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.