Today is my mother-in-law’s birthday. Carol and I became “neighbors” when Nathan and I moved into she and my father-in-law’s basement in July 2007. It was only for a few days before we moved into our rental house and a time of transition.
Nathan had left his corporate job at the end of June that year. We walked away from a solid salary, bonuses, cushy benefits, a Volvo XC 90 company car which I may still miss. We threw ourselves into Nathan working with his dad, Eldon on a daily basis in their family business, a lumberyard and building business.
I needed to continue on with my advertising agency full-time career and figure out living 100 miles from an airport and 175 miles from my former office. Then add in our soon-to-be fourth grade son jumping into a new school and life. Oh and I was pregnant with Elizabeth. Nathan and I hadn’t been married for a year yet.
Yes, it was a time of transition. Or maybe upheaval?
My mother-in-law, Carol, dug in and clearly decided to make us as welcomed and feel good about our decision as she could. I knew she wasn’t so sure this was the best idea. She had always dreamed of a bigger town life and career, worked hard for her children to receive liberal arts college educations and now Nathan was back where he started. We all can look back now and see it was the best idea, a purposeful plan for our lives. Together we made it work.
I remember the afternoon knocks on our rental home door and in would walk Carol with homemade buns, caramel rolls or her German heritage baking delicacies like kuchen, a dough crust with fruit and custard. She would find time to bake in between doing a lot of the financial work at the lumberyard and have us over for supper a majority of weeknights each week.
Carol’s welcoming ability stayed with me. Her homemaking abilities, always a clean house, always put together look, ability to always have a new recipe to try and two meals a day planned sets a high standard in our family. Carol knows I am different than her, probably just by looking at our clean but unorganized house or pile of unfolded clean clothes but doesn’t critique or criticize my differences. She also doesn’t budge in to fix any of it unless I ask for help.
Where Carol helps me most is with schedules and kids. She made it clear to me when we moved to our small town that my career was important and she supported me. She has never questioned when I had to travel and instead became a caregiver I needed for our kids.
I don’t know of a better person with babies than Carol. When our girls were babies they had every need met when I traveled. Carol dealt with my bags of frozen breast milk and homemade baby food cubes as my contribution to my babies when I had to be gone for work commitments. My husband is fully capable of caring for our kids and does like a rockstar daddy but Carol chose to make our lives easier and more manageable through our careers by helping with our kids.
If we counted how many meals she has made Hunter through elementary, junior high and high school years, it is in the hundreds. I shared earlier this year about her game-day meals. After school, our girls love to run across the street from the school to see Carol at her house and share a snack, read books and “play” school.
Food is Carol’s way she shows her appreciation and love. Last weekend, I was in the state of Washington to speak at a conference. Throughout the weekend, Nathan texted me pictures of the girls making different things in Carol’s kitchen. While they might miss me when I am gone for 48 hours, Carol is a wonderful grandma to our kids and again makes our family life easier and more fun.
Last fall, Carol and I spent six weeks together driving daily to appointments in Bismarck. We had joyful days in the midst of adversity. We chose a different restaurant every day to eat at and found new shops and stores to visit. We had all of her Christmas shopping done early. It was again a purposeful time.
Last fall it was my turn to give a little bit back to Carol. She didn’t like the attention, insisted she could go by herself but I wanted to be there with her. She’s been by my side and I will always be by hers.
While Carol and I are vastly different, we appreciate one another and love the same people. She’s a solid pillar in our family as a wife, mom, grandma and mother-in-law.
We don’t tell Carol or Eldon enough the important role they each play in our family life. We are from German and Norwegian heritage stock where emotions are not easily shared and hugs are not free! But I know they both know. Our life is better with them actively involved with our kids. She and my father-in-law’s life is better with us nearby.
Last night Elizabeth and Anika wanted to make Carol aka “Nana” a birthday cake. Elizabeth said, “Nana doesn’t like birthdays very much but this IS her best day of the year!”
Tonight she will get the big reveal of the girls four layer chocolate cake with pink buttercream frosting creation. It was made with as much love and appreciation as any two granddaughters could share for their grandmother. This is my tribute and way of showing mother-in-law appreciation, respect and love. Now I better do the dishes and make a plan for tonight’s meal!
Happy Birthday Carol! Thank you.