Saturday, March 25, 2006

Learning curve

You raise kids and watch them go through their adolescent dance of boyfriends and girlfriends, all the time hoping that one day your son and daughter will find that significant other who will become a lifetime partner, a loving and loyal spouse. You hope beyond hope that they learn from your mistakes and benefit from your wisdom. In the end, it’s very much out of your control. So you watch and pray, from the sidelines. You learn to be patient with yourself. It takes time to learn the art of letting go.

I didn’t have a good marriage. It took me years to admit that fact and several more years to take action. As my daughter reminded, “Mom, you needed to be hit by a Mac truck.” I did and I was, figuratively speaking, during a fairy-tale setting in a foreign land. But that’s a story for another day, another time.

My report card was a lopsided split: Couplehood = D; Parenting = A. I’ve chosen to celebrate the positive rather than focus on the negative. My marriage produced two terrific kids who have grown into two amazing adults. In many ways, I’ve learned what it’s like to be in a loving relationship from watching them. They chose well.

I fell in love with my daughter-in-law from the moment she stepped into my life, coming home with the son on a college break. Through the ups and downs of college romance, I secretly hoped that she would one day be “the one”. Eventually, my hope turned into reality. Katie is a sunny blonde who knows how to tease my sometimes serious son; she keeps him honest and she’s certainly not afraid to share her opinion. She is also not afraid to do her fair share of the labor, in and outside the home. My son keeps his end of the bargain too, providing security and love to his growing family. It was so gratifying to see him feeding and changing their first baby, something my own father would have been quite uncomfortable with. Men just did not do those kinds of female things a half-century ago.

I grew up thinking that father really did know best. I was a product of the sanguine ‘50s when moms wore aprons and dads provided the sole paycheck. The universe was filled with constants, no confounding variables. I knew what was expected of me and just how far I could go … dinner at 5:00pm, church on Sunday and family drive, Catholic school for twelve years. It was a safe life. Let’s say I had an extended childhood and adolescence. Oh, did I mention the only-child thing too? It wasn’t until I was married that I realized just how different families could be. That revelation produced quite a long and rather painful learning curve. Somehow though, flawed as we were as a couple, my husband and I got it right when it came to the kids. And they seem to be getting it right with their kids too.

At first, I didn’t quite know what to make of my future son-in-law. My first encounter came in the kitchen of Jenn’s Yonkers apartment. He reminded me of a flashback to the hippies of my generation – a shaggy guy in coveralls, pleasant smile and warm eyes. I, of course, was expecting someone else. Knowing that my daughter would always be a struggling artiste, I wanted to anchor her to some solid MBA grad with a pin-striped suit. Not! Thus began another learning curve for the mater - more letting go of pre-fabricated dreams which were intruding upon my daughter’s reality. David, bless him, had the good sense not to try too hard. He was quite content to be himself and let me get to know him through my daughter’s eyes. And her eyes were filled with love. I soon realized that this gentle man, this fellow artist, was the right match. I was touched to see how they cared for each other. David was a mensch. Yeah, they wouldn’t have money in the bank, but they were already rich in so many other ways. What more could a mother want.

Well, a mother could want … grandchildren. While both couples pursued and completed professional degrees, I kept hearing the daughter and daughter-in-law obsess and worry about their biological clocks and how hard it may be to get preggers. This made me laugh to myself. Mothers just know. I now have four beautiful grandkids, ages five and under, with grandbaby #5 set to make her debut on the west coast this summer. With so much love floating around, I knew they would be successful once they got on task.

I think I’ve learned how to step aside from my children’s lives, at least I hope so. In my letting them go, to make their own choices and create their own stories, I’ve begun to carve out some room for myself to let in new experiences and new stories of my own.

I still have a lot to learn.


geogirl said...

Geeze! Now I have to go call my mother again! I'm sending the long distance bill to you!

Anonymous said...

It's Keri here - you may or may not remember me, a friend of Jenn's at Grinnell. I was privileged to know both Joe and Katie as well. You do have amazing kids - and kids in law. Jenn brings an amazing amount of warmth and energy into any room, and now even over the coolness of cybserspace. I will be so lucky if my three kids turn out anything like your two! You have done a beautiful job. I just wish that somehow, someway, I could see Jenn and meet those amazing kids and husband. For now, I rely on the computer to know she is so spiritually rich. Good to know you are doing well, too.

The Mater said...

Yes, I remember you, Keri, scientist supreme. Thanks for the lovely words about my family and I'm keeping fingers crossed that one day you guys will find a way to get both of your clans together!

Geo, did you make that phone call?!

velocibadgergirl said...

You remind me of my mother, and that's a good thing.

I love your blog...keep writing!

Contrary said...

Oh, Mater, you've hit the nail on the head.

I hope when all my kids are grown, I can be as delighted with the people they've chosen to spend their lives with.

I love my mother-in-law and plan to use her as an example of how to treat a child's spouse.

Antique Mommy said...

Another lovely post. It's nice to hear a story of in-law love. I adore my in-laws, but it seems to be a rare thing.

katieface said...

Love you right back, Polish Mamma! Not fair to mess with the preggo's highly sensitive emotions :)

BTW, I'll always remember the first time we met, too...who could forget your car being stolen only hours later and the chaos that ensued?!

David said...

MIL -- Ah! We're a little verklempt over here. Much love back to. You're one in a million and I can't believe my luck in finding you guys. I never thought I'd have so many laughs with my in-law!

As always, a beautiful story. Keep 'em coming.



Simon said...

Beautiful sentiment, Mater. I can hope that my own journey past parenthood will be as lucid.

As an aside, did you know that one of the main characters in the new (not yet released) Pixar movie CARS is called Mater?

In one of the promos he introduces himself as, "Mater. You know, as in Tuh-Mater!"

The fact that it's a beat up old tow truck is past the point of similarity!

Anonymous said...

You're so lucky to be blessed with amazing children, grandkids, and in laws that you adore.
My in laws leave a little something to be desired.

So when do you we get the Mac truck story Mater?

w.o.p.d. said...

I need to send this to my mother. Its so great that you are able to say that you had a bad relationship but were a great mother. My mother can't seem to get past the fact that having a bad relationship with my dad had nothing to do with her being the world's best mom. In fact, her bad relationship helped me to look for a good, healthy relationship. Thanks!

s@bd said...

My father always says the best measure of your parenting skills is your grandkids. If they're healthy, it means that not only did you raise your own kids well, they learned enough from you to raise their kids well.

So ... ummm ... not sure where that came from but obviously your grandkids seem to be fabulous (I feel like I know them) so ... ummm ... nice job.

ChristyD said...

What a sweet family you have. I hope my kids are as well-parented and well-adjusted when they become adults.

geogirl said...

So, is mid 30's to late to be adopted??

The Mater said...

Geo, my dear, I already consider you part of the family!

And thanks, readers, for so many kind comments :>)

geogirl said...


(But I'm not sharing a room!) ;-)

petal said...

Thank you for stopping by. I love your writing and will frequent. Update: Man with permanent pregnant belly was not there when I went back to Target after grandma (!!) sent money for the shoes. And gloves. And hat. And polka dot socks. And polka dot dress. What to do? I'm set up as santa's bitter helper even at Easter.