Parent Moments: Out of the Mouths of Babes
For some, in-laws can be a tricky situation. I feel lucky that I hit the jackpot with both of mine. My mother-in-law was a big-hearted Southern gal -- gracious and warm, charming, and kind -- the sort of person that you meet and instantly like. I was fortunate enough to be part of her family three years before she died. Her death was sudden, unexpected, and devastating in a way that only the death of a loved one can be.
During the months after her death, my husband and I made a point to check in with his dad every day. At first it was as an outlet for his father to grieve, and then over time the calls became more routine, in which we'd talk about all the random events that make up a day. Life slowly returned to a somewhat normal state.
Around eight months after my mother-in-law died, we started having a harder time connecting with my father-in-law. He wasn't around at our usual call times, and messages often went days before being returned. We worried that he had reverted back into his grief -- that perhaps he was becoming despondent. After a particularly pleading message in which we expressed our concern over his state of mind, he finally called. No, he wasn't despondent, he told us. He was engaged. The missed calls weren't a reflection of him cutting himself off from the world but exactly the opposite: He had met a woman who was reintroducing him back into the world.
Since I was the one who took the call, I had the pleasure of relaying the message to my husband. I remember putting the phone down and saying, "Your father's getting married. It hasn't even been a year, and he's getting married. Can you believe it?" Throughout the evening I kept repeating the sentence like the mantra of a mad woman: "Can you believe it? Can you believe it? Can you believe it?"
As shocked as my husband and I were, we decided to invite his father and his girlfriend for a visit. As we waited for their arrival, my husband, six-year-old son, and I visited outside with a neighbor. When the happy couple came over, I introduced them to our neighbor. My father-in-law beamed as he put his arm around his girlfriend and said, "And this is Janet, my fiancée." Just then, my son turned to our neighbor and said, "It hasn't even been a year, and he's getting married. Can you believe it?"
And there they were: my words, out of the mouth of a babe. The words seemed to hover in the air in one of those little cartoon word balloons. Only no one had a pin to puncture the balloon and scatter the words into oblivion. Everyone stood frozen, diverting their eyes. Out of shock, I grabbed my son's hand and said, "Apologize to your grandfather! That is not a nice thing to say!" To which he replied, his eyes wide with confusion, "Why? You said it."
I had always known that kids' minds were like parrots, that their ability to absorb the nuances of their surroundings was uncanny. But what struck me most was that my son hadn't simply repeated the words like a cockatiel begging, "Give us a kiss, give us a kiss!" No, he had captured the amazement, the disgust, and worst of all, the judgment in my voice at my father-in-law's decision to remarry. It dawned on me how much children actually listen to their parents and take what we say to heart, both the good comments and the bad. It's a lesson that I have tried to remember as I parent daily with my son.
During that first visit, I came clean to Janet and my father-in-law about what had happened -- that I had judged his decision to remarry so quickly. Janet's understanding was the first moment that I felt affection for her -- an affection that has only grown over the years.