I Had an Affair with Her Son. Now, She’s Family.

 2 years ago
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I Had an Affair with Her Son. Now, She’s Family.

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Yesterday was our first wintery cold day in Tennessee. I woke up to take my daughter to school and saw my tire pressure warning light up on the dashboard. Crap. I brought my daughter to school and headed over to the closest gas station to get some air.

As a still-new car owner and newish driver, I had never filled air in my tires before. I Googled a bit in the car to make sure I knew what I was doing, but when I stuck my bank card and got the hose running, I realized that I was still clueless.

How long should I hold the tube to each tire? All were very low, but online articles said to just fill each tire in short bursts. In the end, I wound up running the machine twice. When I checked the dash, again, however, the pressure had actually gone down.

Putting on a mask, I asked the gas attendant for some help, and he kindly filled the tires. He noted that the machine doesn’t work so great in the cold, but after two more goes of the air, he said I should be good to go.

Unfortunately, the tires still weren’t full. They were better, but not enough to get rid of that warning. I thought about my options and decided to call my daughter’s Nana.

“Hey Nana,” I said. “Sorry to bother you in the morning but do you guys have an air compressor to fill up car tires?”

Nana said they did, so I headed over to her house and put on a new mask.

When I got to Nana’s house, her husband told me he was getting the compressor ready and would let my tires cool down a bit first. He invited me inside and set the TV up for me, asking if I needed coffee or anything like that.

It was the first time I’d set foot in their house in months, since we’ve all been social distancing. But just a couple of weeks earlier, they both came over to my place at the drop of a hat when I realized there was no way I could set up my new bed frame myself.

To be honest, it seemed like a miracle that I even got the mattress upstairs to my bedroom. But there was no way for me to maneuver the adjustable bed frame myself. I called Nana in horror, aghast that I’d have to let them see the inside of my apartment when it was at its absolute worst.

Over the past few months, I have slowly been working on getting my house back in order after a pretty long period of overwhelm. It’s very difficult for me. Like a lot of other “Aspie” people, organizational skills are an enormous challenge. Initiation, organization, planning, and prioritization — these are not my talents. When I’m under stress, these traits really suffer, and I struggle even more with habits like hoarding.

My place isn’t always a wreck, but for most of 2020, it’s been awful. One of the reasons I decided to order a new bed was to simply get more energy to clean up. So, I was mortified when Nana and her husband stepped into my apartment, but I knew I needed the help, and they didn’t make me feel like a jerk about any of it.

Even when I stopped over to get my tires filled, I had these moments where I wondered if they were thinking about my messy house. Though it’s now looking a bit better, I imagine no one can really foget the look of a hoarder’s house. I wondered if they were thinking poorly of me, or even thinking I’m a bad mom.

But if they thought any of those things, they surely didn’t show it. Nana sat with her coffee six feet away from me and they treated me like they always do.

Like family.

I’ll never forget the first time I met the woman I’d eventually call Nana. I met her in the spring of 2013 when I abruptly left Minnesota to live with her son in Tennessee.

Unfortunately, her son was already married, and our relationship was just one of many at the time — though I didn’t exactly know all of that. His mother and her husband came to bail me and her son out when we ran out of money and didn’t have a place to stay. They footed the bill for a week or two at an extended stay hotel until we were in the black again, and I remember telling her that I was sorry we were meeting under such awful circumstances.

I didn’t know what you’re supposed to say to the mother of your married lover. It’s not like I was proud of myself or the situation at all. At the time, though, I felt helpless.

Through everything, his mother was nice and civil to me, but I could only imagine what she really thought. When we were still together, my ex would tell me every time his mother told him to send me back to Minnesota, or that he’d better not get me pregnant. In fact, when I did fall pregnant, he casually told me that his mom — and the rest of his family — all thought I should take the baby and go on my way.

Of course, everything I heard about her came from him and only helped keep some distance between me and his mother.

And then he left me pregnant to pursue other, new relationships. Part of my deep depression came from the knowledge that I couldn’t give a baby any family. I just had me.

And I was a wreck.

My ex and I had a very volatile and very dramatic breakup. Our arguments about his responsibilities and the future happened daily and lasted more than two years — far longer than our actual romance.

It was awful, and neither he nor I were in the right. I was clinging to him and constantly waiting on scraps of his attention. He was content to lead me on when it was convenient and similarly push me away. I wish I’d moved on sooner, but it took me time to figure out who I was and adjust to motherhood.

After giving birth, I discovered that my ex was consistently painting me as this crazy woman who was obsessed with him, or, determined to ruin his life.

I got so sick of my ex labeling me like that, I began taking screenshots of our conversations and emailed them to his girlfriend and mother. The texts were embarrassing and explicit, and definitely not the sort of interactions I wanted anyone to know about. But they seemed to be the only proof I had to show my ex was lying. Despite his allegations against me, the texts made it clear that he was continuing to come onto me and jerk me around with his definition of a “labeless” relationship — one that he kept secret from everyone else.

His girlfriend and mother never replied to my emails, and yes, there were multiples, but they clearly got back to my ex, and he hated me for revealing too much. To be honest, though, that was my other purpose in sending those emails.

I wanted to be free from our dysfunctional and addictive relationship, and I suspected that “outing” my ex would help make it happen.

For the most part, I was right. Or, at least, it set things in motion for me to move back to Minnesota just a few months after our daughter was born. She and I didn’t return to Tennessee until she turned two-and-a-half, because, by that point, I trusted myself to live closer to her dad without getting into more drama with him.

The decision to move back down to Tennessee was complicated, of course. But by then, I’d proven to myself that I could manage motherhood on my own. And I never wanted my ex to be able to say I kept our daughter from him. At the very least, I wanted them to be close enough in proximity that they would have a chance at a father-daughter relationship.

So, we moved, but we moved to his hometown, which offered cheap rent, but no public transportation, and I didn’t have a car or license. My ex had been living about half an hour away in a bigger city, until he abruptly moved an hour further just before we arrived.

His mother, however, was closer, and she often offered to take me and my daughter out to run errands. I was nervous, at first, to reconnect with her. I gained a lot of weight after giving birth and still felt ashamed about the entire situation, plus, the overall direction of my life.

Even though I knew I was still getting back on my feet, I felt deeply inadequate.

So, I was pleasantly relieved when his mother reached out and treated me kindly — and not at all with the attitude that my ex suggested she had about me. In fact, during our very first trip to the grocery store, I realized that she didn’t blame me for the situation at all and that she recognized her son was constantly making life choices that didn’t jive with fatherhood.

If I had to guess what happened, I’d say that my ex’s mom saw that I was doing my best to raise our daughter well, despite the frustration of her son never really being the dad our kid needs. Pretty soon into our move, my daughter preferred Nana to every other relative — including her dad, and I realized that I felt at ease with my ex’s mother too.

Ever since I’d known him, he fed me stories about his parents never really being there for him, yet his mom was the first person my daughter and I could ever truly count on. When he forgot to send our daughter’s winter coat home from her weekend visits, it was his mom who drove over to get it back. When it came time to enroll our kid in school last year, I didn’t even bother putting her dad down as an emergency contact. Instead, I wrote down his mom and her husband. If the school called my ex, he’d just call his mother anyway.

My daughter and I have been living in Tennessee since October 2016, and I can easily say it’s his mom who first made this transition bearable. I know the gravity of what I did by dating a married man and running off with him nearly eight years ago. It was completely within her right to hate me and ignore us.

But she didn’t do that.

Back when I was dealing with a lot of drama with my own mother and her mental illness, Nana wrote me a sweet note telling me that I really was family and that she could stand-in and be my “mom.” When she and her husband bought a house less than 5 minutes away from us, she said she’d be able to help us even more.

And she did.

Nana didn’t just help us get errands done, but she also taught me how to drive. She stepped up and did these things when up until then, virtually everyone else in my life had let us down.

Actually, she and her husband have consistently come through for us without ever making me feel bad about needing help. I’ll message her for a recipe, advice on a household problem, or bring up a car emergency, and they’ll offer to help before I can finish getting the words out of my mouth.

They really do fit the definition of family, because even after seeing me at my worst, they treat me well, like I still deserve the best.

Even when I first began writing online for a living, Nana was my biggest fan. We were riding in her car a few years ago when I told her how I actually felt pretty embarrassed and awkward about revealing so many intimate details about my life.

I’ll always remember how she told me it’s alright. She said I’d already been through the awful circumstances, so I might as well use those experiences for some good and get paid.

I don’t know if she’ll ever really know what a huge gift of grace that reply was. Instead of discouraging me from writing about my mistakes, and even the drama involving her son, she encouraged me to keep going and see what happened.

So, I did.

Over the past four years, my ex’s mother has been one of the greatest blessings to me and my daughter. Growing up, I never really knew what it was like to have family members I could depend on. I also never really knew what it was like to have people rely upon me.

Long before the pandemic began, and back when Nana was recovering from surgery, she asked if I could come over to take groceries out of her car while her husband was away for work. Her husband suggested having me help with that sort of thing since she wasn’t supposed to be doing any heavy lifting.

It made me so happy to be able to help, even though it was such a small thing. Somehow, getting to help out makes me feel like I really do belong to a family.

And when the holidays roll around, she’s always there in some way to remind me and my child that somebody else cares about us. It’s ironic, I know, given the circumstances. Her son remarried, had another baby, and is just doing his own thing. He’s not particularly involved with our daughter, and I have very little contact with him, yet there is zero weirdness today between me and his mother. I credit her for that. She didn’t have to go out of her way to invite us in, but she did, and my daughter (and me) are both better off. My daughter adores her, and honestly? So, do I.

Obviously, this year looks different. We didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving with Nana, but we did bring her a gift to her porch a few days beforehand for her birthday. My daughter and I celebrated Thanksgiving at home and we’ll be doing the same thing for Christmas. Even so, I know we have a family that’s there for us if and when we need it, and my daughter gets to grow up feeling well-loved.

In the nearly 8 years of knowing my ex’s mother, she’s never said one harsh or unkind word to me. Not one comment about how stupid I was or how I wrecked anyone’s life. She never said or did anything to shame me, or even hint that I should be ashamed of myself.

She helped me. We moved down here, and she helped at every turn.

Maybe that’s not the outcome you’d expect from the trauma or heartbreak of an affair, but incredibly, it is entirely possible.

The most powerful force to stop trauma from growing and repeating itself is incredibly simple.

It’s grace.

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