Houseguests and Fish

All you have to say to another mother and wife is “I have the in-laws this weekend,” and all is understood.

In conversation with a friend and colleague, I found out how lucky I am that my mother-in-law doesn’t live with us. Sure, she wants to be close. She often laments that she wishes she lived closer so she could “help [me] with the girls.” She really is a huge help. Last night, I got home from work late because I wanted to finish the essays I collected that day instead of taking more work home. I sat down with a glass of wine, and my mother-in-law helpfully said, “Mo, Pringles wants some milk.”

I was far better at disguising my withering looks before I had kids.

My aforementioned friend Melanie, however, has it rough. Married to a first generation man with an old world mom, she had a moral imperative to let grandma hop a ship to The New World as soon as the treasured grandson made his appearance. “She is a huge help to me, because I can’t afford day care,” Melanie sighs, “but she’s turned my husband back into a child.”

On the one hand, I can understand wanting to be near my children. I don’t get the grandma thing yet, but my kids are at the age that grandmas love. Too old to need poopy diaper changes, but too young to roll their eyes at you. They think grandma is as exciting as the Easter Bunny, especially since she always comes with presents. Too young to understand why Mommy and Daddy make those faces when Grandma Lulu gives them the stickers from The Museum of Art. “Look, Mommy! BOOBIES!”

I’m not saying I don’t like Gauguin, but my sticker tastes for my girls run more along the lines of My Little Pony.

I try to keep the conversation light. I want my daughters to believe in magic and happiness, and maybe even in God. I accidentally said, “Happy Good Friday,” and was rewarded with “Oh, RIGHT. Yeah. Let’s all celebrate the right wing Christian agenda!” Easter baskets are okay though, because it was her idea and she knows I don’t like holidays to be about candy. We’ve had this talk. My kids get a little bit of everything, including candy, throughout the week. My mom withheld treats and it helped make me a binge eater then a bulimic.

Ever notice that no matter how many times you “have the talk” with your mother-in-law, she will do it her way? And then we promise ourselves, “When I’m a mother-in-law, I will never-” The best laid plans of mice and men go awry, though, because if we followed through, the era of the annoying MIL would have long since passed.

She came over on a Thursday and my sister who lives in another state happens to be visiting this weekend. We had her family over for brunch. As much as I’d have liked to tell MIL we can’t have so many guests at once, I let her come over.

“Wow, Mo. The house looks great,” then to my sister, “You must be very special guests! I barely recognize the place. What’s Viva eating? Oh, another sandwich. She sure does eat a lot of sandwiches doesn’t she? I can’t digest all that bread. It makes me heavy.”

Speaking of, I’ve lost 17 pounds since she last saw me, and she hasn’t said a word. When I was pregnant, she never missed a chance.

“I envy you, Mo. I was so sick when I was pregnant with Odie, I had to buy smaller clothes! Of course, I’ve always been very thin. I can’t find pants that fit because my legs are so long and my waist is so tiny.”

She knows me, but doesn’t know me. I’ve always been lucky in that my MIL is terrified of me. My own mom and I are estranged, and she used to ask tentative, continual questions about the situation. My passive-aggressive-narcissist detector is so precisely calibrated, and I’m so sensitive about my decision to distance myself from my maternal poisoner, she was never able to get what she wanted from me.

“Mo, how’s your mom?”

“She will never change.”

“Oh, I see. Okay. Do you ever talk to her?”

“Why do you ask?”

“No, I’m just. I mean. I know Odie said you guys don’t really talk, so I just thought, you know.”

“No. I don’t know.”

“Does she give the girls Easter baskets?”

I explained how I instructed my mom “No Easter baskets, no candy holidays” for two years, then on the third year she passive-aggressively mailed it to us, so I texted Mom a picture of it in the garbage cans.

(That didn’t really happen, but I threatened my mom it would and I had every intention of going though with it)

Mother-in-law scoffed, “Well, I just remember I always called my mom once a week, every week.”

“I’ll bet she liked that.”

If I could harness the self-mastery I use to not scream “WE ARE NOT GOING TO PUT YOU IN A HOME!” and employ it to get my housework and schoolwork done, I’d be able to challenge Jennifer Garner to a Virgo Contest.

 

 

 

 

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23 Responses to Houseguests and Fish

  1. Lisa says:

    Don’t get me started on in-laws. I will refrain, since my husband reads your blog. I will say this, though: I adored his mother. We got along well. She was this crotchety old New York Jewish woman, barely five feet tall, with an attitude, and she hauled around her oxygen in a tank. She died seven years ago. I still miss her.

    I got lucky with her.

    And yes, I do the whole, “When I’m somebody’s mother-in-law . . .” thing. I’ve already figured out from my own bad in-law experiences that the best way to remain in my kids’ good graces when they’re grownups is to embrace their partners. Now that my oldest has a girlfriend, and they’ve been serious for over a year, it’s hit me that . . . well, that might actually be a difficult goal to live up to.

    • Michael says:

      I read the title of this blog and thought “finally, a good fish story from Mrs. Odie.” But there was no fish to be found; not even a whiff. Looks like my wife beat me to my comment and how she would be sure to comment on this.

    • Mrs Odie says:

      Don’t worry. He won’t marry this one. Just put the morning after pill in her Diet Coke every time you see her.

      (Note to people with no sense of humor: I believe whole heartedly that it is unethical and inexcusable to drug someone without her knowledge, and am fully aware it is illegal and possibly dangerous. If I did not believe this, Odie would be getting Xanax ground up in his coffee every morning along with the Zoloft I put in the peanut butter)

  2. Summer says:

    Both of us have girls. We will automatically be the alpha grandparent (provided we are not estranged from our daughters). I fully intend not to be.

    My husband and I have been estranged from the majority of his family for over a decade. Recently his mom asked for social security numbers for her trust. I didn’t want to give them. My husband gave his and said you never know if they will need money someday. I fully believe she will use that as her last say (nothing given when she dies). What she doesn’t realize is she will die alone anyway, deservedly.

    Happy Easter!!! :-) and stay away from Odie and family’s drinks.

    • Mrs Odie says:

      I worry so much about being estranged. My mother was estranged from her sociopath mother, and I’m estranged from mom. I plan to break the cycle, but my mom probably meant to break it too. I repeat my therapist’s mantra to myself, “I am not my mother. I am not my mother.” I raise my girls to be their own people and not to be narcissistic projections of me.

      I am happy about the alpha grandparent thing! Thanks! Never thought of it that way before!

      • Summer says:

        You’re welcome. My mom was estranged from hers as well. I am not but I am very patient. I love my mom, I wish our relationship was a bit different. I am not sure if she was a narcissist. She always shows up for my kids. I am forever grateful. But I imagine therapy may help me if I could muster the courage. I can’t.

  3. JM says:

    Such perfect timing. My ILs are here for two weeks. Just add constant confusion and chaos to the mix and you’ve got my home right now. I recently had to plunge our only toilet after my FIL’s business was done because he couldn’t figure out how. It really is like having two extra people to take care of. Thankfully my husband doesn’t let those passive aggressive comments slip by uncalled on anymore. Neither do I. That has helped a lot. They still do things like offer popcorn and Diet Coke as a complete meal option for my 2 year old, but really what can I expect from a women who when asked for a cup for my then 1 year old toddler, brought him a wine glass? Expectations have been lowered accordingly.

    • Mrs Odie says:

      Two weeks? Well, that’s just cruel. In-laws who live far away is a real double-edged sword. On the one hand, we don’t have to see them often. On the other, when they come, they tend to stay for a long time to make the trip worth their while. It really is like having more people to take care of. I have no doubt that you are the picture of hospitality and charm as ever. Thank you for reading.

      The wine glass story makes me laugh anew every time I think of it. Who would ever?!

  4. Grace says:

    I am wondering if your MIL reads your blog? Hmm.. Seems like it might cause some hurt feelings, or maybe she has a great sense of humor. Or not.

    • Mrs Odie says:

      She doesn’t.

      When my sister was over, she said something about being sorry we couldn’t get together sooner, but her mother-in-law wouldn’t want the kids to play with their cousins because then MIL wouldn’t be the center of attention. My own MIL bristled at that. My sister wasn’t talking about Regina (my MIL), she was talking about her own, but I guess if you ARE a mother-in-law, you feel defensive. Most people shudder at the term, after all. Lisa, who commented here, is one of the few people who’s ever told me “I love my mother-in-law.” I’m sure your daughter-in-law thinks you’re awesome, Grace.

      • Grace says:

        My daughter has many of the same feelings about her MIL that you have about yours. She is very open with me about all the things that her MIL does that really bug her. My daughter’s in-laws stayed with her for a week at Christmas, and boy did I hear stories! My daughter and I get along great and we are very close. It’s a whole different situation with my DIL. She is very close with her mom, and I get that. We have a god relationship, I think, but it’s just not the same as it is with her own mother, of course. We all live in different cities and have to travel to be together, so maybe that helps!! I’m not saying DIL thinks I’m awesome, but I think she would say that I mind my own business, and never, ever give unwanted advice about anything. Also, I wouldn’t send Easter baskets if told not to, I wouldn’t ask about an obviously personal situation, and I would get Pringles the milk myself!!

        • Mrs Odie says:

          Amen.

          My stepmom would say, “Don’t get up, but tell me where you keep the kid cups.” She’s also never shied away from a diaper change. Even when I was sitting on an ice pack with stitches in my perineum, my MIL handed me my newborn and said, “Her diaper is dirty.” When she came to “help” after my babies’ births she asked me “What can I do to help?” and I said, “I really need the laundry folded and the dishes washed,” and she laughed. I guess I have a lot of anger stored up, right? I sound bitter to myself!

          • Grace says:

            If she asked how she could help, then she should have done what you asked. Actually, she should just KNOW, laundry, meals, dishes, and diapers are all ways to help. I agree with you that most people shudder at the term MIL! I just returned from a week in Texas. I was visiting my daughter, SIL, and two grandsons, ages 3 and 5 (the ages grandmas love!!!) I made lots of sandwiches, ironed, folded endless laundry, played Hot Wheels, Legos, hide and seek, super heroes, and dinosaurs. We went on three walks a day, while my daughter sat and watched Ellen! Might as well take advantage of this time when they still love having grandma visit! Anyway, sounds like you have good reason to have some stored-up anger.

  5. Patti says:

    I do think that the concept of estrangement is perpetuated through the generations. Some families believe that estrangement is not an option and they work out their differences. Other families are very familiar with the term “estrangement” (having heard it from their parents and grandparents) and perhaps they make the choice of estrangement more readily. Obviously all familial relationships aren’t close but actual estrangement seems extreme to me. Even the word is sad and sounds so final. I don’t have a particularly close relationship with my mother-in-law but I certainly don’t consider us estranged. I would be very reluctant to use that term with all its ramifications and implications ~ and for the effect it might have on my children and their future relationships. Just sayin’.

    • Mrs Odie says:

      There are “differences” that can be “worked out” and then there is abuse and cruelty that cannot be tolerated. Estrangement can be temporary. I’ve had periods where I was more willing and able to tolerate what my mother brings to the party because I believed that my children benefited from knowing her, and I pitied her enough to want her to know them. If my willingness had been met with gratitude, joy, or even indifference, I’d have been satisfied. Since it was met with hostility, entitlement, scorn, and abuse, it deteriorated.

      While we certainly put up with more from family members that we would from friends because of the obligation family ties carry, that doesn’t mean that we are obligated to stay in relationships with people who are toxic to us. I see a distinct difference between meeting my obligations to her, which I’m willing to do along with my siblings, and being obligated to seek her company.

      My relationship with my MIL is fine enough, I think. We get on as well as the average woman gets on with her husband’s mother.

      • Summer says:

        Estrangement is not preconceived or premeditated and was certainly on my ‘never’ list of things that would happen to me until it happened to me. Kind of like breastfeeding my 4 year old. I ‘never’ thought I’d be doing that either before having kids but it was a very natural progression in my relationships with my children. Estrangement can be very natural and feel very right,albeit sad, after a period of extreme pain. I would never expect anyone to understand that has not been through it. Be thankful for your own successful relationships Patti but try not to judge others.

        And wow, pity is the best word to describe that emotion there Mrs. Odie. I feel nothing but pity that my MIL raised a handful of boys that have left her in her ‘golden years’ to die alone. Her own doing. I mean that takes some work dontchathink?

        • Mrs Odie says:

          I would think so. Neither I, nor my siblings, will leave our mother to die alone, despite what she tells everyone and how incredibly tempting it is.

          My friend’s wonderful mother passed away recently. My friend loved her mother dearly and had no warning at all before she passed. Everyone lives with regret, no matter what we choose.

  6. Summer says:

    And how about those Dodgers!!! Great game tonight!

  7. Patti says:

    Summer, I did not mean to be judgmental and am sorry if my comment came across that way. And I agree that estrangement is generally not premeditated or planned. On the other hand, I do have friends with family members seemingly no worse than some of mine. Yet because estrangement is such a familiar concept due to their family history, my friends’ first inclination is to become outright estranged rather than just putting more distance between them and the family member. My point was that labeling the status as “estranged” seems more detrimental, especially to children who may come to see this as just another relationship category or choice. Obviously, if there is true abuse of any sort, then complete avoidance is required. And yes, I have been lucky not to be estranged from family members. There are some we don’t see much but we’re not estranged to the degree that we can’t be in the same room. I’ll admit that this has been easier because my in-laws live in our town. We see them fairly often but rarely spend more than an afternoon together. No visiting for weeks at a time . . . whew!

  8. Summer says:

    No need to apologize Patti but thanks. I think you can call it estrangement or distance, it’s all the same to me. It’s also not something we talk about with our kids because they haven’t asked yet, “Hey, does daddy have a mom?” I don’t think we would discuss it with anger either making “estrangement” a part of our family culture to be passed from one generation to the next. But families are all different and the anger goes away in time.

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