There’s an old dad joke that goes, “What’s the definition of mixed emotions? Watching your Mother-In-Law drive your new Cadillac off a cliff.” Of course, to be funny, the joke presumes two things:
- You really like Cadillacs
- You really DON’T like your Mother-In-Law
In the case of me personally, even as a self-admitted car guy, I’ve never been a huge fan of GM’s luxury brand.
My Mother-In Law on the other hand… her I liked.
I met Barbara Braunstein just about two decades ago, and without a doubt my life has been the better for it.
As, some of you know (but many of you don’t) my wife Emily comes from a large family. I don’t mean large family in the “they use all the seats in a minivan” sense, no. By large I mean my wife is the eleventh of twelve kids. Let me repeat that…
My wife is the eleventh of twelve kids!
And no, their family was not some Brady Bunch joining-of-forces… one mom, one dad, twelve kids.
A couple weeks ago I wrote about how my wife and I met in a story called, The Day I Finally Shut Up… and Saved My Own Life. That story leaves off on a rainy Wednesday night in October 1998 when we got engaged. What I failed to disclose is that we were set to visit her parents three days later… where I would meet them for the first time.
In retrospect it was a pretty balsy move, going for the hand in marriage three days before meeting the couple from which I should have asked permission. What can I say… I was crazy in love with their daughter.
We arrived at her parent’s home in Virginia around noon on Saturday, and from the moment I met Barbara Braunstein, I knew I had hit the extended family jackpot.
I am a morning person. I mention this because in being a morning person, I am also not so much a night person. After a lovely lunch, a fun afternoon, a delicious dinner and some after-dinner-drinks, my bride-to-be and I we were sitting with my in-laws to be just chatting and having a fine time. I was so comfortable in their midst that at one point I leaned into the comfy couch on which I was sitting and… fell asleep.
A moment my Mother-In-Law has brought up and reminded me of, no fewer than 100 times over the years.
I met my in-laws Barb and Paul more than a decade after they’d retired, but in the years following I heard enough stories to get a real sense of how they managed to raise twelve children, while remaining blissfully happy and in love for more than sixty-three years. The following is just a tiny sample of the wisdom I’ve been blessed to glean from Barbara Braunstein:
Each time we were in labor with our four children, the first thing Emily would do is call her mom. Mom so wanted to be a part of each and every grandchild coming into the world. We would call, no matter how late at night, and Emily would say, “I think the baby is coming mom.” Without any undue excitement, Barb would always reply, “Well, either it is or it isn’t.”
We have always left the boy/girl reveal to the very end, but inevitably in the “baby is coming” conversation, the question of “what will it be this time” would arise. Again, with the steely calmness of an air traffic controller she would say, “Well, it will be one or the other.”
Raising four children is no small task, and with my wife’s crazy work schedule I have spent more time alone with our four kids than the average dad. Whenever I would feel overwhelmed, all I had to do is think of my mother-in-law and the mayhem of doing the same with twelve. Often when speaking with her about what it was like, she would smile and say, “It seemed like there was always one too many.”
Whenever I was lucky enough to be managing just three or two instead of all four, those words would echo in my head, freeing me to enjoy the blessing of the relative calm.
If ever there was a pure example of balanced strength, grace, faith, love and discipline, Barbara Braunstein was the benchmark.
Last week, the CEO of Qatar Airlines came under fire for saying the following about his own job as head of the company:
Of course it has to be led by a man, because it is a very challenging position.
This guy had clearly never met Barbara Braunstein, and I’m now going to tell you one final story that will prove once and for all what a badass she truly was.
My wife was raised on Long Island, and where they lived kids walked and biked everywhere. When school let out, the siblings who were old enough were all enrolled in local day camps. One summer when my brother-in-law Mark was around twelve, he and a handful of siblings headed off to camp for the day. My mother-in-law was at home with no fewer than a half-dozen toddlers and infants.
At some point in the midst of her chaotic day the house phone rang. It was the camp calling to report that there had been an “incident” and it looked like Mark had broken his arm. After the briefest moment of calculation, Barb calmly replied, “Well, he can still ride his bike home, right?”
In my twenty-five plus years of business experience, I have never encountered anyone who could run a complex operation as well as Barbara Braunstein.
Seven years ago this week, my father-in-law Paul lost his battle with cancer. Barb and Paul were so in love that she really struggled to imagine a life without him. It took time, but as she’d done so many times before, Barb persevered and extracted joy and success from the hand she’d been dealt. She made new friends, watched her dozens of grandchildren grow and welcomed a handful of great-grandchildren into the world.
Never once did she lose her acerbic wit, her sense of humor, her faith in God, or her devotion to her family. Just last week, Emily was Face Timing with her, talking about the graduation celebration we’d just had for our daughter Charlotte. While describing a gathering one evening, Barb quipped, “How long did Steve manage to stay awake?”
Yesterday morning, after nearly ninety-four years, Barbara Braunstein breathed her last breath on this earth. We are all sad for the loss of this woman we loved so much. Every heart that was ever blessed to know her has a small hole, that in time will heal but will never be the same.
From our sadness however also comes joy, knowing that Barb is at peace, and even better, finally reunited with the love her life Paul… mixed emotions indeed.
Copyright © 2018 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved