What I Didn’t Have To Give Up

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My magic MIL, Barb, with my son, Zack. (Why oh why won’t they smile at that age?)

I just got back from a trip to the Midwest (Batavia, Illinois, for those of you who want to know) with my son, Zack, and my boyfriend. We headed out there on my son’s spring break to go visit Zack’s grandma—my mother-in-law.

I don’t call her my ex-mother-in-law, because she’s not my ex- anything. She’s been a constant force in my life since the day I met her when her only son and I were just 22 years old. I can’t imagine life without her, and lucky for me, she didn’t want to give me up, either. To be sure, negotiating our relationship has had its delicate moments—like when my boyfriend moved in with my son and me last year, and she asked point-blank, “Well, are you talking about getting married?” A reminder that even though we may be living a modern family life, she still prefers the traditional side of things.

When both my parents became suddenly, gravely ill last year, she was a strong, quiet force helping me through the tremendous grief and panic. And for all intents and purposes, she is now the only parent I have left. (Both my parents passed away within weeks of each other last year.) It is with that logic that I convinced my boyfriend—anxious about visiting my ex-husband’s mother, overstepping his boundaries, about the sheer “weirdness” of it all—that he had to meet and get to know this amazing woman, this anchor in my life, this magical grandmother and dear friend all wrapped up in one.

It was a lovely visit, and he enjoyed her as a person, not as my ex-husband’s mother. And of course, as those magical mother-in-laws always do, she gave me and my boyfriend time to sneak away and go on our own adventures.

It’s so important to remember we don’t have to throw everything away when we divorce. Not the memories, not the photos, not the people we met and loved and cared for along the way. This mother’s day I’ll be missing my mom, and celebrating Barb, grateful that one of the hardest things I experienced in my life has also showed me life’s very best, as well.