We had a blast in Nigeria.
All that excitement about going home turned out not to be for nothing (thankfully). It was so special seeing dear friends … and in-laws.
The in-laws are still good people. They reacted to seeing me and the children with multiple emotions. Joy, amazement, guilt, helplessness, gratitude, foreboding. Other feelings, too, I’m sure.
Joy at the sheer sight of us. It had been far too long since they saw my first child. It was their first time of seeing my second child, so that was a real treat, too.
Amazement at how the children have grown. The last time they saw him, my son was a little five- or six-year old. Today, he stands taller than his father. One more inch and he will also finally be taller than me. My daughter promises to be even taller than her brother when she gets to his age. They were shocked to see this full-grown six-year old (who looks like a nine-year old), rather than the baby they’d always imagined. Amazement at how ‘good’ I looked (their words) – which they kept remarking about over and over again. I would laugh heartily in response, asking what they were expecting me to look like.
Guilt. Largely unspoken, but present, nonetheless. Guilt about what they didn’t do, or couldn’t do, or hadn’t done, or wouldn’t do to contribute to the lives of these children who had grown so nicely.
Helplessness informed by their inability to at least get the children’s father contribute in some way.
Gratitude for the efforts made to ensure they saw the children, anyhow.
Foreboding, as it dawned on some (after visiting with them a few times) that these efforts were by no means a round-about way of trying to get back together with my ex. My mother-in-law, confused by how well I looked, pulled me aside and asked suspiciously if I had re-married. She asked twice. I threw my head back and laughed, showing her my ringless finger. There were assumptions in the air (and not by her alone) that my even bothering to take care of myself had to mean I was either in a relationship, or that I was seriously contemplating being in one, with a whole host of imagined suitors to choose from. (I must say, I quite liked these fancy imaginations they had of me J).
Reality dawned. This was actually one of several key outcomes from the trip that made me feel like it was worthwhile: reality dawned for them and for me.
I’ll say it till I’m blue in the face (and I pretty much already have) that I have some of the best in-laws. This hasn’t changed. But it dawned on me that their essential goodness wasn’t what really mattered in my situation; it wasn’t the bottom line. In my situation, I am on my own. All the niceness and good intentions in the world don’t change this fact. I don’t mean it in a ‘bad’ way, either. It’s just a statement of fact, and it’s important for me to be aware of this reality, and not try to imagine that it’s something that it’s not.
This realization helped guide many of the decisions I made during my visit. It helped temper my strong tendencies toward being an efiko, a ‘goodie-goodie,’ an over-sabi. Toward over-compensating.
This was not nearly as easy as I make it sound. It was excruciatingly painful for me to come to some of those decisions. I had to restrain myself many times from over-compensating. From being ‘overly-nice’ to the point of forgetting I needed to have some niceness left over for my children and myself. I kept reminding myself that the only person really looking out for us was me, so that I could more accurately weigh my intentions/impulses against my resources (emotional, financial, social).
I suppose I experienced some of those same feelings – joy, amazement, guilt, helplessness, gratitude, foreboding – but for different reasons for the most part.
I came back feeling quite accomplished. I had succeeded in drawing the line and in beginning the process of defining healthy boundaries. I realized that if they had ‘wild’ imaginations about me upon my arrival, I also held my own set of imaginations about them. I imagined them to be my in-laws. I still like that warm, fuzzy imagination, and I still cling to it in a way. But I also learned not to completely lose sight of the fact that, in actual fact, I no longer have in-laws. My children have good paternal relatives. There is a difference, and I need to be careful not to confuse the two. I’m learning.
I said I succeeded in drawing the line. But it just occurred to me that perhaps I had less to do with that than I think. Perhaps the line was already drawn – and not by me, necessarily. Perhaps the trip back home just helped me recognize it.