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A Lifetime

A Lifetime

December 28, 2008


Yesterday was my mother in law’s 84th birthday.

When you are 84 there aren’t too many of them left are there? Or maybe that is just me being morbid, I’m not sure. Maybe it is just me thinking about my own mortality and all the things that I still want to do in my life. Things I put off. Things I think that I will do in ten years or twenty years or when the kids are grown or when a whole host of other, ever shifting, variables have been met.


And while I know that there are no guarantees in life, that I could just drop dead tomorrow, it seems that if I reach 84 the odds of me dropping dead the next day go up dramatically. And when I am there will I look back and be happy or will I look back and see a life riddled with things I never got around to doing. Will I even care?


My father in law has mellowed considerably over the past twenty years. He finds joy in the grandkids now in a way that he never did with his own children, or even the older grandchildren. The youngest grandchildren and the great grandchildren will remember him as a laughing, kind hearted grandfather who always had an empty pill container filled with quarters for them. A grandfather who was half deaf and mixed up all of their names. The rest of us can still recall the crotchety man who wouldn’t let oldest grandchildren IN THE HOUSE when they were small. I know you think I am exaggerating for comedic effect, but I assure you, I am not.

He now finds exchanges like this one hilarious. He thinks that the little grandchildren are the smartest of all the smart children that have ever existed. We don’t have the heart to tell him otherwise, that four year old children really are supposed to be talking in complete sentences.

“Miles, stop eating the cake with your finger!”

“I’m not eating it. I am TASTING it!”


My in laws house is like a time warp from 1964. Everything in the house is from 1964 when the house was built, even the furniture. It is so outdated that it is back in style.


My daughter in her retro inspired dress matched the decor perfectly in the house.


Perfect for sitting on the white fur covered couch.

Until a few years ago this couch was covered with plastic. Rob was never even allowed in the room, let alone near the couch. He can not remember a time in his childhood that he was ever permitted to sit on it. No one sat on the WHITE COUCH ever.


Now? The grandkids run all over it. They EAT in the room. They stand on it and look out the windows.


Why exactly my father in law has binoculars next to his front picture window is beyond me. Sometimes it is better to have a don’t ask, don’t tell policy.


I asked my mother in law about this change of heart. Why are the grandkids allowed to do all of these things that her kids were not allowed to do. She shrugged. “What, do we want everything to last forever?”

I laughed. “Well, I’d say that this white furniture has lasted as close to forever as furniture does.”

The kids were bouncing all over the furniture. Not being bad, just bouncing the way that kids do. I started to reprimand them.

“No, let them. They are only little once. If I had it to do over again I wouldn’t care so much about the furniture getting ruined, or the carpet getting stained.”

“Really?” I asked.

“I’ll tell you what, if I knew I would still have this same darn furniture 45 years later I would have tried to wear it out!” she laughs.


I know exactly what she means. They are people born of the Depression. They can not throw away anything that is still useful. The idea of buying new furniture when you already have furniture is preposterous. Heck, they find the idea of throwing away used tin foil preposterous. They store that inside their non-working dishwasher. They don’t replace the dishwasher because :1) they have a sink and hands, and 2) where would they store their used tinfoil while it dries.

Today I was cleaning up my family room and getting really annoyed at the condition of our couch. One of the kids put a huge tear in the leather. I was ranting and raving inside my head about how I never get to have anything nice. How all my things get ruined. How nobody else in the family ever does anything except me. You know that conversation? I am sure I don’t have to spell out the inner dialogue, you have had the same conversation with yourself.

Before I could unleash it all on my poor unsuspecting family I thought of my mother in law and her white albatross. And decided that I don’t want to wait 45 more years to enjoy things. Will this matter to me when I am 84, has become my new mantra.

(Though truth be told I am NOT a product of the Depression and will happily take a knife to my couch and slice it into teeny tiny bits rather than still have it, and hate it, in 45 years.)

Posted by Chris @ 11:01 pm  

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  1. Alissa says:

    i loved this post. and i want to give your ILs big fat hugs.

  2. BetteJo says:

    Ah .. what a difference perspective makes.
    Love the pics!

  3. mandi says:

    A great post and a great lesson, thanks Chris and thanks to your mother-in-law.

  4. Keyona says:

    I love your thought process on this. I will try harder to enjoy NOW because if something were to happen to me I don’t want my daughter to remember me as the strict, don’t do this, don’t do that type of mom. Thank you for the reminder.

  5. peepnroosmom says:

    Happy Birthday!
    You really do put things in perspective. I have had that conversation in my head a thousand times. And No it won’t matter when I’m 84.

  6. Renee says:

    I think about this all the time ~ if I want to be a pleasant old lady, I better start practicing now. I don’t see myself miraculously become “sweet” when I am old, if I give no heed to my attitude now. Thanks for the encouragement today!!

  7. Shelley says:

    Happy birthday to your MIL! That reminds me of my parents so much…even though they are a bit younger. My dad is 72, and he was a strict and perfectionist father. Even with my oldest daughter (now 16), she remembers him as kind of scary when she was little. Now as he has aged, he has mellowed too. My six year-old has a different Grandad than her two older sisters had when they were that age. And he’s so very different from when I was a child. I’m glad he is able to enjoy my youngest in a way that I think he has never enjoyed a child before.

  8. Maureen says:

    Oh I just loved this post. Happy Birthday to your MIL. Today is my son’s 24th birthday and I was soooo different for him as his Mother than I am now with my little ones. Which, of course, my son points out to me all of the time!

    I worried all of the time if I was doing things right, when my friends kids did something like crawling or walking or such I’d be in a hurry for him to do that too. Now I could care less when my 1 year old walks…though it would be nice if she could walk herself up to bed by the time she is in Kindergarten, but before that….no problem.

    Time just has a way of putting everything into perspective.

  9. Dot says:

    My hubby’s grandpa has always kept a pair of binoculars next to his recliner which faces the big picture window. Hubby asked him about it one day and grandpa said “it’s so I can see the pretty neighbor lady when she’s sunbathing.” To which hubby said accusingly,”Grandpa!” and G’pa said “What? She knows!” We found out later he was totally telling the truth.

  10. Jackie @ Family Daze says:

    Chris, this is profound. Thank you.

  11. Jennifer says:

    She’s right. You can’t enjoy anything when you’re dead so enjoy it now. I have many memories of my mom cleaning and getting annoyed at my messy room and not enough of her just snuggling or making a mess in the kitchen with me. I’d like my kids to have different memories.

  12. Norma says:

    I think your husband looks alot like his father.

  13. Courtenay says:

    holy cow, what a treat of a post. pictures and storyline! and so timely….a family friend just died unexpectedly (cancer), leaving a 10-yr-old son (and his 60-yr-old dad). that puts a lot into perspective. like i am now planning our spring vacation even tho maybe the money could be better spent buying a new AIR CONDITIONER. bec i don’t want to miss these days with my kids. and things will always be breaking, you know? seize the day. let’s gather thee rosebuds while we may.

  14. Kristie says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I am happy for the reminder to work harder to obtain your in-laws sense of perspective NOW, with my own children. I don’t want my kids to bring my grandkids to visit twenty years in the future (and it damn well better be twenty years– or at least until they are out of college!!) and have them wonder why I am so much nicer to my grandkids than I was to them.

    I’m not a (HUGS) kind of gal, but if I was, I’d give you one for this post.

  15. eko (elizabeth) says:

    Dern it, Chris - brought serious watering to my eyes. What amazing writing. This brought SO much to my mind and heart. Won’t go into it now - but thank you, THANK YOU!

    Blessings for a happiest New Year to you and your beautiful, ever growing, ever teaching me - family!

  16. Shalini says:

    you MIL reminds me of my husband’s grand(or is it great) aunt! She’s about the same age as your MIL, and with the same mentality! I love them…. it’s a great post! Thanks for posting this!

  17. Carol says:

    What a fantastic post. Happy Birthday to your MIL.

  18. Kathy in West Texas says:

    I’m just curious to know, and maybe it’s none of my business, but if he didn’t let the kids come in the house, what did ya’ll do when you went to their house? Just stay outside?

    It’s interesting that they have changed so much! That’s great!

  19. Brigitte says:

    As an old mommy (and a lazy one), my philosophy is more like this too. What’s a few years of havoc? While if I’d been a young mommy, it would have looked more like an ETERNITY of havoc, so of course I would have been more uptight, like my parents!

    Wait, isn’t that basically what you did to your OLD sofa?

  20. Lauren says:

    Posts like these are why I read your blog. Thanks!

  21. Sharon says:

    Thank you for that. We all need a reminder sometimes to just enjoy the kids and not worry so much about the furniture and the carpet and all of the other things that won’t really matter in 80 years.

  22. jody says:

    I am pretty sure Bill has those dialogues in his head. Mine are more geared to worrying about Bill worrying about them. I walk past stuff that would make a grown woman cry, and Bill will walk past the same mess and have a heart attack….and cry. I am all “whatever’. He is all “OhmyGodthemess!”

    This is a lovely post. Isn’t it wonderful how the elderly mentor us and show us the way Happy b-day to your MIL!

  23. Randall says:

    Certainly a good lesson in living each day for us all.

  24. Damsel says:

    What a great post, Chris… Thanks for the reminder.

    I think that sometimes I confuse my son, because I often give in to my knee-jerk reaction when he asks to do something, and I say NO. Then, I think about it for just a second, asking myself if it REALLY matters (is anyone going to bleed? have emotional scars? no??)… Often, I change my mind. Because he’s growing so fast, and someday he won’t even WANT to do that anymore… Sound confusing enough?

    At any rate, thanks for the post and the reminder, and I empathize!

  25. Nicki says:

    Oh, I love this! I’ve been trying to be more mindful of this with my own children. I had to put it into practice a few days ago when my youngest brought me my cold cup of coffee…which sloshed over the edges of the cup the whole way. I now have a nice trail of coffee stains all across my beige carpet. But, I chose to praise her servant heart rather than grieve the carpet.

  26. owlhaven says:

    Thanks for this, Chris!

    Mary, mom to many

  27. Megan says:

    Had to laugh because my mother, daughter of a depression-era child, washed and reused her foil my whole childhood. I remember teaching my friends how to make it “like new” by smoothing away the wrinkles with the flat of your fingernail. We also washed and reused ziploc bags, baked bread in recycled v-8 juice cans (which she still has and uses) and spent Saturdays taking the neighborhood newspapers and aluminum cans to the recycling center. I loathed it all but now my mother crows that SHE is the original eco-warrior and the world has finally caught up to her!

  28. Sue @ My Party of 6 says:

    Beautiful! Thank you for sharing some wisdom that we don’t have to wait 84 years for. I will stop complaining about the stuffing coming out of my sofa from little feet jumping on it.

    And is it just me, or does your daughter really resemble your MIL?

  29. Lynn says:

    This is beautiful - thank you Chris.

  30. Erin says:

    A great lesson that I need to learn. Thanks for posting.

  31. Dawn says:

    Isn’t it a shame that the most important job we do in the world we begin as total novices based on what we can remember from our childhood of the way we were treated by total novices at the job? It’s a very poor system, really.

    I sometimes look at my 19- and 23-year old daughters and wish I could reparent them based on what I know now.

    Those are lovely pictures that I’m sure your children will cherish when they’re older. They’re lucky to have grandparents and particularly lucky to have those particular grandparents, I think.

    Not to mention lucky to have the mom and dad they have. Lovely post.

  32. Kathleen says:

    Aaah, you’re back…I was having withdrawal during “football playoffs” :). I think only us moms can understand that conversation, so unless there is another mom in the room…it’s best to think of grandma…or save it for us! Great Post. Thanks!

    And Merry Christmas!

  33. Dee says:

    Happy Birthday to your MIL. My FIL NEVER mellowed and I always felt so sorry for my MIL. She’s almost 90 now and he passed away just a few years ago…she had a tough tough life living with someone who didn’t know the word “mellow” even existed. Great post….we all need to be reminded. Thanks!

  34. Rose says:

    Beautifully written, really makes you think about priorities! Your MIL is a wise woman, even if it’s a little late in coming. Happy 84th!

  35. Fear and Parenting in Las Vegas says:

    Great post and beautiful photography. My in-laws are 82 and both precious gems in my life. Thanks for sharing.

  36. julie@love,laughter&laundry says:

    My mom is 89. I sooo understand where you are coming from on this. Great post.

  37. Miguelina says:

    I love this post! What a great reminder to enjoy everything now!

    Also? Your in-law’s living room looks suspiciously like mine. Except cleaner. The point is, I just bought my couch - and while it is white, it’s not covered in fur. I like hers better!

  38. Susan says:

    I think we all learned a lot from your in-laws just now.

  39. monique says:

    Oh..you made me cry..

    Great post..More reasons than one.
    Pics..on top of my reasons.

  40. Paula says:

    What a beautiful post… I am currently at my Dad’s house. It hasn’t changed since built in 1976. Neither has he… he is 86. Santa brought him a Flat screen TV - only because his other TV won’t work after Feb… I believe he will use that TV to store papertowel rolls on… or maybe used ziplocks… did you know they have a DRYING rack for Ziplocks… I’ll mail you one if you want it, makes a nice house warming gift.

    Meanwhile, I have sofa envy… I want the white fur sofa.

  41. Pam D says:

    She looks like a lovely elderly lady. My Dad lived till he was 92. Every time I was able to visit him, I thought it might be the last time, but he had a strong constitution. He never seemed to have regrets for things he had not done - even by his mid 80s he said he had led a good life and could fell okay about dying at any time. I think it is part of the mellowing/loss of brain cells? of old age.

  42. Kellie says:

    At least you keep the conversation in your head! I have too often let the “Am I the only one who cares if things are taken care of?!” conversation “with myself” out for all to hear.

    Great post. Your ILs sound like gems.

  43. Jessica says:

    I loved this post :) They remind me of my grandparents!

  44. suburbancorrespondent says:

    My youngest (of 6) is 3 and a half, and I must confess I am rather disappointed by how little I am accomplishing, compared to what I thought I could accomplish once I no longer was nursing/pregnant/tied down by babies. I worry that, at 84, I will look back over the previous 40 years and wonder why I didn’t get anything done!

    Oh, and aren’t the binoculars for birdwatching?

  45. PastormacsAnn says:

    This is a great post and I really love the pictures. Thanks Chris, for a good dose of perspective.

  46. Aubri says:

    This was beautiful. Thank you Chris! Happy Birthday to your Mother-in-Law. I hope you get many more birthdays to share.

  47. Carrie says:

    I think that mantra is perfect, I’ll try to remember that the next time I’m mopping up a dog mess on the near-white carpet.

  48. Lilly says:

    How cool are/were your in-laws to have bought a white fur couch and that cool sleak 60’s hanging lamp that’s in the background of one photo? My parents house was similar. Once they invested in an expensive set of furniture it was there for a lifetime.

    And my uncle and dad were very much like your father-in-law in that they were impatient disciplinarians with their own kids and older grandchildren and then they mellowed and enjoyed the younger ones. Too bad they couldn’t have learned to be mellow a lot sooner.

  49. FireMom says:

    This post was amazing. Thank you for taking the time to share it with us. What a good mantra, really.

  50. Carol says:

    I love your post! Great writing, great thoughts, hits so close to home for many of us! Thanks :)

  51. Shannon says:

    Last night I found a tear in my couch. I thought of your post, and held my tongue. Thanks.

  52. Kelly says:

    I really, really enjoyed this post. Lovely photos (as usual) and very touching.

    I’m also envious of their white fur couch. That rocks!

  53. Karen says:

    wonderful post. Thank you for sharing.

  54. G.R.Girl says:

    Thank you for making me appreciate the decisions I have made (and questioned so many times). My house is not tidy, my furniture is used. My time is spent with my family vs. cleaning a house that I can spend time cleaning when my kids move out. For now I savor the moments that my tweens are still under my roof…. I just ask that they not BREAK the couch because I can’t replace it and need it for just 10 more years…. So please… stop jumping on the couch ;-)

  55. Joan says:

    Loved this post and the changing sentiments on the couch. A million years ago, when my husband and I were traveling in Malaysian Borneo, we stayed in a longhouse, which was decked out with very nice furniture — and no one sat on it. Except us. The kids all sat on the floor in front of it, and I suspect the couch’s owners would have too, had we not been there. The people at the longhouse also had Sony TVs, with their new stickers still on, even though the TVs were quite old. I guess it comes from a pride in new things. It is sweet to know that even people who once revered things can come to relax and enjoy the sight of their grandchildren (unintentionally) pulling it out of the realm of perfect.

  56. poppy fields says:

    Thanks for sharing your mil’s wisdom. It gets hard to remember not to be so attached to material things sometimes.
    Best Wishes for the New Year,

  57. Lucy says:

    I read your post to my husband and he laughed with me. My parents 83 years old are just the same, nothing must be thrown away, everything may come in useful. Rusty nails, screws, the bike I had as a child, as well as a ladder full of woodworm made by my Dads father in the 1950’s. are all carefully stored in their shed. Their spareroom and attic are even worse, and they complain their house is too small.

  58. laura says:

    loved this post. it really made me think about what is worth being fussy over. it also really made me miss my own grandfather, who mellowed in a very similar way as he aged - he passed last year. thank you for a lovely before-bed read.

  59. Katie in MA says:

    What a sweet story for your kids to remember their grandma…

  60. Kellie says:

    I have heard that the older you get… the less stuff you need. I haven’t reached that point yet but i’m getting there slowly.

    What a beautiful post! So thought-provoking! I loved the photos! You have quite the eye for the camera! (I’m a newbie reader…)

    Happy New Year!

  61. Bella says:

    I think if everyone is honest we lived the same life as yours….and hopefully we learn from it!

    She is a beautiful women~

  62. Katie says:

    Just last night I got really upset at my oldest daughter because of the dishes. It her “job” to wash them… mainly because I am a single parent, go to school full time and work a full time job at night. For months I have been telling her to make sure they are actually clean before putting them away… (we don’t have a dishwasher). Well, I took a dish out to serve dinner and the dish was dirty. I think I went a bit overboard in my ranting.

    Maybe I need to mellow out a bit?