As a young mother, there were days when I couldn’t wait for my girls to grow up. I couldn’t wait for cries to become words. For diapers to become underpants. For their constant dependence on me to become self-sufficiency. Funny that as time passes and all those things come to fruition, all a mother wants is to go back to the days when those trying early years are the only ones in front of us.
My girls, Elisabeth and Hanna, are now 29 and 28, respectively. Both live within 30 minutes of me, and I am so grateful. Time with them now is as important as it was in those early years, if you can believe it.
Elisabeth is a nutritionist at the local hospital. She is married to a lovely man, Sam, a physical therapist who also works at the hospital. They have been married for about three years and just recently purchased a small starter home in the same neighborhood that I retired to after my darling husband of 32 years, Charlie, passed away two years ago. I am hopeful that the evolution from ‘rented apartment’ to ‘purchased home’ will lead to ‘new baby’ very soon.
Hanna is currently working in the marketing department of a large bank. She is recently engaged, and the wedding planning, like so many other big moments in her life, is completely overwhelming her. While Elisabeth has always been very mellow and even-keeled, Hanna tends to be a bit high-strung, sometimes frantic, not always thinking things through, and placing too much pressure on herself to get things just right. Her desire to achieve perfection, along with being one of the most indecisive people I’ve ever met, often creates chaos in her life, resulting in multiple struggles in her forward progression through adulthood.
For instance, Hanna changed her majors in college so many times that it took her five and a half years to get her bachelor’s (aka four-year) degree in her (finally settled upon) major of marketing. Why marketing? Hanna said, “I don’t really know what I want to do. Everybody needs someone in marketing. Right?” At least she chose something that would land her a job shortly after graduation. Much better than her friend Sasha with her philosophy degree.
Hanna has also struggled in the relationship department. During her five and a half years of college, she had seven semi-serious boyfriends. With each new relationship, she is giddy, over the moon, ridiculously head over heels in love with the young man. In four to six months, that same chap is impossible, arrogant, unfocused, too serious, not serious enough, and the list goes on. When she told us about meeting her fiancé, Pete, we were all anxious to see what would happen. Though very wrong indeed, Elisabeth and I placed a bet on how long the relationship would last and what Hanna would find wrong with this poor guy after some time passed. We were stunned when he made it past the six-month mark and even more so when he proposed on their first anniversary. They are now just three months away from their wedding day. Elisabeth and I have been by Hanna’s side to assist with all the planning to help alleviate any potential moments of complete frustration on her part. We’ve talked her through every decision and squelched each breakdown. It’s been a full-time job. But everything is coming together beautifully. It will be a lovely wedding, and Hanna and Pete can begin their life together. God bless them.
This morning I got a call from Elisabeth saying she had something she wanted to talk about and asked if she could stop by for lunch; she had taken the day off. Of course, I was delighted to see her and told her so. Then I started putting together her favorite, grilled cheese with bacon and tomato on sourdough bread and tomato soup.
When she arrived, she let herself in through the front door and found me in the kitchen. After a quick hug, she helped herself to a glass of water and sat at the small kitchen table by the windows. It was a warm, sunny day in mid-March, and the sunlight streamed onto her dark blonde hair giving her an ethereal quality.
Yet something about her was off, different. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. She looked nervous, fingers fidgeting around her glass, and she was attempting to appear either serious or happy; the look on her face was almost one mirroring the confusion I felt watching her. Whatever it was, it was somewhat disconcerting; it was so unlike her. I moved quickly to sit with her and grasped her hands in mine, searching her face for clues.
“What is it, honey? Whatever it is, I’m here for you.”
She chuckled, realizing that she must have given off a vibe of bad news coming. “Oh, mom, it’s nothing bad, I promise. Though I’m glad to know that I have your support because I’m going to need it.”
“Well, what is it then!” Spit it out already! My nerves can’t take it any longer, was all I could think.
Elisabeth squeezed my hand and smiled. “I’m pregnant.”
I jumped from my seat so quickly that I almost knocked my chair over. I pulled her up into a proper mama bear hug and then let her go just enough to take a peek at her not-yet-there baby belly, then squeezed her tight once more.
No sooner had I released Elisabeth from my overly enthusiastic embrace, still beaming at the news, than Hanna walked through the front door.
“The wedding is off,” she shouted, making her way to us in the kitchen. She slumped into a chair, head in her hands, shoulders shaking with great sobs. This is chaos, Hanna style.
Elisabeth and I exchanged looks of confusion and concern that turned to irritation at the damper Hanna’s announcement had just put on our brief moment of joy.
“What do you mean the wedding is off?” Elisabeth asked. “What happened?”
I busied myself making a cup of chamomile tea for Hanna, all the while biting my tongue. All the time and energy I’d put into wedding planning with her, for her. Not to mention all the money spent on deposits and everything else. And to top it all off, she just trampled on the celebration of me becoming a Nana! Three more months. I just needed her to stay crisis-free for three more months. After that, she would be Pete’s problem.
Hanna continued to sob, tears streaming down her cheeks. She accepted the mug of tea from me and blew at the rising steam. She took a small sip, put the mug down, and said, “I think Pete is cheating on me.”
I sat in a chair next to her, took her hand, and told her how sorry I was to hear that. And then Elisabeth asked what made Hanna think such a thing. Her response, one hundred percent Hanna: “I don’t know. I just think so.”
I sighed, wondering where I had gone wrong with her. Frustration with Hanna’s antics is not an unusual sensation for me to experience. Still, at this particular moment, it was at an all-time high. I debated for half a second before giving her a piece of my mind.
“Hanna Grace Edwards! How dare you come in here accusing your fiancé of something you have no proof of, exclaiming a wedding that I am paying for and have been spending all of my free time on is off! Do you have any idea what you are saying? What you are doing? Have you completely lost your mind? You’d better have a better reason than “I don’t know,” young lady!”
Elisabeth looked at me with wide eyes and whispered, “Mom!” as though I was out of line or insensitive, which I very well may have been, but I had had it up to my eyeballs with Hanna’s nonsense. I tried to curb her tantrums as a child and into her teenage years when things got worse, crazy hormones and all, but she was such a daddy’s girl that my sweet husband simply wouldn’t allow me. He said she was a strong, fiery little girl, and why would we ever want to extinguish that. This is why, Charlie, I thought. Because fiery little girls that don’t get tamed don’t make level-headed, capable adults. I knew if he were here right now, he would coddle her and be very upset with me for my outburst.
As if on cue, Hanna pouted, “Daddy would have understood. He wouldn’t have yelled at me.”
Before I could let Hanna in on a few more of my thoughts, Elisabeth, quite smartly, stepped in. “Hanna, just tell us what happened. Why do you think Pete is cheating on you?”
Hanna dried her face and sat up a little straighter in her seat. She glanced at me and then settled her gaze on Elisabeth.
“Okay, so I’ve noticed that he’s been on his phone a lot lately, like constantly, lots of texting. And he’s been going into work early and coming home late. I looked through his phone this morning when he was in the shower, and…” she paused and started to cry again.
“And what, Hanna? What did you find?” Elisabeth prodded.
“Nothing! I found nothing! I don’t understand what’s happening. I looked for texts during the times he was texting a lot last night, and there was nothing there. Like, he deleted them so that I couldn’t see them. Why is he being so secretive? He must be seeing someone else! What else could it be?”
She dropped her head in her hands again and broke down. I felt terrible for yelling at her. It did seem suspicious, I had to admit. I knew then that I needed to give her the only advice I had.
“Hanna, sweetie, you need to talk to him. You need to sit Pete down and confront him about your suspicions. It’s the only way to find out exactly what is happening.” I didn’t want to tell her anything that would risk knocking her father off the pedestal she had him on but let’s just say I had been there, done that with Charlie a couple of times in our 32 years of marriage. “It will be difficult and awkward, but it’s necessary. Trust me.”
She continued to cry and excused herself to the powder room. Once the door closed, Elisabeth grabbed my hand to get my attention and said in a low voice, “I think it’s me.”
“I beg your pardon!” my eyes wide, then squinting at Elisabeth with curiosity.
“Shhhh! No, no, no, I mean, I think it’s me that he’s texting and then deleting.” She spoke in a whisper. “I’ve been helping him plan some surprises for the wedding and honeymoon. Gathering childhood pictures for a slideshow, putting together a list of her favorite songs, giving ideas for romantic gestures. You know he’s no good at that stuff. But I told him that if he really wanted things to be a surprise, he couldn’t let Hanna see anything we were talking about. I guess he isn’t very good at being secretive.”
“But what about working long hours?” I asked for some clarity.
“I don’t know, I mean, he is an accountant, and it’s tax season. Or maybe he’s putting in more hours to pay for the honeymoon. You know Hanna charged it all to a high-interest credit card, right? She is so clueless about finances. Thank God she has Pete.”
“Oh, how silly; of course, he’s busy with legitimate work. And, of course, she paid for a honeymoon with a credit card. That girl.” I shook my head.
“So, what do I do? Do I tell her and ruin the surprise, or do we encourage her to talk to Pete and risk the chance of him making it worse trying to keep it a secret?”
“I think you should be the one to tell her and make her understand that he’s been doing all of this for her. Let’s get her to calm down, maybe share your news and then ease her into it.”
Elisabeth agreed, and I moved into the attached kitchen space to heat the soup and make the sandwiches. Soon Hanna joined us, tears dried, makeup fixed. She pulled a chair close to Elisabeth and put her head on her shoulder, the two of them weaving their touching arms together. Even with such different personalities, they had always been best friends, two peas in a pod, thicker than thieves. This information about Pete’s secrecy was best coming from the sister she revered.
“Feel a little better, sweetie? We were just about to have some lunch. Would you like to join us?”
“Sure,” she sighed from her big sister’s supportive shoulder.
“Good. Oh, and Elisabeth has something to share that might make you smile.”
At that, Hanna lifted her head and looked at Elisabeth warily. Elisabeth smiled wide and spoke softly, “Are you ready to be an Auntie?”
Expecting a dramatic congratulatory response, typical of Hanna, we were surprised at the tears that came instead.
“I’ll never get to make you an Auntie! I’m going to be alone forever!”
“Hanna, don’t be ridiculous. You will not be alone forever. Aren’t you excited for your sister?”
“Of course I am. I am”, she repeated, turning to look Elisabeth full in the face. She apologized, shaking her head. Smiling now, she said, “I am so happy for you! I know you’ve been trying. Congratulations.”
“Thank you! Now, there is something else I want to talk to you about.” Elisabeth rubbed her hands on her lap and then brought them to the table, laying them palm down, fingers splayed. “It’s important that you listen to everything, no interrupting. Okay?”
“Okay.” Hanna seemed nervous to find out whatever Elisabeth was about to tell her.
“It’s about Pete.”
Hanna burst with an “Oh no!” but she calmed down when Elisabeth reminded her not to interrupt and asked her to please let her finish.
“I think that I am the one that Pete has been texting a lot. I’m helping him plan some surprises for you. Things he really wants to do for you to show you how much he loves you. Please don’t be upset with him; he’s not doing anything wrong, I promise.”
“Are you sure?”
“I am positive. There is no way that he can be working so hard to express his love and messing around at the same time. No way at all.”
Hanna pulled Elisabeth into a relieved embrace. I walked toward them and asked, “Room for me?”
They smiled up at me from their seats. “Always room for you, Mom.”
That afternoon we hugged, we laughed, we cried. We talked about the wedding (that was back on) and the new baby that would join our family in several months. We talked about how much we all missed Charlie, our loving husband and father, and how excited he would have been about being a Grampy. Elisabeth said Charlie would be a cute name for a boy or girl, and Hanna asked if she could save that name for her first child. Knowing how close they were, Elisabeth agreed that that was the best idea ever.
I watched my two beautiful girls share their love and lives with each other and thought maybe I had done a pretty good job raising them after all. Maybe it’s not so bad that the early years of childhood are in the past and my grown-up children are embarking on lives of their own, bringing a new generation into the world to nurture and grow. I leaned back, smiled, and took a bite of my sandwich, feeling like everything was right in the world.