Last October the call from our son came. His wife wasn’t doing well. Doctors and therapists and medicines and numerous hospital stays had all failed to help her recover from the deep depression she’d been in since the birth of their son fourteen months earlier. It was time for a drastic step— if she was to get better, she needed time to focus on that and that alone. They had decided that Spencer and their son would go elsewhere while she worked at getting herself well.
Elsewhere was Utah. Specifically our home. Spencer was calling to ask if he and Corduroy could come live with us for a few months while his wife stayed in Washington and completed a therapy program she was enrolled in. The plan was that she would join them at some point—hopefully not too far into the new year—they would live in Salt Lake City where she could go to school and he could work, and they could move forward with life.
While Spencer’s request was surprising, we said yes. What else does a parent say when their child—adult or not—asks for help? Besides, we were no strangers to having people live with us. We’d hosted my mom for a year when she was going through a divorce, and our daughter, her husband, and their son had lived with us for two years, while they recovered financially from his premature birth.
So once again we drove the 15 hours to Bellingham, Washington (we’d moved our son out there too). Once there we loaded up the Uhaul and had an eye-opening look at just how bad the situation had become. Their apartment alone was enough to overwhelm and depress me, yet I was still really struggling with splitting this family up. I didn’t know Corduroy very well at all, but anticipating he was going to need a lot of extra love to get through this separation, I’d purchased a stuffed dog, the softest, cuddliest I could find, and hurriedly made him an equally soft and cuddly blanket. Paltry offerings compared to Mom’s lap for sure, but it was all I could think of to do in the week before we went to Bellingham.
With the Uhaul haphazardly loaded, I wrestled with installing the carseat a good 15 minutes (and rediscovered why I had been so very happy when my own children graduated from them!), and it was time to be off. My daughter-in-law kissed her baby, said goodbye to Spencer, and stepped away. I was the one bawling my eyes out, feeling horrible that we were doing this and silently asking Heavenly Father if their wasn’t some other way this situation could be fixed.
Back in Utah we had a lot to figure out— from where everyone would sleep to where Spencer would find a job. We were blessed, and those things worked out, particularly when Spencer landed a great job in the field he is pursuing. The only catch was that it was in Salt Lake City, a good hour from our home. With the commute his work days were often twelve hour days. So pretty soon after they arrived, Corduroy was stuck with Grandma most of the time, whether or not he liked it.
At first or not was probably the way he felt. I had rules he’d never considered before. We eat our food in the high chair and don’t walk around smearing it on the furniture was one he didn’t really care for. Another was, we wear shoes and socks and warm clothes when we play outside. When Corduroy first came to us, he was kind of a minimalist in the clothes-wearing department. But we were heading into winter, and I worried about him being warm enough. So we worked and worked at keeping socks on our feet and wearing hats when we went out. He hated hats at first, but I am happy to say that he LOVES them now. He will hardly go anywhere without his sun hat (now that it’s summer), and he loved his little knit beanies as well.
Last November Corduroy hated shopping carts and screamed when I tried to put him in them. This was a problem, as I had to do grocery shopping sometime. We had a few cringe-worthy trips, with both of us wrestling the cart at Costco. Once he was finally in the cart, he wouldn’t let anyone push the cart. If you tried, he would also scream. We had many a shopping trip with me walking beside the cart, moving it on the sly.
Then there was the day I went to get him up from his nap and found he’d been playing with his poop. I wanted to sit down on the floor and cry, but I had to clean Corduroy—and his crib and wall and blankets and stuffed animals. Corduroy hated baths too, so it was an extra fun afternoon.
When people found out he was living with us, they would often say things like, “you’re so lucky! Aren’t grandchildren the best?”
To which I would nod and smile, all the while reviewing my day of changing four messy diapers (note to self: quit letting the kid eat so much fruit), scrubbing peaches and applesauce off of my carpet and couch, and dealing with a full-blown toddler tantrum. I wondered a time or two if something wasn’t wrong with me, because I wasn’t in love with this situation. Plain and simple, it was hard. And a lot of me felt like the life I’d had before Spencer and Corduroy came had been stolen.
I missed deadlines for turning in manuscripts, so I made new ones. But I was so emotionally and physically exhausted that I was struggling to meet those too. After a few months I pretty much cried uncle on the whole writing thing but tried to keep editing so we’d have a little bit of my income still. This meant that any work I did was done late at night. My husband wasn’t a fan of this program, as our time together went out the window. I’d also stopped volunteering at my children’s school. I wasn’t available for field trips or class parties anymore. Our second grader started getting bullied, and I wasn’t as on top of it as I should have been. Hannah had friends over for New Year’s Eve and Spencer got mad because they were noisy and waking up Corduroy. So she stopped having friends over at all. I missed the troops of choir kids who used to show up for impromptu meals. More than that, I missed Hannah, as she started hanging out at other people’s homes—anywhere but ours. I wished I had a solution, but our house isn’t big, and I didn’t know what to do. The situation was definitely taking a toll on all of us.
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (for those unfamiliar, a really long way of saying we are Christians and strive to follow Christ every day) we are taught repeatedly to serve. Service = happiness. Service isn’t convenient. Service changes lives. Serving one another is what Heavenly Father expects of us. When you are serving your others, you are really serving God, being an instrument in his hands.
I know from experience that all of those are true. It wasn’t convenient to have Spencer and Corduroy living with us. It did change our lives. It was the right thing to do, what the Savior would have done, and it brought the kind of joy that matters. I hope, at the end of the day, that we can all say it brought us closer to God.
Something happened during the past seven months, particularly to me, as I was the one blessed to spend the most time with Corduroy. We went from screaming wrestling matches at Costco, to outings being a really happy thing for both of us. He not only willingly sits in shopping carts now, but I think he genuinely enjoys the experience—particularly when samples are abundant. I can not only push the cart, I can sneak in tickles and games of head, shoulders, knees, and toes while we shop. Now we have giggles instead of tantrums.
Corduroy loves to read, so we hit it off there right away. The library became one of his favorite places, and I loved the chance to take another child to storytime. His naptime became my favorite time of day—and not just because I had an hour to get something done. The hours I spent reading to him and rocking and singing will remain some of the most precious memories of my life. I hope and pray he will remember them too. I hope he will remember that he is a child of God, and that he is loved—so loved.
I like to think that Corduroy changed too, during his time with us. Routine was a friend to both of us, and he thrived with the predictable and familiar. We played, we read, we rocked, we sang, we cuddled. He learned colors and coloring, counting and letters, saying please and thank you, eating with a fork. Screaming became a thing of the past, while a constant stream of chatter became the noise of our house, from seven-thirty sharp every morning until bedtime.
I can’t say that the hard part necessarily became less so, but my heart changed. I fell in love. My life had drastically changed over the past half year, but what else does one do when a tow-headed toddler is dropped in her lap? I am grateful to say that I loved him. We loved him, and though he is young, I hope he somehow always remembers his time with us.
We took Corduroy back to Bellingham this past weekend—another Uhaul trip in the direction I didn’t want to go. Unfortunately this story doesn’t have a happily ever after. Divorced parents, split custody, multiple homes, and being passed back and forth are Corduroy’s future—and it breaks my heart. Giving him back felt like giving one of my own children away. I keep telling myself that he was never mine. I never wanted to raise my grandchildren. I’m still busy enough taking care of my own, and they could certainly use the time they’ve sacrificed with me the past seven months. But right now none of that logic helps too much. I wake up before my alarm, expecting to hear a little voice calling out for me to come get him up. I wonder who is taking him from his crib this morning. Do they know that he eats best if you feed him his egg and toast first, before giving him the bowl of berries? Are they rotating his toys so he has something new to play with each day of the week without getting bored? Are they good at putting the Sesame Street Duplos together? Do they make the Cookie Monster voice while they play? Do they read him his favorite books ten times in a row if that’s what he wants to hear? Do they sing to him every day? I hope so. I pray he is happy and healthy and loved and secure.
I pray that his parents, grandparents, and any who are caring for him now will realize what a precious little boy they’ve been blessed with, that no matter the circumstances that got him here on Earth, no matter the heartache of their own, difficult lives, they will remember that Corduroy is the innocent in all of this. He deserves the best life they can give him, even if that requires sacrifice. It’s what you do for your children. And for your grandchildren if the occasion arises, as it did for us last fall.
And while I’m back to writing now, I’m grateful for the cuddly little boy who kept me from it a while. I’m better for having loved him. And that’s more important than any story I’ll ever write.