“You made it!”
We could hear Nana and Pop shouting from their driveway. Next to them stood Chris’s sister Becky, her husband Josh and their two kids. Our kids bounded out of the car, excited to finally be free. Everyone jumped up and down and hugged. “All our grandkids from DC are finally here!” Nana said, laughing with joy as she was almost tackled over by the five of them.
It was a great moment, and one that almost made me cry. But before I get too into that, let me back up and explain a bit more about Chris’s parents, Nana and Pop.
I’ve actually known Joanie and Billy (aka, “Nana and Pop”) for years, as I’ve been friends with Becky for a decade and they often visited DC. They knew my kids, too, and were always so warm to them whenever they’d interact with each other. I’d talk to Joanie about life and being a mother and I’d talk to Billy about teaching, especially when he was still in the classroom. I always liked them, as did my kids.
But they were someone else’s parents. And while my kids thought they were great, they were someone else’s Nana and Pop.
A year and a half ago, Chris surprised me at our house on the day before Easter. I didn’t know he was coming, but there he was, standing in my driveway. The next day was his family Easter call on Zoom. “Wanna come with me?” he asked, though I think he already knew the answer.
And so, on Easter, we were all together, albeit in the strangest setting imaginable. My kids were pretty quiet, though they chatted a bit with Becky’s kids. Tommy sat in Chris’s lap. Was it strange for them to see Chris with us? I wasn’t sure, but as we chatted, I relaxed. I could see their smiles and hear warmth in their voices.
They were happy Chris was with us. They were happy we were with Chris.
We talked to Nana and Pop a lot over the next few months. When Chris was here, we’d FaceTime with them and hear about their lives. They got to know about what the kids were doing, and we sent photos of our adventures. Every time they called, they wanted to interact with the kids. Soon, we’d pick up the phone even if Chris wasn’t around, because the kids didn’t need him to navigate their relationship with Nana and Pop anymore.
I’m not even sure when the kids started calling Chris’s parents “Nana and Pop”. It was so natural that I can’t remember. But in the summer and fall of 2019, we spent a lot of time with them up in Maine. Austin helped Pop in the yard and Claire baked with Nana in the kitchen. Tommy harvested garlic from their garden in the summer and then planted it in the fall. They all played dozens of board games with them and Nana and Pop heroically ran virtual school for a month while Chris and I worked. At some point last fall, I remember watching Claire in the kitchen with Nana. She was nervous about Covid, and they were talking. I watched Nana speak with her in calming tones, reminding her of what she could control and that she was safe, and then I watched them embrace.
I had to turn away from the kitchen because I started to cry. The love I was watching – it was overpowering to witness.
Nana and Pop didn’t have to be this way. They could have been polite to the kids, cordial to me, and warm to our family, without choosing to do much more. They could have seen the kids as my kids, separate from their family. They could have chosen to differentiate Claire, Austin and Tommy from their 4 other biological grandchildren.
But they didn’t.
That may seem like a normal thing. Of course they would love my kids! But I know enough family situations to know that this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, because of outright rejection or just from a soft nudge, kids can feel like they aren’t really a part of a family. They can feel like they don’t belong.
And I know one thing. My kids feel like they belong in their new family. In fact, they don’t even call their cousins or their Nana and Pop their “new family.” It’s just “our family.”
I don’t think it’s an easy task, to invite new kids into your family, ones who have their own histories and their own lives. But Nana and Pop have done it with ease. I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised, since Chris learned how to love by watching them.
Nana and Pop embraced our kids right from the start. It didn’t take years of getting to know the kids for them to say, “you’re one of us.”
In fact, that scene I described at the start of the blog post? Yes, a version of it happened a few months ago, when we were in Maine. But, actually, the scene I described above first happened in the summer of 2020, just a few months after Chris and I got together. It was our first trip to Maine with the kids.
Nana and Pop didn’t say, “All our grandkids from DC are finally here!” just recently. They didn’t wait until we had all been living together for a year and Chris and I were planning a wedding. They said that the first time we visited.
The first time.
They loved us from that first moment. It’s something I’ve never forgotten – something that is all the more amazing because it was so simple and straightforward for them.
You’re one of us. You belong.
To me, there’s no greater way to love.