In the wake of my daughter’s six-week visit – which included a 14-month old, an eight-year old and a German Shepherd, I am left with remnants of a vicious sore throat I contracted from the baby, a sore back from picking up discarded food, toys, diapers, homework, dishes, half-empty bottles of water and soda; a vacuous solitude-deprived disgruntlement, and a wave of relief that I am sure will be short-lived because I will miss them immediately.
Is there humor in this? Irony, maybe? A little wisdom?
The empty-nesting, entitlement part of me has been mortally wounded; body-slammed into submission. This is not a bad thing, because to love well does include sacrifice and a choice to commit to do whatever the situation dictates. I know this in my head, but to get this little morsel of profundity into my heart has been an arduous undertaking these past few weeks.
Backward-looking reflection, in my experience, is always rose-colored and draped in rainbows; because I tend to forget the bitter shards of reality that stab the entire experience. In this case, since I am writing about it before the experience is fully over (there are still baby toys on the floor, tiny socks under the couch, a nearly-empty bottle in the sink and I can hear my daughter packing upstairs), I am dead center in the throes of fresh and gritty insight.
I find myself probing starkly the statement my daughter made a couple of weeks ago, which was: “You think more of your carpet and furniture than you do of spending time with us!” This declaration was made through tears, as I was, for the fortieth time, beseeching her to pick up after herself and the children (which she did, mostly; just not always in my anticipated time frame), and that no, the baby could NOT carry around food or anything that leaked on the off-white carpet. Unfortunately, I forgot that diapers leak, too, but I suppose this is a foregone conclusion. Eventually I just packed a can of spot-remover in my back pocket. I should have bought a house with tile floors.
The conclusion I have come to thus far is that I am not, and never have been, a grandmother-ly person, in the image of, for instance – Aunt Bea of The Andy Griffith Show.
This is both a good thing and a bad thing.
It is good, because I am youthful and energetic and style-conscious and can hold an interesting conversation with my daughter about things other than child-rearing and cooking. It is bad, because I no longer have the fire in my belly to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner every night or run after children or dogs to train them about this and that. I will love and play with them, change diapers, and help with homework but that’s about as much as I want to do. I had forgotten how much actual physical work goes along with children.
Boy, had I forgotten.
In my defense, I did cook occasionally. But sometimes, they simply foraged in my refrigerator. I cuddled with them incessantly. I read to them. I played with them. I dressed the baby in cute clothes. I did a lot of grandmother stuff. I am not totally un-grandmotherly, but I am overly-orderly, and the inevitable mess children cause almost put me over the edge.
I think there is a place for compromise between mothers and daughters with young children when they come to visit for an extended length of time. However, the conversations that ensue over differences in lifestyle, housekeeping, care of children and the like – are difficult and apt to be riddled with emotion. But if one is willing to talk through (i.e. stay connected instead of abruptly ending the dialogue due to emotional stress) challenging situations, even though it is extremely uncomfortable, there is a richer relationship on the other side. Understanding each other’s feelings and perceptions is important.
There are things that imprint a child firmly – both good and bad – when they are growing up. When the child becomes an adult and is stuck in a situation where they must spend extended time with a parent, monster issues that were supposed to have been laid to rest a long time ago, may spring to life and grow teeth.
I found myself wondering, through several challenging conversations with my 29-year-old daughter, who had planted those lies in her head. I was mystified by some of her perceptions.
I suppose we can all point to relationships that ripped apart because of misperceptions, but I have discovered if a person articulates a misconception about me, I’d better listen, because there may be a grain of truth there. I am not very accurate in my assessment of myself. So I took a self-inventory after our difficult conversations; as did she, and think that both of us have become a little wiser; and hopefully, our future visits together will bear it out.
As King Solomon said in Proverbs: “Wisdom is the principal thing. Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding. Proverbs 4:7
The very best thing is to be teachable; to get wisdom. To run after it.
In the midst of poopy diapers, sick, cranky baby and wet dog smell, I have to confess that I didn’t run after wisdom. I crawled toward it reluctantly, simultaneously trying very hard to keep spots off the rug, the house picked up, the grandchildren and my daughter happy, and the dog out of the house.
At least I kept the dog out of the house.