My mother-in-law arrives in a few hours for her annual Christmas visit. I'm pretty much all set: The guest room is clean, the bathrooms are immaculate, the floors have been washed, her gifts are wrapped and under the tree...and I'll fire up the blender approximately 30 minutes after she arrives. I mean, come on, 2:00 isn't too early to start drinking, right? As my friend Jeanne says, it's already happy hour somewhere!
In the immortal words of Grace Adler, "Mother deflectors, activated!"
Don't get me wrong. She's a lovely woman, she means well, and she spoils us rotten. For Christmas, she bought me the coffee table I've coveted for months. She brings the kids more than Santa does, and she worships the ground my husband walks on (which is really the crux of the issue, but we'll get to that later). She offers to babysit, do dishes, and take us out to dinner. So what, you ask, is my problem? Why the "ungrateful, bitchy daughter-in-law" attitude?
I think it has to do with the hovering. (I mean, really, do you NEED to follow me into the bathroom? I get enough of that from my kids!) Or maybe the criticisms disguised as comments and questions. ("Is that the way YOU do it, dear? Oh, how... interesting.") Or perhaps it's the endless stories of how perfect her son is and what a treasure to the world he is. Or it could be the comments like, "You expect him to do dishes? He's the King of his Castle! He worked hard all day! He shouldn't be doing dishes; here, let me!" Because we all know that I just sat around on my butt all day, eating bon bons and watching bad daytime television.
When I was first married, and I worked at least as many hours as he did (and left for work before he was even awake, by the way), those kind of comments really pissed me off. It was OK for ME to work a 10-hour day and come home to cook and clean, but Mr. Wonderful? Not on your life! During one of her visits, while I was 8 months pregnant with my first child, I (gasp!) asked my husband to get me a glass of juice. She (and I am not exaggerating here) leaped off the couch, ran into the kitchen, and said, "He's worked all day and is TIRED! HE shouldn't have to get up!" At which point I elbowed my husband in the ribs so hard that you'd have thought I was back in my glory days, throwing elbows at LA dance clubs in order to be front and center on the floating stage. Tired, my ass. You try carrying around a 10-lb baby in YOUR uterus all day and then talk to me about tired. If I can deal with being kicked in the bladder all day and night, puking for 4 hours straight, and lugging around a belly so large that strangers regularly ask me if I was having "my triplets" anytime soon, then he can get off his butt and get me a freakin' glass of orange juice! OH. MY. GOD!
Other memorable mother-in-law moments, in no particular order:
1. The time I asked her if she'd like a fresh towel 3 days into her stay, and she said, "Don't you give my son a fresh towel every day? At HOME, I give him a fresh towel each morning!" Now, I don't think my husband has ever changed the towels. Unless the towel got up and put itself in the hamper, I don't think it would occur to him to get a new one. He's pushing middle age, lady, I think he knows where the towels are.
2. The time she insisted on going to the grocery store with me so "I can pick up his favorite foods for him." Apparently, 3 years of dating and 2 years of marriage hadn't properly prepared me to stock his favorites. Sure, Mom, you go ahead and buy our groceries for us. More beer money for later.
3. Telling me for the 319th time about what a "considerate" baby he was for not causing any morning sickness after I'd just spent the better part of an hour throwing up non-stop - while she watched. Like the baby has any control over it. I wanted to say, "Well, that may be, but his devil spawn is making me puke 24/7 and I've lost 16 lbs this trimester, so what do you say to that?" but I was too weak from the afore-mentioned vomit fest.
4. Getting off the plane for her first visit since the wedding and commenting, "Oh, dear, you've put on a few pounds, haven't you?" Yes, actually, I gained a whopping 5 lbs in the 6 months since I was too busy planning a wedding to remember to eat. And thank you for noticing AND commenting. Because that's what every new bride wants to hear. (And may I add, at 5'7" I wore a size 6. What a cow.)
5. Commenting to me (in front of my sister and best friend, so I have witnesses) what a "great physique" her son has. In my sister's words: EWWWW EWWWW EWWWW!
Now, I'm not a drinker by any definition of the word. I have the occasional glass of wine, a beer with Mexican food. Now and then I'll do a few tequila shots with my friend Isela, but she's from Mexico so that doesn't really count. I've pretty much left my drinking days behind since having kids. I mean, just my luck, the night I tie on one and get totally ripped would be the night one of my kids has a burst appendix and we all end up statistics with Social Services.
But in order to keep the peace and bite my tongue as my MIL tells me how perfect and wonderful a child her son was, I definitely need to self-medicate just a bit. A glass of wine with dinner leaves me just warm and fuzzy enough to smile and nod when she starts telling me for the 813th time what an easy child he was, or says, "You have him well-trained!" when he pushes in his own chair or offers to put the kids (HIS KIDS!) to bed to give me a break. When I was a younger, less experienced wife, I'd get all bent out of shape at her comments - which she never seemed to make in front of my husband, oddly enough. I'd go hide in my bathroom, run the bath water loudly to mask my tears, and call Nina to complain about her latest barbs. She made me crazy; I had to work hard to be polite and deflect with grace. But as I've been married longer, had my kids, grown up a bit, I've realized something.
It just doesn't matter.
Here's this woman, who gave birth to the man I love, a man who then left her and moved on with his life. She's nearly 80 and all alone; we have each other. She needs to feel part of our family, part of his life, like she still holds a piece of him that I don't. She had him for 28 years before he was mine; she's just staking her claim. For a week or two each year, I can give her that. It may take a pitcher of mojitos and the occasional gin and tonic, but I can give her that.
Slacker Mom Says...cut the MIL a little slack. For her, I will always be "the other woman." We both love the same man, and I get him all year long (for better or for worse). She only gets him for a few days each Christmas and Easter. I hold on to the fact that she created the person I love, shaped him into the man he is today. After all, she gave me the man of my dreams, the father of my children. For that alone, she deserves my gratitude.