So many of the things around my house used to be my mother’s, or my mother-in-law’s, my aunt’s, or my grandmother’s. I am talking about the heavy kitchen scissors I use every day that used to be in the utensils crock next to my mother’s stove back at home, and those great insulated drinking glasses with the colorful flower garden on the sides we got for my husband’s mother one year for Christmas, and the wrought-iron candelabra I gave my grandmother when I was so young, because she burned candles every day. All of these gifts grace my house and I use them every day, now, even though I bought them for others in the first place. They came back to me. When my folks died we cleaned out the house and everyone took back the things they had bought them using the logic that if we liked it in the first place we would like it still. Same with my husband’s family. Other pieces found their way back to me because in the collection of things left after my grandmother died, I spotted the fancy candle holder and had fond memories of Grandma using it.
These gifts, come back home to me and remind me that we are all here on loan. Our relationships are only for the moment we’re in them. I felt my folks would live forever, and even when I saw my grandmother getting old and knowing she would not last my whole life, I didn’t understand how the present I had with her then was going to become a dear memory later on. It felt like the gifts I gave at those times were forever. But surprise, forever ended, and now those gifts are on my shelves ‘forever’.
Our children are the same in that they are only on loan to us while we are here. I see as my kids move out into the world, college and beyond, that we had them in our home as children in need of us, constantly, only to become capable adults managing because we taught them. It seems like forever when babies are crying and bath and bedtime are here again, when there is no time for myself because kids need so much. When my body isn’t even my own because I share it with my offspring. But surprise, forever goes away.
Enjoy it now while it is here, and make great memories to look back on later.
being yourself, change, control, dehydration, dreams coming true, Ecuador, exchange student, express feelings, fear, friends, goals, inspire, joy, letting go, mother-in-law, parents, play, security, South America, trust, weather
I am feeling a little of the balance of life today. We buried my aunt’s ashes last weekend, and we buried my mother-in-law a few weeks before that, but now, today I am feeling the joy of seeing my son stand happily in exactly the right place. He went missing for a few days, at least at our end here in America, and with warnings of a tsunami on the western coast of South America, and his failure to respond to emails and texts or to post anything to his blog or Facebook, we felt a little alarmed. Where did our kid who contacts us three times a day one way or another go?
When we finally connected on day four he said he’d been off to the coast at a three-day language camp for foreigners intending to study in Ecuador for the year, and there was no WiFi, and by the way, I am busy now and I’ve got to go. According to his blog posts thereafter he’d been terribly sick with symptoms of dehydration as well as had tons of fun meeting people and playing hard.
We will learn to fully let go through experiences like this one I hope. This one is helpful because it seems apparent that we have guided him to just where he needs to be. Or so it seems right now. He is out in the wide world having thrilling experiences. He’s happy, he’s taking care of himself and surviving despite himself. He’s meeting people and learning and growing and finding his place in the world. We could not be happier for him.
So being told he is alive and well, and in his usual way, quite busy having a good time so let me go already, was all we needed to hear in order to be able to rest comfortably in the idea that maybe we have led him to his adulthood ready to go.
I woke up last Friday knowing my mother-in-law was likely to die that day, wishing I could go back under the covers and sleep through it all. My first inclination was to try to be the best wife I could be, at least for one day. A friend called and encouraged me in the perfect kind of way, then, I made my guy a special breakfast of homemade muffins, bacon and fruit. It took all morning to accomplish since my foot’s not really up for all that, but in the end I was so glad I’d made the effort. It set the tone for a day of me showing my love for him any way I could. The phone rang just after we finished eating and while we were making plans to catch a flight up to Buffalo to be with family at his mom’s bedside, one last time.
That’s when I renewed my resolve to be there for my husband since now we’d be home with the sad news of her passing, unsure what the future held. Being the best wife I can be has a lot to do with listening and waiting for my husband to tell me what is on his mind. He’s not one to just shout that out. It is not about me asking him how he is, or telling him what I think, or expressing my own emotions or ideas. It is about me being available to him for whatever he needs at a time when, I know from experience, it is hard to get your bearings. I am a talker and a thinker and a doer. Quietly waiting for my attention to be required is challenging for me.
I am not sure how I did by him but at the end of the day I was proud of myself. Making extra space for him, someone I dare to take for granted at times, felt good, and right, and helpful, and loving, and all the things I want for him to be able to count on in me. And for my part, it has been a reminder of what I might strive to be more often.
What I love about my mother-in-law is that, unlike my own mother, she agreed to participate in my life. Even though we didn’t see eye to eye on many things, and even though I wouldn’t let her control my life like she wanted to, we still respected each other and carried on as friends ever since I was nineteen. She came to my Thanksgiving dinners, and she came to my kids’ parties. She had presents for the kids and little notes of thoughtfulness for me. She showed me what it is to have a family around you, and a community that loves you, and how to have a place in the world that keeps you going every day. She contributed so much to her city and to her neighborhood and to her building and to her family, and she did it all by making everyone laugh. Even when she was degrading people it was funny. I never saw her literally mad, but her anger showed in cutting jokes and social slights. It’s okay to say. She was a woman with a lot of guts in so many ways.
I admire my mother-in-law because here at the end of her life it is easy for any of us who knew her to say, she loved her life and enjoyed her life. Anything about her you didn’t like is okay because she’s a person, a human, with flaws that may have hit you the wrong way sometimes, but overall, if you are keeping score, she did more for the team than most of us ever will.
I love her because she didn’t run away when she realized I was different. Maybe she couldn’t since I am married to her son, but there are relatives that have been expunged from the record so I suppose she always held that option. She didn’t want to. She wanted to be able to say her family was a happy one, so she made sure it was.
One of her last days in the hospital she told us that all the nurses were complimenting her on her large and happy family all around her. I told her she should be proud of that.
Her answer, “It wasn’t easy.”
One of the things I love about my mother-in-law is that she really taught me to drink. I knew nothing before she handed me that first odd looking tumbler of ice and root beerish-looking juice. I was raised by tee-totalers so my husband’s Irish-Catholic relatives were charmed that I knew nothing of ‘drinks’. My mother-in-law-to-be was a pro, though, and sat herself down every day at five o’clock to enjoy a Manhattan, expertly made starting with a glass full of ice and ending with cherry juice poured directly from the jar of cherries. Since I was young and eager to please I joined her and sometimes her daughters, for this classy sounding cocktail whenever I visited. Sharing a half hour relaxing with my mother-in-law while she invariably told funny stories, or off-color jokes she’d perfected through time, has been a delight that I often looked forward to.
Now, thirty-five years later I keep the makings for Manhattans in my own cupboard. She hinted at her longstanding pleasure from her hospital bed last weekend, as both a joke and no doubt a wish. When I asked her if she wanted a drink, meaning a sip of water, she held up two fingers and whispered, “Manhattans, right now”.
So, out of respect to my friend and borrowed mother, and overall beloved lady I had the pleasure to be a family member with, I had a double last night, with two cherries and the extra ice she always informed me was there to water down the drink as you nursed it. And I had it under the stars. With a live band playing, with friends, and with a summer breeze, all of which I know she would have appreciated.
She’s had lots of visitors since her stroke a month ago, so she’s had plenty of time to let everyone know, it is time now to have one for her.
My Aunt Gretchen, whom I adored because late in life she got the idea to change her ways for the better, was forever calling and asking me questions. Once she asked me how I came to have such a good relationship with my mother-in-law because she herself had two daughters-in-law, and she was finding it challenging.
The first time I stayed at my mother-in-law-to-be’s house, young and naive as I was, I got the message loud and clear that she was in charge. I was startled as I entered my guest bedroom one day, because there on the top of my suitcase I discovered all my underwear (that is, all of my formerly dirty underwear) washed, dried, ironed, and folded! Someone, clearly the iron-loving fiend I later learned my mother-in-law to be, had gone through my bag looking for my unmentionables. She loved standing at the board so much it had apparently gotten to the point of her rooting around visitors’ bags looking for things to straighten out with an iron. That wasn’t it exactly, so I said my bit with her but I don’t think it registered.
Several years later, after my boyfriend and I were married, I confronted her more clearly on a different kind of social faux pas. She’d shared with others things I’d explicitly told her in confidence, and I didn’t appreciate it. The confrontation didn’t go that well in that she accused me of calling her a ‘blabbermouth’. When I pointed out that that was her idea things really went south. Eventually we were both crying, me sitting on the floor looking up at her, exasperated that I’d gotten into such a tangle with my mother-in-law yet defending my position that I hadn’t done anything wrong. I remember telling her I truly loved her and I wished she’d take that into consideration. In the long run she must have decided I was not someone she could control or bully and she gave up trying. We got along fine after that because we seemed to have a healthy respect for one another from that point on.
So I told all this to Aunt Gretchen in case it might help.
Maybe I should have told on myself at the time. Okay, besides the marshmallow debacle, one of my worst crimes against my mother-in-law still nags at me as she lay in hospital hanging on to life right now, and I actually consider finally owning up and apologizing.
It was Christmas and Mama served a tray of homemade cookies to my husband, my kids and myself. Afterward she had me put away the leftovers in tins she kept in her back bedroom. In an apartment you do that kind of thing, use the back bedroom as a pantry at Christmas. Unknown to her, this was a treasure trove discovery for me and I could not sleep at night knowing cookies were across the hall. I went to the cookie jar so often after that that I nearly cleaned her out. When she and I glanced in together to make a new tray a few days later, it was shocking how few cookies were left in the cans. Shocking even to me.
She never really confronted me on it but there were veiled comments that fed my guilty conscience for years. Kind of wish she’d asked or accused me at the time, because I didn’t have sense enough to just fess up and seek absolution right away. No, the secret festered and now I wonder if it isn’t a little too late to apologize.
Dang sugar addiction.
We were all relaxing on the couches and chairs in my mother-in-law’s apartment one night, after a lovely dinner out, when my pup came prancing by with something white in her mouth. Slightly alarmed, since my mother-in-law is not a fan of our dog and clearly something was amiss, I quietly followed my pup to the back and watched as she buried a giant marshmallow under a pillow on the bed in the guest bedroom.
They make giant marshmallows, you know. And Mama the Great, as she likes to be called, had bought a bag of these exciting sweets to share with our family. But the further I investigated the more distressed I became, because under every single pillow in the apartment there was stashed a giant marshmallow. And based on the gooey messes I was finding, some had been vigorously stashed. Apparently while we’d been out to dinner our pup had jumped onto the dining room table, opened the bag, pulled out a white ‘bone’ that needed burying and set off in search of a locale. By my count, she repeated this quite serious task about fifteen times. Mama said she found more after we left…
Somehow it came to be that my doggie was allowed at my mother-in-law’s apartment in the first place, despite Mama the Great’s dislike of such filthy beasts. Our dog even got to sit on the sofa! We secretly let her sleep in bed with us when we visited there, and this with my mother-in-law in the spare bedroom and us in her bed. Now that I look back at it, we had it coming that our pup would be banished, just for us daring to be so bold!
But the truth is, Penny was ousted, emphatically unwelcome at Mama the Great’s ever again, immediately after this the last straw, ever since referred to as, The Marshmallow Debacle.
Those of us coming from out of town were embarrassed to admit we’d packed funeral clothes. Things had sounded quite dire over the phone. But here was my mother-in-law laying in a hospital bed, drawn and frail looking, ten concerned family members surrounding her, and she was holding court as usual. She was flat on her back, and the left half of her body lay limp and unresponsive, and her words were slurred and her words were slowed, yet everyone present craned in to hear what she had to say.
Eighty-five year old ‘Mama the Great’, as she liked to be called once her great-grandchildren were born, would not dream of letting a massive stroke Saturday morning take her down without a fight. Even in her barely understandable sloppy whisper she quipped that maybe the scheduled August 5 family picnic might best be held bedside. And when her eldest daughter brought in her beau of a year, Mama the Great was being her usual silly self when she implied that Fred need not have come, reminding him to his face, “You’re not in the will!”.
She is the matriarch of a large Irish Catholic family that rushed to her side as soon as the news was out that she’d ‘fallen and couldn’t get up’. She is one of the beloved leaders of a hugely successful senior center in her former neighborhood in the city of Buffalo, New York. Just a month ago a crowd there watched her celebrate her birthday with the arrival of a faux policeman who claimed she’d double parked, and then for her entertainment, took off most of his clothes. The nurses who looked after her that first day in the ICU asked us quite seriously, if the stories of strippers their new charge had been mumbling about on admission, could possibly be true.
My mother-in-law is a handful of lady because she almost always says what she thinks. And loudly. So even after having been reduced physically to a barely moving body in a bed she managed to say and do things that had her grown children and their families rolling their eyes as they also filled with tears of joy, because Mama the Great was happily delighting us still with her silly banter and intrepid spirit.