reinhard_sarahI sat in the chair, one I hadn’t occupied for far too long, and enjoyed the feel of being pampered a bit.  Never mind that I hate having my hair straightened: this was adult conversation, and my hair was finally cut and styled. The idea of a week without desperate ponytails was almost too good to be true.

The conversation turned to family matters.  One stylist mentioned, off-handedly, and rather critically, how hard it would be for the family of her client if anything happened to her client.

"Can you believe how much she does for them?  They have NO IDEA what it’s really like."

I was going to keep quiet.  I was going to just nod.  I was going to focus on the enjoyment of having awesome hair, but I couldn’t.

My mother-in-law is about the same age as the woman who had just left, the woman who was watching her grandkids, cleaning for her kids and helping them with their household management.  And, though we try to find ways to compensate (in money or in services of our own) my mother-in-law, I found myself feeling guilty for having a mother-in-law who delights in that service and offers it often.

I found I couldn’t keep quiet, though it wasn’t just because of guilt.  Why do we feel like our vocations are "over," that we are "free" somehow when our children are adults?  According to many of the empty-nesters I’ve talked to, kids are more work once they’re adults (or at least more worry).

I hear people joking, all the time, about all the things they’ll do once the kids move out at age 18.

But I have most needed parental guidance and support since turning 18.  I have found a host of parental figures, many of whom have been dubbed versions of "Grandma" and "Grandpa" for my children, and in their wisdom and encouragement, I have discovered just what it is to be a parent.

It surely isn’t something that ends because the child moves out.

Watching my mother-in-law flit from one house to another, doing dishes as a secret act of service or picking up a child from school or just calling to say she’s been praying, I wonder if life wasn’t a little easier for her when her six kids were under one roof.

In those days, she could pop them in the tub, pull them aside, and know the intricacies of their personal dramas.  Though there were plenty of other challenges, not least of which was an abusive, alcoholic husband, I think she finds herself looking with new appreciation and wonder on the little hands and feet of her grandkids.

What would I do without a mother-in-law who was so involved in my life?  Would it be a taste of reality…or would it be a taste of a life devoid of her lovely brand of love?

Copyright 2009 Sarah Reinhard