The flights went off without a hitch. The kids were really happy to see their grandparents, aunt, and uncle, and the relatives were equally if not more thrilled to see the kids. Maddie and Riley were showered with gifts, love, and attention. The twins did not sleep very well, but that's to be expected being in an unfamiliar place and in Pack'N'Plays, for which they are really too big. Riley was sick one day we were there, and now I have the parental rite of passage of Kid Barfing in Public out of the way with one of my two. I got out for a run one day and did a long session on my brother-in-law's gym-quality elliptical trainer on another day. The exercise felt GREAT.
The details of what we did on the trip are not very interesting, really, as evidenced by the above paragraph. We spent time together. We ate some great food. We took the kids on a couple of outings. We had what feels to me like a typical Thanksgiving weekend.
In some ways, being at my in-laws' house was easier than I expected. I realized while we were there that my parents-in-law and I don't really have anything to argue about anymore. When John was alive, everything was a battle. We fought over John's time. We fought over John's treatments. We fought over what John should eat, when he should rest, how our house should be decorated. We fought and fought and fought. We were stressed out and frustrated and angry and we took it out on each other at every turn. Now that John is gone, we no longer have anything to argue over. My in-laws are remarkably tolerant and non-judgmental of my parenting, so that possible point of contention is happily not an issue. They want to spend time with Maddie and Riley, help me, and support us in any way they can. I'm able now to see my parents-in-law in a way that was not possible for me to see them before. I've always known that they are loving, caring people, but in the past, the way they've expressed that has often felt abrasive or intrusive to me. On this trip, it didn't, and I was frankly more comfortable in their house than I've ever been before.
There are some things I will do differently when we next visit. One of the things I'd been looking most forward to was being able to get some breaks for myself. I figured with all of those relatives around to help, I'd be able to sneak in a few solo outings or grab a nap here and there. That didn't really happen. My in-laws were all so respectful of how I manage the twins' time and behavior that they didn't step in much unless I asked, and I was not very good about asking. I struggle with asking for help as a general rule, and then there's the fact that when it comes to parenting, I generally don't have anyone around to ask for help from. If I'm at a restaurant and Maddie and Riley start acting up, it's up to me to control the situation. There's no one else around to pitch in. If things go haywire at home, I'm the one who has to find the calm. Because I'm so used to doing things on my own, it just doesn't occur to me to ask for help. I'll be more aware of that next time, and I think we'll all benefit.
Things reached a critical head on Sunday afternoon. Being around so many reminders of John was hard for me; the family home is filled with photographs and mementos. The five-year anniversary of our engagement was the day after Thanksgiving. And just being together—the bond all of us share is John. There was So Much John, All the Time, even though we spent remarkably little time talking about him. All of that was weighing on me more than I realized, and by Sunday, I was a potent emotional cocktail of anger and sadness and frustration and resentment and tension. I was weepy and short. Riley was not in the best of moods all weekend, and he was really pushing my buttons. We had planned to take the kids to the library on Sunday afternoon, and when Riley staged a full-scale whine-fest about putting on his coat, that was the straw that broke the camel's back for me. I told both the kids, in a rather nasty tone, that I was staying home while they went to the library, have a good time, see you later. My father, father-in-law, and brother-in-law packed the kids off to the library and had a great time; I spent the afternoon crying, stressed out, and upset. We all needed that time apart.
It's embarrassing for me when my family sees how hard our life is and how poorly I sometimes do at managing it. It's shameful to lose my temper with the kids in front of my relatives, and I felt overwhelmingly vulnerable when, after the kids left for the library, I sat at the kitchen table and just cried out of frustration and sadness and grief. I want people to think we're doing OK, not see that I'm barely holding it together. If I've learned anything from the past few weeks, however, it's that I need to be more honest with myself and everyone around me about what my life is really like. Filled with good things, yes, but also filled with grief and anger and stress and too much stuff for one woman to handle gracefully. I'm doing the best that I can, but my best feels like utter crap and it would be better if I would get over my need to be perfect and let people help me.
We had a bit of a rough re-entry upon returning to Boston. I woke up on Tuesday morning to a screaming Maddie wailing, "My neck! My neck hurts, Mama!" Much frustration from everyong and a trip to the doctor later, the diagnosis was wry neck, a crick from sleeping in an awkward position on the plane. It was scary and not fun for anyone, but the good news is that she's totally fine now. After a back-to-reality doctor's visit with Maddie and subsequent late arrival at work and daycare, I was greeted at the office by the news of massive layoffs. Thirty percent of the staff. Not me. But not good news ever, especially at the holidays. Ugh. To add to it all, Mr. Coffee and I have exchanged a frustrating series of phone calls and messages, and I'm not quite sure what's going on there.
So we're back. We're trying to get back on track. My dad flew back from Detroit with us and has extended his stay until Sunday, which will be great. An extra adult in the house is always good for my mental health and the extra set of hands is great, too. When my dad asked me last night if I'd like him to extend his stay–his original plan was to return to Oregon today—my initial thought was, "Oh, that will be expensive, we'll be fine, etc." and then I thought, "FOOL, HAVE YOU LEARNED NOTHING?!?!" and told him I'd be thrilled if he could make it work. Much better answer. My mom and dad colluded on the phone yesterday to come up with a plan to keep the twins in Oregon for an extra week at the holidays while I come home and enjoy some time to myself; again, my first thought was, "Oh, that's too much for them to do, I can't take them up on that, etc." but I came around rather quickly and am now quite liking the idea.
I'm learning, slowly. I'm letting people help, but it's not easy and I'm not ready to let everyone be part of the solution. Yet. I'm getting there.
And so that was our Thanksgiving, at least the Thanksgiving that went on in my head. Now we shall gear up for Christmas. I actually thought about buying Christmas gifts today, an idea that I did not think I'd be able to handle at all, so amidst all the tough stuff that Thanksgiving brought up for me, there must have been some healing, too. And for that, I am grateful.