There is a photo that hangs on my son Ethan’s wall. At the time he was 3 and hugging the only woman who could easily tie or beat me as being the woman most present in his life. (It would be a close call in which it might come down to hours to determine a winner.) She, my mother, has her mouth wide open in the photo, laughing as hard as he is and caught in his embrace.
That was eight years ago.
My mom had joined us (Ish and a baby Cameron were there too) for a few days in Florida. At some point Ish had to fly back for work and so it was my mom who was there with me when Cameron got sick and needed round the clock care. I’m not sure if it was Cameron’s all-night coughing fits or the way Ethan tended to sleep starfish style on the bed he shared with her that did it – but that was the last time we did an international three-generation trip together.
Until a few weeks ago.
To understand what it means to me to travel with my oldest and my mother to the Grand Velas Riviera Maya resort and spa for five days of “just us” time, you have to understand my mother.
When I told her, after Ethan was born, that I was returning to work early, she immediately announced her retirement. He stayed with her full time at home from the age of eight months until I pried him from her for day care 10 months later. And even then it was often her who would pick him up in the evenings as my husband and I struggled to commute home from work each day. As the years went on she, and my dad, have remained a huge part of their lives. They would pick them up after school, help to get them to after school activities and host them for sleepovers so Ish and I could escape for a bit.
My mother has an incredible bond with both kids but each is different. And Ethan, as the first grandchild, has a relationship with her that is incredible to watch.
Theirs is a special bond filled with secret giggles and minutes-long hugs. At 11, he no longer needs her the way he used to but he’s always up for a visit to her house or special outing. He has been known to call her after school and isn’t above requesting a sleepover. They’re buddies.
But, as with all good relationships, time has softened their relationship’s intensity. He’s big enough to come home on his own from school now. He no longer needs her help to tie his laces or wipe his nose. And while I still get him seven days a week, she can go days without a glimpse.
And because I’ve loved watching their relationship grow, it pained me to think that she might think he was growing away from her or that he might think that that was okay.
But from the moment they linked arms in the Cancun airport, when he chose her to sleep with on the first night, when he asked her if she wanted to come with him to the teens club, I knew I had nothing to worry about.
They are linked.
So what did I learn from five days away with my mom and my oldest son? Let me tell you:
1. He’s as much hers as he is mine
My kids are pretty independent. We were by the pool and a line was forming to take a ride in a giant zorb ball. Ethan asked where the line was and took his spot. I watched him do that and turned back to my work. A few minutes later my mother was up like a shot. She was certain she’d seen a man there with his child trying to get ahead of Ethan and she wasn’t having it. Watching her walk/run down to her grandson and then stand hands on her hips behind him to make sure he wasn’t taken advantage of took me right back to my childhood when she would have done exactly the same for me. She has his back.
2. He loves her in all the right ways
“Grandma are you ok? Do you want a drink?” Ethan at 11, is as he’s always been – kind hearted and considerate. He waits for her instead of running ahead. He doesn’t flinch when she leans in to cuddle and then every so often he’ll lean in, close his eyes, hold her face and kiss her and she melts.
3. She can give him things I can’t
He needs us differently. In her he has a fierce protector but also the leeway to falter. She offers a second set of shoulders to lean on. She offers up West Indian idioms and demands for “sugar.” And he obliges. She gives him history and tradition and deep rooted connection. He doesn’t push or ask for more and I find myself so grateful that he is growing up in the knowledge of her personality. Not some cookie cutter grandma ideal but the real thing with all its quirks and love without question.
4. Best friends can come in funny packages and with years in between them
He will get older and so will she. He’ll have friends that will take him away from her physically. He won’t visit as often as he once did and he may begin to feel hanging with her isn’t cool. But the trip was a reminder that he won’t ever stop loving her. He can’t. They are one.