Monthly Archives: June 2013

Young Together

Here's a picture of Mary and me taken just last week. She's the pretty one.

Here’s a picture of Mary and me taken just last week. She’s the pretty one.

“John’s got musical talent. I can just tell.” My friend Mary uttered these words to me 22 years ago as she described her son who was less than a week old. She went on to say that it was something about the way he moved and listened, and she knew it sounded crazy, but she had given birth to a great musician. She just knew it.

Tonight, Mary called me to say that John’s band would be opening for Hootie and the Blowfish in August, and even though yes, from a very early age, we all knew he was a natural-born musician, this bit of news proved it. Was it Mary’s desire to see her son as a musician that made him into one or did she really recognize his extraordinary gift as she kissed his tiny newborn toes? I don’t know, and I’m satisfied with the belief that some things in life need no explanation. She just knew.

I also remember a series of conversations Mary and I had on the day John was born. She called me to tell me she was having contractions. She called to tell me she was going to the hospital. She called to let me know she was in the hospital. She called to yell about how her bleep-bleep-bleepin’ husband was reading a bleepin’ newspaper and eating a bleepin’ sandwich while she was in LABOR with his child! Men! And finally, she called me to tell me she had the most beautiful baby boy and that she had never been happier. Her husband had been the most wonderful labor coach. She couldn’t have done it without him. Deep sigh of happiness.

At the time, Mary and I were only a couple of years older than what John is now, and having known each other since our freshman year of high school, we thought that we had been through so much already—together and individually. We had grown from awkwardness of early adolescence to the sophistication of adulthood. She was married. I was engaged. She was having a baby. I was starting a new job. You could say that we were “out to conquer the world” or “our whole lives were before us” or some other truly cliché thing you hear people say about the young.

It’s been a very busy 22 years since Mary proclaimed her son to be a musical protégé. It’s been an even longer, busier 31 years since we met in a 9th grade science class. To think what we–and all of our friends–have been through since high school is…well, it’s just all the stuff that makes up life.

The Class of ’85 is all grown up. Oh, dare I say it? The Class of ’85 is middle-aged. (Okay, I cringe when I type that because I don’t want to believe it’s true, but I do so through a pair of reading glasses because horrible things happen to your eyes on this side of 40.) The jobs and the moves. The successes and the failures. The marriages and the divorces. The mortgages and the foreclosures. The illnesses—ours, our children’s, our parents. A lot of life has happened in those years—and if we are lucky, will continue to happen for many years to come.

As John enters an exciting, new phase of his life, I’m teary-eyed with joy that I have stories to tell about the events surrounding his birth because it means Mary and I were young together. There is something special, precious really, about being “young together.” It makes us the keepers of each other’s pasts—the secrets, the aspirations, and just who we were in that moment of time and who time has made us today.

Some times when I look at MIL, so silent and stone-faced these days, I wish I had known her as a girl and as a young woman. I’ve seen pictures. She was a beauty. And I imagine her coming to the United States, alone, to work at a job that had to seem so very glamorous—and I really envy her for having the guts to make such a bold move, but really, I don’t know very much about that time in her life. I know even less about her childhood in Ecuador.

Over the weekend, we had the chance to be with family. Because he was standing close to his grandmother, I told one of my nephews two stories about her as a young woman.  I wanted to remind us both that she had a wonderful life that dates back to a time long before either of us was born.

This is the first story: “When Grandma and Grandpa first met, when they first started dating, he walked her home, and when he saw that her apartment was located on K Street, he said he was going to change her address to “K Avenue” because she was ‘too pretty to live on a street.’”

This is the second story: “When Anthony was born, on the way home from the hospital, Grandma and Grandpa stopped in front of the White House. Grandma held him up to see it, and she said, ’You will one day live there.’”

I love to think of them—my in-laws, one now deceased and one who rarely speaks—as a young couple, dating, falling in love, marrying, and starting a family—the family I married into 46 short years later. (You also have to admire MIL’s ambition for her children and how she recovered from the disappointment of not being the mother of the POTUS. Doesn’t that say quite a lot about her? )

Yes, there is something precious about the past and knowing someone’s personal history to be more than just a timeline, but to know who they were in their youth.

...And provided I find the Fountain of Youth between now and August, this is us at John's concert.

…And provided I find the Fountain of Youth between now and August, this is us at John’s concert. We are surrounded by our friends in this picture because if I find that Fountain, I’ll share. I promise.

But of course, the real question is, “How do I get to this Hootie and the Blowfish concert? How do I make THAT happen?” I really want to be one of the screaming hotties on the front row. (Yeah, I know. For me to be a “hottie,” it’s going to take more than a concert ticket and granny-care. I need a time machine. Anyone have one I can borrow? What about some Botox?)


“But I NEVER get to do anything fun!”

Oh, look! It's me with friends--proof that I do have fun. (Wait. That picture is almost two years old. You will have to trust me on this. I do have friends. I do have fun.)

Oh, look! It’s me with friends–proof that I do have fun. (Wait. That picture is almost two years old. You will have to trust me on this. I do have friends. I do have fun.)

We received the wedding invitation months ago and I RSVPed almost immediately. Of course, we would be there. We love this couple.  Besides, once you are no longer a DINK (Doublel Income, No Kids), you begin to see weddings as dinner and dancing on someone else’s dime. Sure, you have to buy a gift and hire a sitter, but it’s still like having a date-night pre-arranged for you.

Then a few weeks before the wedding, I came to realize that we would have no granny-care for that afternoon and evening. I sent a message to the lovely couple telling them that we wouldn’t be there. It hurt. I was disappointed. Momentarily, I felt devastated. I whined, “But I never get to do anything fun!”

Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about all we are missing by taking on the role of MIL’s care-givers, and I’m okay with it—at least in this moment. I could easily get wrapped up in the self-pity of how we never get to go anywhere or do anything fun, but I won’t stay in that very juvenile mindset. I’m not thirteen. I’m just going to accept that we are very temporarily in a place in which we have to turn down invitations. It’s the sort of thing that happens periodically throughout one’s life and for different reasons.

Just this week, I spoke with my cousin. I asked if she had been able to travel home for her niece’s high school graduation. She said she couldn’t. She doesn’t have much vacation time saved and so she had to choose—graduation ceremony now or taking the graduate on a real vacation later this summer.

A friend who is the latter stage of a high risk pregnancy was disappointed that she couldn’t make it to her class reunion this summer. “I know the bed rest will be worth it once the baby is here, but until then, I’m bummed about missing out on everything.”

Another friend has his leg in a cast and so he has missed out on his beloved recreational softball season.

See? I’m not the only one.

Alas, not getting to do everything we want is just a part of life, and I’d have to be pretty immature not to see that. It’s good to just feel that calm and acceptance and to acknowledge that it’s a temporary state. At various points in life, you just have more freedom than you do in others.

Besides that, we do have fun. We do get out. Although it is a lot of extra work, we have been taking MIL with us on weekend outings. Since she has been staying with us, we’ve gone to numerous festivals and museums. Sometimes, she even seems to enjoy these family adventures.

And I do have fun. I do get out. Tonight, I am meeting friends for a Ladies’ Night at one of those pottery painting places. It’s BYOB, but they supply paint and things to paint. Intriguing, huh? If they provided the booze, I might paint more. I might paint better.

If anything is really missing, it is the fun my husband and I used to have together—first, just the two of us and then, just the four of us. Oh, I can’t dwell on that. If I do, I will really regret missing that wedding.

Happy Father’s Day to My Guy

So, you are on a first date. You’ve enjoyed tapas and conversation at a trendy Spanish restaurant downtown. You’ve walked around the Jefferson Memorial in the moonlight and laughed when a dance move almost landed you in the reflecting pond. Your date drives you back to your apartment and then asks if he can come up to your place to show you something.  What do you do?

I invited him up. That was seven and a half years ago.

Before you lecture me on the danger of having a man I barely know in my apartment, let me tell you that I was 38, not 18, and so I had enough life experience to tell the bad men from the good ones. Also, my date and I worked together. Had he tried anything inappropriate, he would have been jeopardizing his career. He was definitely not the type to jeopardize anything.

Besides, you won’t believe what he did when we got up to my apartment.

He pulled a CD out of his coat pocket and asked to borrow my computer. We spent the next hour or so looking at the pictures on the CD. They were of his sister and his brother, their families, and his parents.

Then, he kissed me good night and headed out the door. He was leaving for Norway the next morning. He was going there to visit his brother, sister-in-law, and their baby boy. In the three weeks he was gone, I would giggle to myself and think, “He’s over there telling Norwegians that I am going to marry him. I know it.” As it turns out, that is exactly what he was doing!

Upon his return, our relationship progressed rapidly. Within that year, we were married. Within two years, we welcomed our baby girl who was born on his birthday. Then, we had another baby—two years later, but on my birthday. (I’m not kidding. Our little family of four only takes up two calendar squares! How cool is that?)

Sometimes, I look at my husband while he is playing with our children and I think to myself, “My work here is done! I was put on this planet to make this man a daddy!” After all, having a family was his life-long dream and he is a phenomenal father.

I’m always amazed that he can work all day at a demanding job that is so very filled with people and then come home to us—more demanding, needy people. (He is the division chief within a very large, but local quasi-government agency, so he directly and indirectly supervises a lot of people and spends a lot of his work-day on personnel matters. See? Needy people at work and then needy people at home!) He never seems too tired for us. He talks with me about the day, he plays with the kids, and he feeds his mom and readies her for bed.

I don’t know if I have ever seen a son care for his parents as my husband has done this past year. When his mother first fell, he moved into his parents’ house so that he could be closer to the hospital where she was staying and so he could keep an eye on his father whose health had

My guy and his parents back in the days when they were taking care of him and not the other way around.

My guy and his parents back in the days when they were taking care of him and not the other way around.

begun to fail. Even after his mother was released from rehab and a home health aide was with his parents during the day, my husband stayed with them at night.

To this day, he sleeps on the couch most nights so that he can be closer to his mother’s bedroom in case she cries out or attempts to get out of bed at night. That’s devotion.

And his loyalty and service to his parents isn’t the result of having had an easy relationship with them. As in many families, they have had their share of disagreements and personality clashes. MIL didn’t always approve of my husband’s choices in clothing, real estate, or women and she was very vocal about it. If she were still speaking, she would probably tell you how heart-broken she is that he didn’t go to law school and pursue a career as a corporate attorney. (Nevermind that he has two master’s degrees and has a successful career of his own choosing.)

No, he’s a good son because he understands that life isn’t about how other people behave or what happens to you. It’s about how you behave, how you treat others and how you react to what happens. I love that about him.

Happy Father’s Day to my guy and to all the family-men of the world! Thank you for being nothing short of extraordinary.

Lindo Parties and Other Memories of Grandma

“I didn’t really know my grandparents. They died when I was very young.” That’s what I say whenever the topic of grandparents comes up. If pressed, I will share that my only memory of my grandmother is of my cousins and me being dressed up and paraded into her hospital room. Even at six-years-old, I knew that this was a very sad occasion and that we were gathered around her bed so that she could see all of her grandchildren one last time. The adults were tearful. The children were well-behaved. It was our official good-bye.

Seldom does that memory come up for me, but it was very present for me the other day when three of MIL’s other grandchildren came to visit. The twin boys are twelve and their little sister is ten. They, along with a seven-year-old who lives in Norway and my children who are five and three, make up the “little guys,” the younger ones among MIL’s grandchildren. She has six older grandchildren, too, but they are young adults. (Well, one is really still a high school student, but he is a little closer in age to the “big kids,” taller than his parents, and has a driver’s license, so we will call him a young adult for now.)

As I’ve stated before, I believe MIL loves her grandchildren, but she was never much of a kid-person—at least in the time I have known her and I’ve only been a member of this family for seven years. Perhaps she was that cookie-baking, storytelling, cuddling Grandma when the “big kids” were small. Somehow, I doubt that.

My sister-in-law told me that when one of her older sons was much younger, he complained that Grandma was always holding “lindo parties.”

She asked, “What’s a ‘lindo party?’”

“I go there and all of her old lady friends pinch my cheeks and say, ‘lindo, lindo.’ I’m not going to another ‘lindo party.’ My face hurts after a ‘lindo party.’”

Ah! I’ve been to that party! When I first met my husband, MIL was already in her 80s, but still entertaining in grand style. Her guests were typically women like her—beautifully dressed, fully made up, Spanish-speaking ladies who had worked at various embassies and South American organizations. Some of them came with their husbands who, for the most part, were white-haired, English-speaking gentlemen in navy blue suits. Waiters circulated with trays of food, bartenders pour Sangria, and Spanish music echoed through the house and onto the patio. Any children present would be pinched on the cheek repeatedly and told how cute they were. ‘Lindo’ is Spanish for ‘cute.’

My children never attended a “lindo party.” Memories the other “little guys” have of them will be vague at best. While the “big kids” had a glamorous, world-traveling Grandma who threw grown-up parties, the “little guys” have a mostly silent grandmother who is a generation older than the grandparents of their friends.

To be fair, before my father-in-law died and before MIL fell, they attended birthday parties, recitals, and basketball games. We went on family vacations. We went to Florida in the summers of 2009 and 2011, and to the Bahamas in 2012, but even then, MIL was mentally slipping and often confused. In retrospect, I’d say MIL was frequently present, but disengaged. From what I now understand, that’s typical of someone in the earlier stages of dementia. Still, we have pictures of the grandparents posing with the grandchildren on the beach and at amusement parks. The photos are proof that we were all there and smiling.

Since her fall, I’ve been concerned about what kind of memories we as a family are creating. MIL once attacked my daughter physically. She called her to her, and when she was close enough, she grabbed her by the hair and yanked her around yelling that she was a “bad girl.” Fortunately, when my daughter talks about that incident, she states it was a case of mistaken identity. “That time when Grandma thought I was someone else, some bad person.” My son witnessed the event and for a long time, he stayed away from Grandma “’cause she’s got bad ‘havior.’ She yank Sissy by the hair!” MIL did something similar to one of the twins while staying with their family.

Now as her dementia has progressed, she rarely acknowledges the children who are always playing so near her. When my nephews and niece visited the other day, MIL didn’t recognize them. She stared blankly and was completely still when one of the twins hugged her, kissed her cheek and asked, “How have you been, Grandma?” It was hard to watch.

So, no, I don’t believe “the little guys” will have a lot of happy memories of Grandma. I just pray that their memories won’t be terrible. If anything, I imagine them as adults talking about our family and their childhood. They will recall Grandma living with us. I hope they will know that their father and I did our best for her and that we truly believed in family. I hope they will see us as loving examples and not as the tired, stressed out pair we have become.

After she is gone, we will talk more about what Grandma was like in that time before they remember, before they were born. They will say, “I wish I had known her back then.” And I will say, “Me, too.”

Two Ballsy Chicks Facing Death and Needing Guidance

My husband told me that when we first met, he was attracted to my confidence. Sure, he thought I was good-looking, but he really liked that my physical appearance wasn’t the most important thing about me. I’ve always taken that as the very best compliment. And he’s right; I am very confident. I don’t scare easily. I refuse to be intimidated by people or situations. Even when I am, I move forward. I don’t let fear stop me.

When he first described his mother to me, he said, “She’s got balls. She has enough raw bravado for her and 16 other people.” That statement made me really want to meet her.

As I got to know her, I found that he was right, and that her boldness had served her well. She had come to the US alone as a young woman. She had worked at the Ecuadorean Embassy and then, for the Organization of American States. She had spent her career comfortably rubbing shoulders with diplomats from around the world, and once retired, she volunteered at the White House where she came in contact with the Bushes, Condoleezza Rice, John McCain, and Colin Powell. New experiences and powerful people never unnerved her.

Because MIL’s unique brand of courage was completely unchecked, it could be amusing or even embarrassing. “Why aren’t you married?” she might ask a stranger. “Take this back to the kitchen!” she might order a waiter. Once after being pulled over by a police officer for a minor traffic infraction, she claimed she did not speak English. And she got away with it!

So, here we are: two ballsy chicks with an unexpected set of emotions. MIL is dying, and she and I both seem to need constant reassurance perhaps for the first time in our lives. She’s afraid to die. I know this because I had the guts to ask and she had the courage to be honest. We prayed about it then, and I continue to pray about it. I ask that God grant her peace so that when it is time for her to go, she won’t be frightened.

At this moment, I think “her time to go” could be today. Or next week. Or six months from now. I may be saying this prayer every night for some time to come. I know I will say it when I am alone in my bedroom and again, when I am holding her hand.

I’m starting to include a prayer for myself because I, too, am very afraid. It’s not that I fear losing her. It’s that I am afraid that I am doing this all wrong. I’ve never really been with someone at the end of their life. Or at the very least, I’ve never before looked down the narrow corridor of life and seen that death is so inevitable, so obvious, so close. I’ve never ushered anyone down that hallway. I don’t know if I am moving too quickly or too slowly.

I want guidance. I want someone to show me the pace.

A couple of weeks ago, I sought guidance from Hospice at the recommendation of the hospital doctor, but after an examination, the Hospice nurse concluded that whatever issue MIL was having with swallowing had been resolved. She wasn’t a candidate for Hospice, and although MIL’s general practitioner had not seen her in months, he agreed with the nurse. This was NOT late stage dementia. This was not a failure to thrive.

I called the Department of Aging and Disability. They, too, sent a nurse to visit. She made some recommendations and assured me that I was doing everything right. Why couldn’t that sweet lady camp out at my house to offer that encouragement every time I think I need it? Like today, maybe?

MIL has eaten very little over the past few days. She’s drank even less. Today, I spoon-fed her apple sauce. She chewed it. Yes, she chewed the apple sauce—each spoonful took about a minute to chew and then swallow. After a couple of bites, she pushed my hand away and refused to open her mouth. She took two swigs of water and two swigs of juice. That’s all she has eaten today. I put her down for a nap because she seemed tired and I didn’t know what else to do with her or for her.

Oddly enough, I’m not afraid to walk into her bedroom and find her dead. I am, however, very afraid that I will do something wrong between now and when she does die.

I think it is time to call Hospice again. It’s time to ask for another evaluation, but first, I know I need MIL to see her own general practitioner in person. If he can witness her issues with eating and drinking, perhaps he will call it “late stage dementia” and her chances of getting into Hospice will improve.  Doesn’t that sound like a horrible diagnosis? Yet, I want it so badly because I need the guidance—for both of us.




Yeah, just like that, but with a toilet instead of a bicycle.

Yeah, just like that, but with a toilet instead of a bicycle.

Having a lot of windows is one of the best things about living in an older house. The cross-ventilation makes air-conditioning unnecessary. (Okay, ask me about that in August, and I may say cross-ventilation is not enough.)

The downside to all the windows, of course, is that in the event of a tornado, a windowless room does not exist anywhere in my house. In fact, on the first floor, every room has at least two walls with windows. Perhaps because we have a basement, I never really thought much about that until today.

Ah, today. I had been hearing about a killer storm with hail and strong winds and wide-spread power outages headed our way. Tornados were likely, and with the images from Moore, Oklahoma still so fresh in my mind, I decided that if the National Weather Service advised people living in our area to take cover, our family would go into the basement.

Getting the kids into the basement would be easy. Our basement is the old-fashioned dug-out kind with a dirt floor and brick retaining walls. We use it for storage, and I don’t typically allow the kids to play down there among the tools, furnace, water-heater and snake skins. (Yeah, we find snakeskins all the time. We don’t have a mouse problem. ) To them, it is a magical, mystery land.

My mother-in-law was another story. Right before the warning was issued, she said she had to go to the bathroom. This is the first request she has made for anything in nearly a week. I was shocked that she could still verbalize a need since her vocabulary as of late has been limited to “Okay,” “No,” “Stupid!” and “Shut up!”

So, of course, I took her to the bathroom. No sooner did I have her seated on the toilet when my daughter came to me and said, “There is something wrong with the TV.” I left MIL comfortably seated and clutching the armrests of the potty-seat.

By wrong, my daughter meant that Sesame Street was no longer on.  Instead, there was an emergency message stating that a tornado warning had been issued for our county. I sent the children into the basement and told them I would be down in a minute.

Then, I returned to the bathroom to explain to my MIL that she needed to get off the toilet so that we could go into the basement.  “No! No! No!” she cried and I tried to lift her. She clutched the potty-seat armrests with her super granny-gripe. “No, mom. This is an emergency. A tornado is coming.” “NO! NO! NO!”

Fine, I thought. “Let me check the children.”

When I got to the basement, my daughter was crying. She told me she was scared. She asked where her grandmother was. When I told her she was still on the toilet, she cried more, “But Mom! A tornado might suck her and the toilet into the air with trees and cows and bicycles! And they will be spinning, spinning, spinning until the house lands on them!” Okay, just imagine that. It’s the scene from The Wizard of Oz and instead of a witch on a broom, you have an old lady on a commode whirling around in the cyclone.

I said, “Let me go get Grandma. I will be right back.”

In the bathroom, I found my mother-in-law right where I left her with a very determined look on her face. She’s been constipated for about the same length of time she has been semi-speechless. “Mom, are you done? We need to get into the basement now.” “No! No! Shut up! Stupid!”

Then, it occurred to me. Am I really going to risk my life for a miserable 89-year-old woman with dementia? This tornado could be the best possible ending for her, and yet, I felt a responsibility to save her. If nothing else, I was thinking “Who wants to be killed in a natural disaster while sitting on the toilet? I’m sure she wouldn’t want to go that way. And is it negligent of me to just leave her here?”

Is it negligent to have my children sitting in the basement without me?

So, I returned to the basement, and my daughter asked, “Where’s Grandma? You didn’t just leave her, did you?”

“No, “I lied. “I put her somewhere safe.”

“Like the closet?”

Oh, that’s a good idea! Don’t you hate it when your five-year-old is smarter than you?  “Yes, she is in the closet.”

Maybe that’s what I will do. I’ll put her in the closet. No windows in there, and besides, how was I planning to get her into the basement? She weighs about 90lbs. and I’m puny. The only way into the basement is via rickety, uneven wooden stairs. Really? Was I counting on adrenaline to give me super-human strength and balance as I carry her down the stairs? Bad plan. Bad, bad plan.

“I have to go check on Grandma again.”

“But I’m scared.”

“Let’s pray.” And we did. My children and I held hands and prayed not only for our safety, but for the safety of family and friends. We asked that God grant us calm in the storm and that we would find strength and comfort in the outcome no matter what. (I also asked God to forgive my lying self, but I did that part quietly because my confessions are no one’s business—especially my children’s.)

Then, I went back upstairs and into the bathroom. “Mom, really. This is an emergency. There is a tornado and I want you to be safe so I have to get you off the toilet and into the closet.” Yeah, file that one under Things I Thought I Would Never Say. “No! No! Stupid! Shut up! Shut Up!”

I sighed, and instead of going directly to the basement, I went to my laptop and checked the weather report. The tornado warning had been cancelled. I called for my children to come upstairs. They did. I went to check on my mother-in-law yet again.

Half an hour later, she is still on the toilet. I’m still checking on her periodically. She is still yelling, “No! No! Shut up! Stupid!” whenever I enter the room.

I mixed some Miralax in juice and took it to her a few minutes ago because if I can help it, I will do all I can to avoid giving her an enema. She took a big gulp and then spit it at me intentionally.

From one storm to the next, may God grant me calm.

Tale of the Terrible Daughter-In-Law

Not too long ago, I met an attractive, well-dressed couple in their 50s—my husband would likely be half of such a couple had he married earlier, had children earlier. Upon seeing my son, the woman began gushing, “What a beautiful boy! He is gorgeous! Being the mother of a son is life’s greatest joy! My own beautiful boy is grown, and if I had to do it all over again…

(Parents of young children, brace yourself. You KNOW what is coming: advice! “I would have sent him to private school/public school/homeschooled, would have made him play sports/take piano/study harder, would have breastfed longer/potty-trained earlier, would have been stricter/more relaxed…”)

“I would have started coaching him at an early age to marry an orphan.” Okay, I was NOT expecting that particular piece of advice, but I admit that as of late, I’ve had the urge to tell my own single friends the same thing. “IF HIS PARENTS ARE STILL LIVING, IT’S A DEAL BREAKER! MOVE ONTO SOMEONE ELSE!”

Then, this very pretty, slightly older woman in the Brooks Brothers suit proceeded to tell me that her son, her only child, had married four years ago, and since then, she has had no time with him. “It’s all about the wife’s parents now, and it’s been that way since their wedding. They vacation with them. They spend every holiday with them. Now, she’s pregnant, and they’ve asked her parents to be in the delivery room with them. Can you believe that? It’s our grandchild, too. But it’s just this way in every family. All my friends say the same thing, ‘it’s all about the girl’s parents and never the boy’s.”

Her husband nodded in agreement and looked at his feet.

“I’m sure it’s the same way with YOUR family. I bet YOUR parents get all the time in the world with this little angel, but your husband’s parents have to settle for whatever time you can spare because that is just the way it is in every family,” she continued, but now, she was looking at me with disdain. How dare I steal some woman’s son?

“No, actually…”

“Oh, you can’t tell me that YOU aren’t running off to your parents’ home every Christmas! We have spent the last four Christmases alone! Just the two of us!”

“No, actually…”

“And birthdays! My son and his wife threw a big party for her father just last month. Sure, we were invited, but you don’t see them making any kind of fuss over us when one of our birthdays rolls around. We’ll be doing good just to get a card or a phone call, and you know once that baby is born, they will just forget about us completely. That’s the way it goes. That’s what all my friends say.”

Deep sigh. Should I tell her she is wrong?  Should I tell her that one day, that very daughter-in-law—the one she so clearly resents–may be the one holding her hand at the doctor’s office? Should I tell her that her daughter-in-law may one day be the person feeding her and dressing her?

No, this is not the time to deliver a lecture or whine about my sandwichy life or even defend the honor of daughters-in-law who are good to their husbands’ parents. Besides, I accept that every family is its own culture, and this kind of conversation proves just that.

I resisted the urge to tell her what I was really thinking, and instead, I did my best to muster some sympathy. “I’m so sorry that you feel so forgotten,” I said. “That must be really, really hard for you.”

“It is,” she said, and again, her husband silently nodded. “You are so lucky. You have a daughter, too.”