Two weeks ago we went to Houston to celebrate my soon-to-be instant grandbaby’s fourth birthday. I call Ace my “soon-to-be instant grand baby” because my son has been dating the boy's mother for over a year and they are planning to get married. Ace already calls me Nonna, Italian for “grandmother”, so we’ve made a start.
I am very happy over these developments. Not only is Ace a delightful child, but his mother, M, is also a darling, and able to juggle more than the normal complement of mothers-in-law (me, my son’s stepmother, and her ex-husband's mother) with aplomb. So we are looking forward to the wedding, whenever that may be.
Right now, however, what the happy couple is doing is building a house. There apparently has been a new wrinkle in the process of gentrification. Now instead of older houses in desirable locations being remodeled or replaced by one intrepid owner at a time, builders are targeting neighborhoods for upgrades, buying up old houses, razing them to the ground, and building new, larger houses on the old lots. Since my son and his intended want to stay near her work (he works mostly from home), this is a solution for them. At this point, their house-to-be is a recently cleared lot.
|A new house is going up in the lot behind, with an older house to the right of that and on either side. You can see the new houses are going to be about double the size of the old ones.
The morning of party day, while M was making party preparations, Neal took Ace and the four of us: his dad, his stepmother, John and me, to see the lot and to walk through a larger house being built in the neighborhood so we could get an idea of what their new home would be like. We had already looked at the house plans, which included one change, an in-law suite on the first floor so those of us with creaky arthritic knees won’t have to climb stairs when we visit.
So we do have a lot to look forward to, but there is one problem that I am having with all these changes, and that is, that after a decade or so of not having to have anything to do with him, I now have to be involved with my ex-husband again, at least on occasions like birthdays, holidays, graduations, and, oh, yes, the wedding.
My DIL-to-be, bless her, sent me a message asking if this was going to be a problem, since they were making plans for all of us to go out for dinner. I was able to assure her that although being around my ex isn’t my favorite thing to do, we get along in public and no one was going to start flinging plates. I didn’t add that for the entirety of my son’s growing up, having to be in my ex’s presence for things like parent-teacher conferences, parents’ day at scout camp, and other activities always produced a knot in my stomach. The last time we were at an event together was at my son’s college graduation party. By that time, I had been doing weight training for over a year and was pretty confident that if I had to, I could clock my ex with my twenty pound dumbbell. The occasion didn’t arise, but neither did the knot in my stomach.
After that, we didn’t have to have any contact, except for the occasional phone call to co-ordinate Christmas and birthday gifts, until the birthday party. As much as I wanted my son to find someone special, I also enjoyed not having to interact with his dad.
I know by now that it sounds as if I can’t let bygones be bygones, and that is true as far as it goes, but the reason I can’t let bygones be bygones is because the root of ex’s abusive behavior in the past still manifests itself in the present: not in screaming, name-calling, and potential violence, but in his ongoing inability to empathize with me and respect my boundaries. The boundary violations are small, but it’s also the case that he hasn’t been afforded scope for anything larger than intruding on my conversations with other people, answering questions I intended for someone else, and finding a reason to stand in my vicinity or position himself where he is in my line of sight. I should point out that I don’t think he does these things out of malice or even because he is still pining away for me. I think these are his ways of trying to mend fences and make us all one happy group of friends. As I said, he lacks empathy, which means it would never occur to him that letting me go about my business of ignoring him as much as I can without being ostentatious about it, or better yet, asking me what I need to be comfortable in his presence, might be the best way to mend fences.
As I pointed out to my best friend D while telling her about our weekend, I don’t need to come up with a solution right away. We may see each other as little as once or twice a year, and my comfort level may increase without my doing anything more than talking to friends and family afterward. John and I might wind up moving closer to my son, in which case, except for occasions such as the wedding and graduations, we can absent ourselves when his dad and stepmother visit so as to give them more time together.
So I do have a lot to look forward to, more of it good than bad. And if all else fails, I still have my dumbbells.