Friday, November 6, 2009


Ben and I had a sweet visit with my dad yesterday. We've come a little ways since summer. It feels good.

Originally, I had planned to take Ben out of school an hour early and drive him down to Modesto to spend the late afternoon with my dad and his wife, and to have an early dinner with them. I was dreading the outing because it meant a later bed time for Ben (on a school night) and quite a lot of restless time in the car (at least 90 minutes each way).

I haven't seen my stepmom, Teresa since our fall-out in August so I was also a little apprehensive about how she and I would interact, although our recent phone conversations have been friendly and upbeat.

An hour before I was supposed to fetch Ben from school, my dad called and said that Teresa had been sick all day and could we meet in Stockton for some post-birthday shopping at Target and maybe a coffee after?

I was thrilled because it meant less driving for me and less whining and "are we there yet" from Ben. And for my dad to take the initiative and actually suggest an alternative, well, that's huge. Particularly when it comes to seeing his grandson.

Ben was so excited to be leaving school early. He knew that he would be shopping with Grandpa and in his mind, Grandpa has an endless amount of money (which he doesn't but he is very generous and takes great delight in giving Ben every type of remote controlled vehicle that he can find). Ben and I ran hand-in-hand to the car, all the while talking excitedly about what he might find at Target.

We went to a new Target in Stockton and as I pulled into the parking lot, I saw my dad waiting at the entrance. I pulled around and Ben flung open the door, without even unbuckling his car seat, shouting, "Grandpa! Let's go shopping!"

I gave my dad strict instructions on making Ben focus, not buying too much, making sure that the toys weren't too loud, too cheap, or too difficult to assemble, blah, blah, blah. My dad waved me off, grabbed Ben by the hand and off they went to toys as I set off to my favorite part of Target: the clothing department!

The Clearance section at the Stockton Target is unreal. Huge. Deeply discounted. I grabbed two shirts and could have easily filled a whole cart but my curiosity over what was happening in the toy aisle was piqued so I made a mental note to return to Stockton (that's a first!) and made my way to the toy department.

I found Ben and my dad puzzling over which Air Hogs to purchase. "They climb the walls," my dad announced. "Oh great," I said. "This one can go across the ceiling," Ben added. "Put it in the cart," my dad said. Surprisingly, the cart wasn't that full. Granted, it was a lot fuller than it would be if I took Ben shopping but it wasn't obscene. Yet. Ben vacillated over a Hot Wheels track versus a Tranformers RPM figure. I made him pick one although my dad wanted to get both. "Save one for Christmas, if you really want him to have it," I said.

Somehow we wrapped up the process and made our way to the check-out aisle where the sum of all Ben's toys, along with my two shirts, was actually less than my mortgage payment.

From there, we went across the parking lot to Panerra Bread where Ben wolfed down a grilled cheese, a yogurt and a juice box as my dad watched, wide-eyed. Ben then grabbed my hand, pulled me in close and whispered, "I need another grilled cheese, Mommy!" My dad, who is hard of hearing, said, "He didn't just ask for MORE food, did he?" Shaking his head, he and Ben returned to the counter and ordered an enormous scone for Ben. My dad came back to the table, which was around the corner. "Um, where's Ben?" I asked. "Paying for the scone," my dad answered. "This should be interesting," I said.

A couple of moments later, a confused Ben wandered back to the table, with change and no scone. My dad had a good laugh and walked BACK to the counter with him to retrieve a giant scone, covered in orange icing. Ben proceeded to eat only the icing and then handed the interior to my dad. More laughs.

We left right after the scone. My dad had to get back for a late meeting and I was all too happy to get Ben home for a decent bedtime. Big hugs all the way around and we were all on our way.

On the way home, Ben and I talked about how lucky he is to have such a nice and generous Grandpa. Ben insisted on having the toys piled up in the backseat so that he could look at them and the excitement over the stack of new purchases quickly turned into a huge whine session when he realized that we would be sitting in 5:00 commute traffic. And the whining turned into an all-out bathroom emergency when on I-5, in the middle of BFE, Ben decided that his bladder had reached capacity. Being the resourceful mom that I am, I had a remedy which involved a plastic cup and some backseat finagling, but Ben developed a case of stage fright and opted to wait until we could find a respectable restroom.

All in all, I'd say that the visit was a success. My dad seems to be relating much better to Ben these days and he seems less judgmental over my parenting style, as well. He actually looked happy during our brief time together. Of course, with my sister's wedding and Thanksgiving quickly approaching, he AND Teresa will be likely in high-stress mode and there will be tense moments. But I think we're on the upswing.

I'm feeling something new towards the two of them: a sense of tenderness and of compassion. It's a good feeling. I think I can make the space, carry the torch and continue on toward a relationship that is more loving, more accepting. For Ben's sake, I can.

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