Thursday, July 3, 2014

Oh, Mother-in-law(s)

Oh mother-in-law, sweet mother-in-law,
Forgive me for being so petty.
My baby son is 3 hours old
And I hate his wife already.

Author unknown; I read that in a women's magazine 100 years ago & thought it was funny, but I was young & had no experience. Thought of it just now because I've been having some fun with poetry - sublime & sappy - in my last posts. I am happy to say it is NOT the case with me & my oldest son's wife (but is she really good enough for him?) & certainly was not the case with my own mothers-in-law. Mea culpa - I've had 3. Two now deceased & I hardly ever see the first one because she lives in Tucson & we don't have a lot in common anyway.
     Mothers-in-law are very important when you move abroad & marry a native. Families-in-law generally, but especially mum. One of my friends married a single mother's only son, won the ongoing struggle after many years but it sounded exhausting. My first Danish mother-in-law was a wonder of sweetness & support, even though I often felt like Motor Mouse bursting into Bambi's quiet clearing; there was such a difference between my American decibel level & the Jutland reserve. We stayed friends long after her son & I called it quits & found better replacements. I loved my next, longest lasting mother-in-law dearly, but I was glad she wasn't my mother. (They did have a fair amount in common.) She was interesting, inspiring even, entertaining for sure, noisy, excellent company for adults. When I made the move to Denmark I also made the entirely bratty statement that now I was a suitable distance from my mother, but I wised up & got more tolerant when I became a mother myself. That does tend to happen, not? You say - if you're like me - "I'm sure not going to ........... (fill in the blank with whatever mom did that drove you right around the bend) .......... when I have kids!" Right. I didn't either - I just did other original stuff that was equally irritating. At least I said I'm sorry.
      My mother-in-law never ever said she was sorry. She DID often say outrageous things straight out, things that could really hurt, but somehow she always got away with it. Somehow it never seemed malicious; it was just the way she saw things. It was of course very funny when it was aimed at somebody else or at herself, not so much when it came straight at me or mine - especially my husband, her son, who I always defended when she criticized him because he seldom gave her any sass, conditioned as he was from childhood & a mild nature generally.

      But ... I do the very same thing & get away with it too - time & again.  There's a trick to that but I can't really say what it is because I/we aren't/weren't tricky. If we were it wouldn't work. We're not 'cute' either, but must be somehow appealing, not often negative & also appreciative of the good stuff in others. We dare say nice things straight out too. Maybe that's the secret. Older & wiser, sure, but like mother-in-law I seem doomed to be "spontaneous" until I gasp my last - silently, I hope. What if I blat out some ancient secret that's best kept secret? (Do I even have one?) A lot of people do that. It makes for interesting books & movies, but has to be major trauma for whoever hears it. Then they can't apologize because they're dead. It's important to apologize when you really step in it. I didn't apologize for the worst thing I've ever said, but wish I had. That arrow landed smack in my mother-in-law's heart. All wide-eyed & only the tiniest trace snarky, I asked her what possessed exactly her to have 6 children (with 2 men). I really was curious; couldn't figure it out at all. It's the only time I ever saw her at a loss for words. She looked everywhere but at me & then answered, "Uhhh, everyone else was having children, & it went quite all right". (Alle andre fik børn, og det gik da meget godt.)  I only realized later what a rotten thing that was to say, but she forgave me before I realized I needed forgiving. She was generous & we loved each other best. She also loved me for loving her big gangly son. Two scrappy bats joined the same belfry. And then, after she died, my husband & his sister figured out what possessed her & it was not mother love - but that's another story.