Sunday, August 7, 2011

Inside the Mouth of the Gift Horse

This weekend was a weekend away for the husband and myself. We were celebrating our last "couples weekend" before the arrival of our next spawn as well as our upcoming wedding anniversary and my upcoming birthday. It seemed like a lot of good reasons to celebrate. So we packed a bag and went to the city for a romantic evening. My mother bought us tickets to a favorite musical and offered to stay with the tot overnight. I want to say that I was eternally grateful and that I spent the days and weeks prior to the trip in excitement and anticipation, but I didn't and I wasn't.

For starters, I have a hard time with receiving extravagant gifts with grace. I have no good explanation for this except that I always worry that the other person is expecting something in return from me. Either a like-minded gift down the road or some other feeling of indebtedness for the over-the-top gesture. Unfortunately, I think I have developed this anxiety from learning experience with various friends and family members. Oddly, I enjoy giving gifts and I try to never expect anything in return for what I give whether it's a frozen meal for a friend who had a baby or a new IPod for the husband. It irks me to hear people complain about the "ungratefulness" of others when they have been given a gift. I think because I don't believe someone should ever do anything for someone else with the expectation of something in return. In my mind, gifts should be heartfelt and not a quid pro quo arrangement. Ironically, because of that anxiety, I am sure I end up looking very ungrateful more often than not.

In any case, my other major concern was leaving my tot in the care of someone else. My mother, in particular. Not that she is a neglectful caretaker or an abusive person by any stretch. I think the problem comes in that she is MY mother and therefore has a tendency to disregard most instructions I give her because she is MY parent and therefore doesn't need me to instruct her on child care. Unfortunately, she and I have very different parenting styles, some of which is values based and some is because of generational factors. I also don't have the standard "She raised me so she can take care of him" to fall back on because she really didn't raise me. I lived with my dad most of my life and that may be another reason why she and I are on such different pages as parents. (There is also always the controlling part of me that absolutely hates to relinquish care of my child to anyone else because, let's face it - no one will do the job like I do!)

In the past, I have left long instructions for how to take care of Ben - what he eats, what his schedule is, etc. which my mother has mocked and mostly disregarded. This time, I tried to leave a very general list of what his schedule was and what he would typically eat for dinner and left it at that. All the way up to the trip, I agonized. I worried about her not putting him to bed on time. I worried about her getting him up too early. I fretted that she would take him out to play without sunscreen. I agonized that she would give him something with peanuts in it ( a huge no no in my peanut-allergic son!). Or that she would let him watch television that was too mature for him. Or that he would learn some of her more "colorful" vocabulary just in time for preschool to start!

In spite of all this, I kissed my son goodbye and drove off with my husband for a "fun weekend". And guess what? It was fun! We got to the city, stayed in a fancy hotel, did some shopping, had a romantic dinner and saw a great show. We slept later this morning (though not much - old habits are tough to break) and had a delicious breakfast. Best of all, we got to talk to each other without interruptions or distractions which is always my favorite part of any date. We still came home early because we missed our tot and wanted to see him before his nap.

When we got home, I found that many of the things I worried about had happened. He had a diaper mishap that resulted in a VERY early wake-up, he had played outside without sunscreen (twice), he hadn't eaten a great dinner or breakfast. But, he was fine. He was in one piece. And, best of all, he had a GREAT time with his grandma. In fact, when we came in to the backyard, I didn't receive the warm welcoming hug I had been hoping for - he started to cry because he didn't want to have to go inside and stop playing with my mom! I was a little bummed to not have gotten a warmer reception but so relieved to see that he had a good time.

The thing is, my mom isn't perfect, but she does her best. She's my mom and I love her. She does many things differently than I would when it comes to Ben. But, she loves Ben and he loves her and the fact that they can play and have such a great time together is a better gift to me than the fancy theater tickets or expensive dinner.

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