An older woman held out a pair of converse sneakers to me. Though a little scuffed on one toe, they had only been worn once. C hadn’t liked the way they felt. So they ended up in our garage sale.
“How much are these,” she asked.
“50 cents,” I said.
She dug in her change purse and handed two quarters.
“My grandson can wear these when he comes to my house,” she said, “His mother doesn’t like for him to get dirty.”
I ventured a guess, “Daughter-in-law?”
She smiled slyly, “Yes, how did you know?”
I’ve been someone’s daughter-in-law since 1997 when I married my best friend—and the baby boy of his family. There was a lot of tension for many years between my husband’s mother and I. After all, I imagine it’s hard to “lose” your son to another woman.
She’s been the core of her family, the nurturer and the guiding force for her boys. She’s a fierce mother who only wants the best for her children, and I can relate to her for that. I haven’t always been the easiest daughter-in-law to deal with. I did make the request that the boys not get dirty when they visit her on her farm.
She went out and bought the boys shoes and play clothes for when we visit her house. That way she can take the boys into the garden, the creek, or the woods without worrying about returning them in ruined clothes and upsetting me. For that, I am both grateful and deeply ashamed.
Visiting my grandparents when we were little was so much fun. My Grandma spoiled us rotten. She slipped us dollar bills and stuffed us with cookies and soda. She made the best fried potatoes in a cast-iron skillet and soothed our bee stings with a piece of her aloe plant. Her yard was the best for tree climbing, hide-and-go-seek, and freeze tag.
My grandparents also had a creek.
The creek wasn’t really anything more than a drainage ditch that ran in front of their house. But when it rained, it overflowed and my brother, cousins, and I would splash and slosh to our hearts content. I clearly remember lying on my stomach trying to completely submerge myself. We emerged from that sewer ditch muddy, soaking wet, and happy as clams. I never remember my mother being angry or upset with her mother-in-law, my grandmother, for letting us get dirty. We were allowed to enjoy our grandparents and just be kids.
Being a grandparent comes with certain privileges. You can stuff the kids with ice cream for breakfast, feed them blackberries straight from the bush, buy them as many noisy toys as you like—you’ve earned the right. I know that I’ve been unreasonable in some of my, ahem, requests for my children’s visits to my in-laws house. I could argue that some are necessary due to E’s ADHD and Asperger’s and C’s allergies, but I can never argue the fact that when they visit with their grandparents, they are happy, well fed, and very well loved.