A letter to my mother-in-law about my 3 boys.

You always stole my thunder. You gave them everything they wanted. You never said no when they asked for anything.

All photos by Tina Plantamura, used with permission.

A second helping of dessert. Candy before dinner. A few more minutes in the bath. Money for the ice cream truck.

I struggled to show you respect and appreciation while trying to make sure you didn’t spoil my children. I thought you would turn them into “selfish brats” by giving them everything they wanted. I thought they might never learn to wait, to take turns, to share, because you granted their wishes as soon as they opened their mouths and pointed.

You held each one of my babies long after they fell asleep. Didn’t you understand that I needed them to learn to fall asleep on their own?

You ran to them as soon as they made the tiniest sound. How would they ever learn to self-soothe?

I resented you for buying the best and most expensive gifts on their birthdays and on Christmas. How could I possibly compete with you?

“I thought they might never learn to wait, to take turns, to share, because you granted their wishes as soon as they opened their mouths and pointed.”

And how they loved afternoons spent with you. You made their favorite things for dinner — three different meals for three different boys. And you always had a little surprise. A present, candy, or a special treat. I didn’t want them to associate you with gifts and sweets. I thought they should love you for you. I tried to tell you this, but you wouldn’t listen.

I spent a lot of time wondering why you did all these things and how I could get you to ease up. I know grandmothers are supposed to “spoil the kids” then send them home, but you were … ridiculous.

Until you were gone.

I had to hold my boys and tell them that their grandma died. It didn’t seem possible — you were supposed to be there for all the other special moments: proms, graduations, weddings. But they lost their grandma too soon and too suddenly. They were not ready to say goodbye.

During those years when I wished you’d stop spoiling them, I never thought about how much you loved them. So much that you showed it in every way possible. Your cooking. The gifts. The candy and sweets. Your presence. The way you could recount every detail of a special moment, whether it was a perfect catch in the outfield or a sweet and slightly off-key note sung at a school concert. Your grandmotherly love for them knew no bounds. Your heart poured love from every place possible — your kitchen, your pocketbook, your words, and your tireless arms.

It’s pointless to dwell on regrets, but I often think about how I had it all wrong. I was so wrong in how I perceived your generosity.

My kids, now in their teens, miss you dearly. And they don’t miss your gifts or your money. They miss you.

They miss running to greet you at the door and hugging you before you could step in. They miss looking up at the bleachers and seeing you, one of their biggest fans, smiling and enthralled to catch their eye. They miss talking to you and hearing your words of wisdom, encouragement and love.

If I could speak to you one more time, I would tell you that every time a precious moment steals my heart, every time I watch them arrive at a new milestone, and every time they amaze me with their perseverance, talents, or triumphs, I think of you. And I wish that they could have you back.

Come back and love them one last time, like no one else in the world but a grandmother could. Bring your sweets and surprises. Reward them with gifts for the smallest accomplishments. Painstakingly prepare their favorite meals. Take them anywhere they want to go. All and only because you love them.

Come back and see how much they’ve grown. Watch each boy becoming his own version of a young man. Be in awe with me as we admire how family, friendship, time, and love helped them grow so beautifully over the years.

The more I long for you to come back, though, the more I realize that in a way, you never left.

I understand now. I know you loved them in every way you could. I know that being their grandma gave you joy and purpose. And of course I know that you can’t come back, but I do know that your love for them will always remain. Your love built them and sheltered them in ways that cannot be described. Your love is a big part of who they are and what they will become as they grow. For this, and for every treat and gift, and every time you held them too long or consoled them too much or let them stay up too late, I will always thank you.

And I will wish a million times that you could do it all again.

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