By: Madge Woods
I got married at 19.
My parents had always said “no man will buy a cow if milk is so cheap.” I married so I could fuck. Yikes, was I young and inexperienced. I had my two sons at age 22 and 24. My pregnancies were my happiest times and I couldn’t wait to have two boys-no girls for me. Why would I expect to be a good mom to girls when my Mom and I were not a good team?
Fast forward: I was married twenty years and was separated/divorced by 39 and was I thrilled. I had just been married too young and was tired of taking care of an adult husband. My kids were 15 and 17 and now I was in an apartment by myself just a mile away for the first time in my life. I had my own space during the separation, in my own place. I was like a kid in a candy store who only had hershey kisses her whole life and now was exposed to the riches of other candies.
My rule was the men I dated had to be at least as old as my sons and some were just that.
Fast forward another 20 years, and both sons were happily married (at age 31, I might add) and living in Chicago with their own families. I was again thrilled. Once I had grandchildren I flew out every 6 weeks and was a fabulous Grammie. I stayed in each son’s house for 2-3 days as to not wear out my welcome and then flew home happy that I had my life and they had theirs. I was a Jewish mother but much easier to control with the 2750 flight miles between us. I had a fabulous relationship with my daughters-in-law and enjoyed my time with them but when I came back to my Zen home, my life was my own. I could do whatever I wanted and I did.
Now we return to current time-the year 2009, and my older son calls me and tells me he is thinking of leaving Chicago and moving to LA to work for his uncle (my ex brother-in-law). He wants to move in with me to do a test run starting in April to see if it works for him and his family. This son had not lived at home since he left for college and now he was coming home and if it worked he would live here in LA permanently with his family. Might I remind you it is me who only stayed a few days in his home as to not overstay my welcome? My son had always been somewhat volatile, and like a volcano could go off and get to 60 in 10 seconds. He had told me he was receiving help and I did see a change in him when I visited, but living together??
We lived wonderfully together in my house for 5 months because we barely saw each other. He worked from early morning to late nights and then commuted home to Chicago every 10 days for a weekend. I did sneak out to an ex boyfriend’s. He once was an ex for good reason, and as far as anyone knew he was history.
I found myself making up stories and using friends to cover my sleepovers. I was 60 years old and literally sneaking out of my own home.
This had to stop, but how? If I fessed up it would be a discussion and I didn’t feel I wanted to explain myself. I sent a message to both sons’ families and confessed and asked for no comments. One day after 5 months my son announces it works and that his wife and kids (twin boys age 5 and a 2 1/2 year old daughter) are moving and would it be okay to move everyone into my house until they find somewhere to live?
Let me go back to my ZEN house. I love it and my life. I was thrilled they lived in Chicago and attributed it to a great relationship and distance. My first response was “sure” (I rarely say no) and made a call to my therapist who I had not seen for years. She basically let me come in that week. I sat in her office with anxiety and worry about boundaries and having three alpha personalities in my small (can you say 1500 square feet?) home.
But when the kids and his wife came to live with me–how would it be? I retouch paint in my house for god’s sake. How were three little ones who would be jammed into 2 rooms with their parents ever work? I told them that they could stay until Nov 1 before they even arrived on Sept 9th. All agreed. They moved in and boy did they move in. Every room but mine became a kid’s zone. Toys, games, balls, dolls, books and clothes were everywhere. Washer and dryer running day and night. For the first few days I was constantly on guard. I needed to keep my Jewish mouth closed and succeeded quite well. The Nov 1 date extended until Dec 31 then again until Feb3. The kids already knew the kids on the street and the families were all young and the arrival of another young family was perfect. But what about me and all these people who had been my friends first? I was a little worried that I would lose my standing on the block but soon I realized that wouldn’t happen. We could all be friends and this would not interfere with my separate relationships with my neighbors. Then the amazing part happened. They found a house. Not just any house but a house on my street.
And as Sarah Palin might have said, I can see their house from my porch. 5 houses down and across the street. I asked, “did they think this would work?” and my daughter-in-law said if she didn’t think it would work she wouldn’t do it. My son was thrilled to be back on the block he grew up on. The kids were going to go to the schools he attended.
To back-track a few months, the living together worked. I was getting good at boundaries after only a few sessions with my therapist. I learned to keep my mouth shut except for once or twice. I learned to let chips in the paint go untouched. I had some rules about food and where they could eat which the kids followed. Shoes were left at the front door. My daughter-in-law was terrific at cleaning up but mostly I didn’t give her a chance to do it as I just had time and liked my clean better and she was very busy getting everyone in schools, classes and activities. I learned a lot about myself. I could share at this age. I could give up some of my compulsions and organization and I could also say no. I started having sleepovers with my friend with benefits and the kids would say “have fun at your sleepover, grammie.” I found ways to have privacy in a very small space or someone else’s place. I traveled too.
I also learned that I could live with someone temporarily and survive and still have a voice in my life. I saw a side of my son that I only dreamed about and thought about but didn’t witness on a fulltime basis. He was a terrific husband, father and son. He loves his wife and kids and would lay down for them in a heartbeat. It is nice to be able to REALLY see that. When a child grows up you hope that you instilled the right values but until they are tested you never really know for sure. And by the very nature of all being in a confined space, boy we were tested.
But the best parts were and still are those grandkids. They loved me from birth but living in my house for 4 months established a new bond that can never be broken. We cuddled, we shared, we talked, we hugged and we told stories. We talked about the best part of our day when we had dinner together. I laughed at almost everything they said because they are funny. I got to really know their personalities and I know my son has been given a gift to see what he was like as a child as these children have all his strengths and weaknesses. They also have strong opinions and can be stubborn just as he was at their age. Also as intense. They are adorable and loving and have a way about themselves that is truly unique. I won’t say it was totally without compromise but we are all stronger for it. And I can still say with a wonderful smile that my daughter-in-law is a fabulous cook, a loving wife, a great mom and a terrific daughter-in-law.
I thought I would lose my identity and become invisible as I have felt for a great part of my life but instead I saw my flexibility, my boundaries, and my true spirit emerge.
I must admit, within 36 hours of their move (down 5 houses and across the street), all the paint was retouched, the walls wiped clean of handprints, their stuff moved to their new house, the garage and every room as clean as before they came and my life back to that ZEN quality. But if I want some of that loving I just walk down 5 houses and across the street and the best part awaits when they greet me and give me hugs and kisses.
And now the grandkids have sleepovers here.
Madge Woods is a freelance writers and has recently read for the Los Angeles show “Spark”.