It's Nice to Share ... Even Your Grandchildren

I am Hallmark's dream customer ... an easily manipulated sucker for the sentimental. But this year even I was astounded by the behemoth display of Mother's Day cards at my local stationary shop. Little tabs peeking above the cards drew a customer's attention to the appropriate rows of specially created greetings for mothers, stepmothers, grandmothers, mothers-in-law, step-grandmothers, daughters, daughters-in-law, favorite aunts, first-time mothers and women who are "just like" mothers.

In the "from" category, cards were designed to be sent from sons, daughters, stepchildren, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, people who are "just like" sons and daughters, and of course, from the family cat or dog. Mothers Day has exploded into a frantic card-sending hullabaloo, and woe be it to the person who lets the day pass without paying heed.

Gooey sap that I am, I purchased cards in almost every category, but alas there is a woman I would like to honor for whom no card exists. There is one category of mother that somehow slipped through the cracks of Hallmark Headquarters in Kansas City.

In Yiddish, perhaps the most colorful language ever spoken, there is a word for the mother of your son-in-law or daughter-in-law. She is your machetenesta. There is no equivalent in the English tongue, no word to describe a relationship between two mothers that can be so fragile and fraught. Someone should think one up.

When your child marries you are thrust into a new relationship with your child's beloved. This new addition to your family most likely did not emerge fully-grown from the head of Zeus. In-law children come with parents, and like it or not, you are going to have to choose whether to include these people in your life or keep them at arm's length. When grandchildren enter the picture that choice becomes paramount.

Before we ever met, Terri (my daughter-in-law Kristen's mom) and I chose to embrace each other wholeheartedly. Even though I have seen some bad eggs come from perfectly lovely hens, I had a hard time imagining that my loving and loveable daughter-in-law could have been raised by anyone other than a kind, nurturing mother. I couldn't wait to tell Terri how much I adore her daughter, and I believe she also eagerly anticipated the day she could share her positive regard for my son, Dan.

Five years later, we share a magnificent granddaughter who unfortunately lives 3,000 miles away from both of us. The situation is rife with opportunities for jealousy or resentment. Unlucky though we are that job opportunities have caused our children to raise their family on the opposite coast, their absence from our daily lives has given Terri and me a reason to bond. We comfort each other over lunch. We share photos and report back to each other after every visit. Less fortunate are those in situations where one set of grandparents lives within spitting distance of their kids while the other lives a plane ride away. It would take the temperament of Gandhi not to feel jealous of the "hands on" grandparents. The easy mobility of our children is one reason why grandparent rivalry is alive and thriving in homes across America.

I admit to feeling a little envious that our granddaughter will always be at Terri's house for Christmas, but will only be at my home for Passover if our holiday happens to fall concomitantly with Easter. And then, as Jon Stewart pointed out, her other grandparents will give her eggs filled with chocolate while we will give her eggs filled with ... egg. Terri understands how I feel and doesn't rub my nose in the whole Christmas/Hannukah, Easter/Passover mishegass. On the other hand, I'm sure Terri was a little envious that my husband and I were able to spend a month in L.A. last year, and I hope I was sympathetic to her feelings.

Fortunately, both of us were star pupils in kindergarten, and seem to have retained what we learned.

1. It's nice to share. When Kyla comes to visit we share time equally. When the baby resides at my house, Terri is welcome to visit her there. When Terri hosts the kids, there is always an open invitation for me.

2. There is enough love to go around. I can't think of anything more destructive for a grandchild than to have grandparents who compete for her love and attention.

Judith Viorst, in her essay, The Rivals, which appears in the anthology, Eye of My Heart, writes, "Competition for Most Adored Grandmother seriously heats up when our grandchildren's other granny stakes her legitimate claim on their affections. Yes, fond though we may be of this other woman, and glad though we may be that she loves our grandchildren, and resigned though we may be to the fact that our grandchildren love her back, we are hoping that our grandchildren love us more. A whole lot more."

Psychologist Mary Pipher, author of Reviving Ophelia, claims "when you go from being the parent to being one of four or six grandparents, the flashback to junior high school popularity contests seems inevitable. But the heart is a pliant muscle, and if we're lucky, in time, everyone makes room for the other members of the expanded family team."

A child is not born with a finite amount of love. Remember when you had your first child? Chances are you couldn't imagine loving a second child as much, and yet when the next baby came along, so too did boundless love. A grandchild can easily love two or more sets of grandparents.

3. Treat others the way you would like them to treat you. Nuff said.

4. Boys and girls are equally important. I extrapolate from this that boys' mothers are as important as girls' mothers. In this regard, I hit the machetenesta jackpot. Mothers of boys are often given short shrift, told to pay up, shut up, and wear beige. I have friends so beige you could spread cream cheese on them and eat them with lox. Their feelings are never considered when plans involving their grandchildren are made.

Mothers of sons either make peace with the fact that girls need their mothers more than their mothers-in-law, or they beat their heads against a brick wall hoping the wall will eventually let them through. I am not this mother. Neither Kristen nor Terri denies me equal access to Kyla. Terri and I paced at the hospital together sharing lemon pound cake while Kristen gave birth to our granddaughter. Later that night, we drank a celebratory glass of wine while our kids bonded with their new daughter. Sharing this next phase of life with a woman who mirrors my joy, my concerns and my pride has made the grandparenting experience extraordinary. I wish every grandmother had it so good and I don't take a moment of my good fortune for granted.

Thank you Terri, and Happy Belated Mother's Day. This is your card.

For those dealing with jealousy between grandparents, additional advice can be found here.