Saturday, July 23, 2011

In Law

So, my mother-in-law will be arriving on Tuesday and staying with us for almost a fortnight (If you don't know how long a fortnight is, it is two ha'fortnights. You're welcome.) I am really looking forward to her visit.

No. Really.

Stop it. Really.

Okay, go ahead. I'll wait.

Okay, now?

At this point, there are people who know both me and my mother-in-law and they are still giggling but very nervously. Relax, Guys. It's just a blog post. What could go wrong?

They are nervous because I haven't always been able to say that I was unhesitatingly looking forward to my mother-in-law's visits. I always did anticipate them with some excitement but also a fair amount of caution. We weren't always simpatico. I don't want to go so far as to say that we were a tiny bit antagonistic to each other because I don't want to get into that kind of trouble.

At first, we got along just great. Rick and I were in the early phase of our relationship and so my exchanges with my mother-in-law-to-be (hereafter to be referred to as "Ruth") were of this variety:

Zelda: Your son is the most wonderful man in the universe. You've done a wonderful job raising him. And he's dreamy.

Ruth: Have some pie. TWO pieces.
Then, a wedding and some real life and our exchanges started to sound more like this:

Ruth: He is such a wonderful husband and father.

Zelda: Who? You mean, Mr. Oh-Dirty-Socks-Haven't-Always-Gone-In-The-Crisper? Yeah. He's awesome. Nice job on that, by the way. Is that pie?

Ruth: No.
Let's be honest. Under the best circumstances I am a difficult person to know and an even more difficult person to like. It was a real eye-opener for me on the day I thought to myself, "Isn't it funny how all of my dearest friends are the kind of people who can really just get along with anyone? They are so tolerant of even the most annoying people." I was feeling pretty smug about belonging to this special group of people until ever so slowly a cloud of realization moved across the sun that had been blinding me to the truth. All of my best friends were impossibly patient and sympathetic not because birds of feather flock together but because they were the only kind of people who would put up with me.

I do not wear this as a badge of honor as do some of my ilk. I recognize it with chagrin because I'd like to more likable. Theoretically. If it weren't so much work. And if it didn't require me to pretend to care about so many boring and/or unattractive people.

You have to understand that Ruth met me at a time in my life when I felt more at liberty to express my deep horribleness. And Ruth was not the only one of Rick's circle that had a tough time with me. One friend, who has yet to fully recover from meeting me, made the mistake of asking my opinion on a subject that was of no interest to me and that I, in fact, found somewhat distasteful to discuss in mixed company.

Friend: Don't you agree, Zelda?

Zelda: *Crickets*

Friend: Zelda?

Zelda: I find it somewhat difficult to have a strong opinion about this subject.*

Friend: *Open mouthed gaping*

*In its original form, Zelda's response was actually a deliberate and icy, "I really do not give a sh!t." It has been translated for the more delicate reader.
I'm embarrassed by this now, of course. Still, my years as an enfant terrible have managed to get us out of a fair number of wedding invitations so it wasn't a total wash.

I'm older and wiser now and I'm not a jot more likable but I know enough to try to hide it. For instance, instead of blurting out how bored I am by something I just pretend to have temporary deafness as the result of being too close to a car backfiring. Or, I pretend to only speak some obscure foreign language: "No listeno! No listeno! Ich bin parlez vous xie xie tambien!" Or I pretend to have quietly died in the middle of the conversation. That way no one's feelings are hurt by my lack of interest. Against all odds, I really am growing as a person.

So, I'm glad that my mother-in-law hung in there during the difficult years. No matter how tense things got between us (not that they did) we kept trying. I did it because I've always admired her and found her funny and sweet and warm. I would never pretend to die during one of her stories. The nights that we have all sat up until the wee hours of the morning and I have listened while the family exchanged stories of life on the farm where she raised her children, well, those have been some of my most treasured memories. I'm going to pretend she did it because she saw some potential in me and not just because four of her grandchildren call me, "Mom".

Someday, I want to tell her how much it has meant to me that she didn't just give up on me years ago. And how much it has meant to me that she has been such a wonderful grandmother to all of my children. And how I have appreciated the thoughtful gifts and notes and cards she has sent to me over the years. And how much I really, really love her banana cream pie. And someday I will. Just as soon as she gets over that temporary deafness from standing too close to someone firing a shot gun. Which has now happened just before she's left the last two times she's visited here. Weird, huh?

1 comment:

  1. Wow - I have much the same relationship with my own MIL (and people in general). I've known her 25 years + now and I'm thinking maybe I can sort of trust her. We'll see. Hope you guys have a good visit. ;)