. We have always been grateful that she has been a position to lend Dave’s siblings a hand. That is a gift in of itself. We are also glad she can take Dave’s brother and sister on these fun adventures. In fact, we have always been cool with the generosity she shows them. This trip was her gift.
This trip was her gift.We are grateful for her gift. It was thoughtful. She was thoughtful. Unfortunately, I think she undermines her generosity. For instance, often when she takes say Dave’s brother to Spain, or his sister on another Alaskan cruise, she brings up that this one trip as a justification as to why everything is equal among the siblings. First. Let me be clear. We do not care that she takes Dave’s siblings on adventures. Second, No. It is not equitable. And third, it will never be equitable. And fourth, we do not care. We are happy she can do this for Dave’s siblings. Ok. I sound a little bitchy. I feel a little bitchy. And actually to move beyond my bitchy and to give her gift credibility, I think it is ok to be honest and acknowledge that we paid for part of it ourselves. Like for starters, we paid for our airfare to get on said trip [wink, wink]. And just because we paid for some of the trip in no way undermines that she was generous. She was. And being honest about the parameters, keeps it real, keeps it valid, and allows us to hold space not only for her gift, but what we did too. Does that make any sense? And do you understand why writing publicly about my mother-in-law may not be the best plan? Throwing caution and common sense to the wind, I will take an even deeper dive, and continue our story (and yes, it includes her).
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.” (If you have read up until here, can you see why?)
I felt embarrassed that she publicly called me out this way. I felt sad that I had made her sad. Then she sat there quietly glaring at me.
I responded. “I do not write about friends or family. It is kind of my rule. I tend to hurt people when I convey my perspective.”
I paused and followed with, “This has been a complicated trip. I am tired and edgy. And I do not want to write anything that will hurt you.”
“You already have!” I wanted to say, (but didn’t),
“Seriously. I know where opening my mouth gets me.”
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. Stop. STOP!” she proclaimed.
She decided Eli had taken too much of the mutually shared desserts and told him as much. 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 had taken a few bites. Still Eli had not had taken any. After she started scolding Eli (again), Dave and Kyle stopped eating. Undeterred, like a fast move train, she was convinced so she scolded and berated 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. Mom. Leave him alone.”
She would not stop yelling at Eli. Dave circled her and 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.
Steadfast, she persisted, gobbling up her dessert and reprimanding Eli (who was now terrified and standing a few feet from the table). I honestly thought my head would explode. I wanted to jump across the table and throttle her. I wanted to scream, “LEAVE MY SON ALONE!”
In that exact moment, a story she often tells ran through my mind. It goes like this. When Dave was very young his aunt rebuked him for eating popsicle in her living room. I remember how upset my mother-in-law was as she recalled this story to me. Dave does not remember the story. Maybe Eli will forget this moment. I hope so. My mother-in-law never forgets. She shares it with me almost every time I see her. Surely she would correlate, right? No. In this moment she was all tunnel vision. Someone was eating her dessert and she was going to fight til the death. In this moment, she was unable to see how her tunnel vision was hurting her grandson.
As tears quietly fell down Eli’s cheeks, he motioned to me. Even though I see her as an authority figure and the mother of my husband,I needed to rescue Eli. I needed to resist my polite inclinations and fight. 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 immediately 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 could not 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 or she may hate what I say. (Oh and yes, Plural hoarding desserts stories. We discovered hoarding desserts was kind of her thing. ). Maybe if I am brave enough to write, 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.
Now back to my stuffing my stories way down my brain hole. See, 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, 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 have hidden so much like. And really, I am very 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 Midwestern liberal arts college. 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!