So Christmas is over and my mother-in-law has gone home. I've put all the empty bottles in the recycling bin, and we're digging out from under a mountain of presents. The kids have new toys and books to entertain themselves with, the grown ups have lots of bills to pay, and my house is, once again, my own.
I survived. And I even got a little insight out of it all.
On the plus side, my mother-in-law gave my kids her undivided attention and adoration for hours on end, taught my oldest how to do crossword puzzles, brought the kids two elusive and much-desired Zhu Zhu pets, took us out to eat twice, and listened to endless stories about things she has zero interest in (i.e., their friends, their classrooms, their dance teachers, their pet frogs, their toys, their theories on fashion and popularity). AND, after 11 years of marriage, I finally see where my husband gets his propensity for sighing and eye-rolling when he doesn't like the topic of conversation! So I've got that going for me.
On the negative side, I had to listen to her wax poetic about her son (yeah, I get it, he's Mr. Wonderful. I married him, remember, so I must think he's great, too. But YOU aren't picking up his stinky socks and dirty underwear off the bathroom floor anymore, lady. And if you'd taught him how to do it himself, maybe I wouldn't have to!) and use that annoyingly exaggerated tone of voice usually reserved for newborn babies or really, really stupid sales clerks when speaking to my (highly gifted) 5- and 7-year old. I had to endure comments like, "There are so many toys all over the floor that I'll have to take a circuitous route to the other side of the room. Do you know what a circuitous route is?" To which my Kindergartner replied, "Uh, yeah, I gotta go to the bathroom now," and bailed - throwing her older, more patient sister (who actually cares for social conventions and doesn't want to hurt her gramma's feelings by being rude) under the bus, and culminating in a seven-minute lecture on the origin and meaning of the word "circuitous". (See? "Culminating"? That's the way we talk around here. So I'm pretty sure they already know the meaning of just about any word you throw at them! And even if they didn't, they are FIVE and SEVEN! They don't need a lecture on word origins!) Add to that the near-constant hovering and the endless "Well, when MY kids were young..." - never mind that maybe the fields of medicine and education have undergone some advances in the, oh, I don't know, FORTY years since she gave birth. It's a wonder I didn't spend the entire week drunk off my ass.
So I started wondering if perhaps it's just because my MIL isn't local and has to sleep here (for days and days and days without leaving ever even once) when she visits. Would smaller, more frequent doses (without the 24-hour commentary on how I run my household???) be easier to take? Not according to my friend Michelle. She has a local MIL who is constantly underfoot, undermining her authority, undoing her best parenting. When I told her that I'd have to start faking sick pretty soon, since I couldn't be drunk 24/7 while my MIL visited, she said, "Why not? I've pretty much been drunk since 2002!"
(Before the AA people or Social Services get their tighty-whiteys in a bunch, I am NOT advocating that mommies drink to deal with their problems, their in-laws, or their kids. It's a joke, people. It may have a grain of truth in it; it IS much easier to take my MIL's thinly-veiled criticisms and creepy adoration of her son if I've had a glass of wine or two, but I am in no way advocating alcoholism as a panacea for the ills of extended family. Jeez. Relax.)
It's easy to say that any time you have visitors, it's stressful. But that's not necessarily true. My husband is the first one to admit that having my brothers, my sister's family, or my girlfriends and their kids is much easier and pretty much no-stress. Just a good time, even with 3 or 4 extra people under foot. Even having my own parents around is easier. For one, they stay in a hotel and just sort of come around for meals and occasions, so everyone has a little "time off". (And besides, my parents may be certifiably insane, but it's a familiar brand of crazy. I grew up with it, I understand it, I'm used to it. They may talk about their church and their health all the time, but these stories are actually new to me. They don't follow me around telling me the same stories over and over and over.) And having his mom here drives my husband up the wall, too. He's constantly on edge, irritated, irritable, looking for ways to escape for a few minutes. I've had to institute a few rules for when she visits:
1. You may not work late. For any reason. In fact, take those days off.
2. If you leave the house, take her with you.
3. You may not go to bed early and leave me alone with her.
4. If you break any rules, no sex for the duration of the visit. No exceptions.
Of course, even though she bugs him, too, my husband gets a little defensive when I rant and rave behind closed doors. I need to vent in order to make light of the situation and be able to calmly deal with his mother, and he's the one who's going to have to hear it. She bugs the crap out of him, too, but then he feels guilty about it. Which led to my latest revelation: You know how our moms can make us feel guilty REALLY, REALLY easily? Like, they can just raise an eyebrow and we are suddenly ten years old and KNOW we're in trouble? Well, the interesting thing about the mother-in-law scenario is this: There is no guilt. None. Nada. Zilch, zip, zero. No matter what she does to show or voice her disapproval, I just don't feel it. Our own parents can push the guilt buttons from across the room. Heck, they installed them; they know how to find them. But in-laws? It's like they don't even know the guilt button exists. Mother-in-law deflectors, activated!
Slacker Mom Says...whew! It's over and I survived another visit. Yes, it was only 6 days and yes, it was the right thing to do. But it was still hard. It still sucked to have to share my kids during an entire week of vacation, to have to smile and nod and listen to her unbridled, and frankly, a little too Oedipal, adoration of my husband. But my kids don't have local relatives, and it's good for them to see their grandmother. It's good for them to see us all together as a family. I can take just about anything for a week; this, too, shall pass.