Updated: Jul 27, 2022
There is so much to cover in my experience this couple of years. Lots of events to digest. It feels a little overwhelming at this point. But in order to get to all of them, I have to get to each of them. So here is this one.
Thanksgiving, 2020. My sister-in-law was in town. We were having the Thanksgiving meal at my house, with me, my then-wife, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and of course, my son. We had planned a pretty traditional evening with food and good company. Before the food was ever done, the incident happened. My son was at the back door, standing on a little step stool and leaning against the door. His weight shifted in such a way the step stool fell over and he fell. He was upset but not hurt. All is good, right? My mother-in-law tells me I should put the step stool in the bathroom, that it was a hazard, and my son didn't need to be put in harm's way. I said that my son deserves freedom and opportunity. That the fewer boundaries we can responsibly give him, the more opportunity he will have to grow and be curious. Also, babies are smart, and they remember what hurts them. Very rarely will you find them doing the same dumb things twice. Also, he's small and low to the ground. Falling on his butt doesn't hurt the same as an adult falling on their butt. Okay, you're right. I didn't actually say all that. That's how I felt. I just said he should be able to explore. I put the step stool in the bathroom, and then I said some passive-aggressive statement about how I guess I won't be a father to my son then, and my mother-in-law started escalating it too, but by then I was too far gone and didn't hear any of it. I went to the bedroom, closed the door, and laid down on the bed. I sent a text to my wife saying, "Don't come and get me till she's gone." I felt that they should be able to enjoy their time together and I'd be fine in there. She apparently felt similarly. She ended up putting some food in tupperwares and heading back to her place, and I came out and we all finished eating our meals.
That was merely the start.
My wife, sister-in-law, and son all ended up going over to my mother-in-law's house for the evening. I don't remember too many specifics about the rest of the evening until later. It was about 10:30pm. My bedtime at the time was around 9:30, but I was still awake. My wife called or messaged me and asked if I would bring some clothes over because they were going to stay the night. I got upset over this because, though I was willing to do it, it was compromising a value I had of making sure I'm getting enough sleep as I drive a lot for my job and it's not safe for me to be driving around on low sleep and putting myself and others at risk. Rather than taking the time to explain that though, I made a snide remark, "You're lucky I'm still awake." Which, however true it may have been at the time, was not a remark that was deserved. I was happy to help and take things over, and I messaged her saying I was going to bring some stuff over, but she said her mom was already on her way. Great, I'll just go to sleep then. So, I got a blanket and pillow, turned out the lights, and laid down on the chaise lounge in the living room. That's where I would sleep when my wife and son were away because it made me feel closer to them, as that was where they slept (don't want to get into the weeds here, but I understand the odd circumstances).
Minutes later, my mother-in-law arrived at the house. She turned lights on and started rummaging through things, packing up whatever she needed to. I was just laying down on the couch with my eyes closed. Next thing I know, she comes over and stands above me and starts going at me, verbally. A lot of it is a blur because it hit me out of nowhere, she talks really fast and didn't desire a response, and I started getting outside of myself and spinning up. The gist of what she was saying was that I'm a sad excuse of a husband, but at least I'm a good provider. I don't do anything and expect them to do everything. There were more words. She went on for about 5-10 minutes. And then she said the phrase that I find to be a pet peeve; it's the most triggering of phrases for me to hear: "You're not even trying." I was DONE. No one gets to tell me how hard I'm trying, and no one gets to assume I'm not giving this the best shot I have. She did all of this in my own house, while I was trying to sleep, completely vulnerable and unprepared. I said the one thing I could muster up, "You can get the FUCK out of my house." She said, "I will get the fuck out of your house..." and other words I don't remember. She finished getting stuff ready and disappeared. And then she reappeared because she had locked her keys in her car and needed to borrow our car.
My immediate response to the situation, I messaged my wife and said I'm willing to forget what just happened, and that I don't hold her responsible for anything that was said, that I was 100% still here and in. She ended up telling me that she had let her mom borrow our car. That was a good thing because I was about to call the police and report it as stolen. I told her that if her mom ever talks to me like that in my own house again, she's not going to be allowed back. I expressed that I had been verbally assaulted and would not be treated like that. She kept insisting that I was overreacting and was sympathetic to her mom's side, to the point of shaming me for defending myself. Anyway, you can see how this situation started driving a wedge between everything. Or pounded a wedge that was already existing.
Unfortunately, my therapist was on FMLA for 3 months and I didn't get to talk to her till February. So, this whole situation was eating at all of us for a good while. The good news is this is not how the story ended. I'll talk about the recovery in another post. Thanks for reading this far. This is to inspire you that out of the worst encounters, beauty can still flourish. Forgiveness can happen. It's okay to feel what you feel in the moment. Ultimately you are accountable to your actions, even those in the moment. And once the dust has settled and the smoke has lifted, what was burned down can be built anew. Let the old die. Start over with something healthy.