Tuesday, April 6, 2010

My Mother-in-Law

When I met Jason he was 22, he had a full time job and a gorgeous apartment in Princeton.  I was 21 and in college.  He was the first guy I dated that had a full time job and an apartment.  Everyone else in my peer group still lived at home, but Jason hardly spoke to his family.  Coming from a close-knit family, I did not understand that.  I thought he was just a typical guy who didn't think about calling his mom or going to visit.  I thought - based on my observations in my own family - that my role as his girlfriend was to encourage him to call his mom and to go visit.  He did call and his mom seemed to appreciate it.  He always wanted me to go visit with him and I did.  His mom did not appreciate that very much.  One time when we went there, she told him to call his cousin as soon as he got there.  He called his cousin who told him that his mom didn't want him to bring "that girl" over anymore.  Jason wanted to leave right away, he didn't want to stay for dinner.  He started to resist calling his mom and finally he told me what his cousin had said.  I was hurt and we avoided his family for a while.

The following Christmas, Jason's mom made me a stocking, just like all of the other family members and she filled it up with candy and toiletries.  She also gave me a necklace that was hers.  It's beautiful.  I will one day give it to A.  After all of the gifts were opened that Christmas, Jason's mom showed me some of her favorite Christmas ornaments, we made ham and potato casserole together and we drank a bottle of wine together.  And we bonded.  Prior to that my mother-in-law seemed to have a wall up around me, but that day the wall came down and we got along great.  She told Jason that I "had my sh*t together" and that she liked me.

We got along okay for a while after that.  But then, as Jason and my relationship grew more serious, more and more issues came up.  Some were big things that had to do with our wedding.  Others were smaller things that had to do with different world views, different lifestyles and different ways of looking at things.  I am a planner.  I invite people over.  I like to know who is coming to my kids' birthday parties a few days in advance.  I don't like people dropping by unannounced.  I am close with my family, I see them often, but I always made sure that my mother-in-law knew there was room for her too, that we wanted to include her as well.  My mother-in-law wasn't a planner and she didn't like to commit to things; she liked to stop by without calling first and she didn't understand or appreciate how close I was with my family.  Likewise, there were things that I didn't understand about her.

Our relationship was fraught with tension and difficulty.  I was always trying to get her involved in our lives.  I was trying to get her to come over, get her to come to the kids parties and school performances.  I tried to get her to open up to me, to get her to talk the way that I was used to other women talking.  I spent a lot of time trying to get her to accept me.  A lot of time.  In fact, those who knew me then will probably say it was an obsession.  I really, REALLY wanted my mother-in-law to like me.

I liked her.  She was very different from me, but I liked her a lot.  My mother-in-law was very relaxed, and laid back and carefree.  I always thought I was lucky that my mother-in-law didn't care if my house was neat; she was never going to get out the white glove.  Being with my mother-in-law was fun and relaxing, because she was fun and relaxing.  She didn't put on airs or try to be anything except for who she was.  She was down to earth and humble.  She was not in the least materialistic.  I, on the other hand, fuss and stress over everything.  

I never thought that my mother-in-law liked me.  Oh, we'd shared bottles of wine and her guard would come down and she would open up and really talk to me, the kind of conversation that I am used to having with other women like my mom and my friends and my co-workers.  She would say that she liked me, she would say that she thought I was good for Jason and that I was an excellent mom.  

But I didn't know that she liked me until the last time I saw her.

My mother-in-law was diagnosed with lung cancer in June of 2005.  She fought the good fight for 18 months.  Then, in October of 2006, she was hospitalized with blood clots in her leg.  We visited her in the hospital.  Then, she had a stroke and was basically paralyzed.  

When we went to see her that day, Jason went to her bedside and I hung back, giving them their time and space.  After a while, Jason called me over.  When Marsha saw me, she dropped his hand and grabbed mine with a flourish, she looked deep into my eyes and squeezed my hand tight.  I saw such raw emotion in her eyes, something I had never before seen.  And I felt that she liked me.  I felt that she was telling me to take care of her son.  I felt that she loved and accepted me.

I miss her so much.  So much more than I ever thought that I would.  I miss her smile and her laugh.  I miss calling her to talk.  I miss her advice.  I miss sharing holidays with her.  I miss baking Christmas cookies with her.  I miss the possibility of drinking another bottle of wine with her (she is one of my favorite people to drink a bottle of wine with!).  I miss trying to get her to be more involved.

This is a photo of my mother-in-law and I from Thanksgiving 2005.
She had just finished chemo and wanted to have a good time.
We drank two or three bottles of wine that day and talked until the early morning hours.
It remains one of my favorite memories of my mother-in-law.

Today would be her 61st Birthday.