Tuesday, April 5, 2011

My Mother in Law

My mother-in-law's birthday is the day after my mother's.
Jason & I have always wondered if there was something in that...

Today would be my mother-in-law's 62nd birthday.

on the back: Marsha & Karen taken in our backyard by the orange trees. August 1952
My mother-in-law is the person most different from me than I have ever know, and perhaps, for that reason alone, she was the most interesting person I have ever known.

In 1987, I was 15 years old and my mother subscribed to People magazine.
I remember reading about the twentieth anniversary of The Summer of Love.
I was entranced.
It seemed magical.
The long hair, the flowing skirts, the frayed jeans, peace signs, love-ins, be-ins, sit-ins, smoke-ins, free love, drugs, rock n roll, communes, protests, marches....going against the mores and norms of society.
Taking a stand.
It brought me out of my little suburban world.
It made me realize there was a whole other world out there
beyond my family, my home, my school, my friends...
and the conservative, traditional way of life we knew.

I would say from then on, 
I became more interested in being friends with people who were different.
I found people who challenged the norms and mores more interesting.
I found people who did what everyone else was doing, wore what everyone else was wearing, thought what everyone else was thinking, bought what everyone else was buying to be {a bit} boring...and stifling.

My friends were Dead Heads and skaters.
For a while, I dressed like a Dead Head,
but ultimately I was just more comfortable in jeans and cotton sweaters.
As fascinated as I was with living on the edge,
I myself needed more stability.

My mother-in-law grew up in Southern California.
She was 18 in 1967, the Summer of Love.
She went to free Grateful Dead shows.
She went to be-ins and love-ins and sit-ins and smoke-ins.
She lived in what she called a commune,
which was an apartment building with several apartments and all of the residents pooled their resources.
She had friends that lived in other more remote areas of California
in more typical communes.

My mother-in-law was a deeply spiritual person,
but she didn't believe in organized religion.
My mother-in-law was the first person to help someone in need.
Throughout Jason's childhood there was often someone,
who needed a place to stay,
who lived with his family for a period of time.

My mother-in-law thought marriage was just a piece of paper.
She was never married.
My mother-in-law believed in living for today.
She didn't worry about the future.
My mother-in-law believed in doing whatever felt right at the moment.

My mother-in-law did make dinner every night.
She did have wonderful holiday traditions.
She made sure every Christmas and Easter was special.
She made sure Jason and his brothers  always had new clothes for the first day of school.
And clean clothes to wear to school.
And incredible Easter baskets.
And wonderful, homemade Christmas stockings filled to the brim.

But still, Jason always says, there was this undercurrent of chaos in their lives.
There was some structure,
but there was always one foot just dangling off the edge.

{This fascinates me.}

Jason recalls walking home at twilight and seeing lights on in different homes and knowing it was warm and cozy in there in a way that his home just was not.  
Dinner would be on the table.
His mom and her boyfriend's friends might be hanging out.
Someone who needed a place to crash may be on the couch.
It was good, it was giving, but it was different.

My mother-in-law acknowledged this.
It was who she was,
the way she lived her life.
She liked it that way.

Everyone who knows Jason and I has always said that we balance each other.
Neither Jason nor I are interested in doing what everyone else is doing, thinking what everyone else is thinking, being what everyone else is being, buying what everyone else is buying...
we are interested in doing what is best and right for us.

Jason is a lot more capable of dangling that toe into risky waters,
he is better equipped to handle the storms,
he sometimes says he needs a little chaos in his life.
Yet he wants stability,
he wants that home with the light on and the cozy predictable warmth inside.
I provide that.
I provide the stability and the predictability.

I am fascinated by people who can live on the edge,
take risks,
not have one eye on the future,
not worry about the consequences,
just do what feels right 
and trust it will all work out.
(I am a planner, I need stability like other people need oxygen.)

Jason's family provides that glimpse into what life is like when you don't need stability.
It fascinates me.

My relationship with my mother-in-law was very difficult at times.

She didn't understand why we wanted to get married,
it was just a piece of paper.

When the girls were babies,
she would stop by without calling because she felt like it.
She would wake them up from naps,
because she wanted to,
"Grandma's prerogative,"
she called it.
It drove me nuts.

She wouldn't invite us over for dinner
or accept plans to come to our house.
"How do I know if I will feel like coming to your house for P's birthday?" 
she would ask.
"If I feel like it that day, I will come."
She would not commit, but sometimes show up with friends.
More people than I was prepared for.
It drove me nuts.

We would argue about it.
She would say that I needed to be more open,
ready for anything,
go with the flow.

She wouldn't invite us to her house,
but say we should just stop by,
whenever we wanted.
We did a few times
and she wasn't home.
No one was home.
We stopped doing that.
She didn't understand why.

My relationship with my mother-in-law was also very close at times.

Despite the fact that she was such a free spirit,
my mother-in-law was very proud of Jason.
She was proud when we bought a house at age 26.
She was proud of the work we did on the house.
She was proud of the advances he made in his career.
She was proud of the recognition he received in his career.

My mother-in-law loved to see the clock say 12:34 or 11:11 or 12:12.
Now, when Jason or I see that,
we say, "Hi, Marsh!"
Sometimes we see it at the oddest times.
When we need to know she is there with us.
When we are doing something fun.
When something really bad has happened.
Or something really good.
And we know she is right there with us.

I always, always admired my mother-in-law's way of making every holiday
special.  It was not like work for her.  You could tell it was just pure love.
She didn't feel harried and stressed and frazzled like so many of us do around the holidays.
(That just was not her style, not in her nature.)
And so, what she did, she did with love
and she didn't feel pressured to do any more.
There is something so calming, so peaceful and right about that.
Something that I can definitely learn from about that.

I always loved to go to my mother-in-law's house.
Her carefree, laid back nature made me feel more carefree and relaxed.
My mother-in-law's house was just laid back, carefree.
You could wander around looking at all of the things she had collected.
You could sit alone in contemplation.
You could chat.
You could just be.
It was all good.
It was all ok.
There was no pressure to be anything else than what you felt like being at the moment.

There were three times in the 13 years that I knew her
that my mother-in-law and I shared several bottles of wine.
As carefree and laid back as she was,
my mother-in-law had a sort of wall up
that came down when she had a few glasses of wine.
Those nights are among my very favorite memories 
of all time.
My mother-in-law IS my favorite person in the world to have a few too many glasses of wine with.
To this day, on the occasion when I have a really good buzz,
I think of my mother-in-law,
then Jason and I reminisce,
talk about how we miss her.

When Jason and I were first dating,
we were hanging out one day
and this song came on.
Jason said it always reminded him of his mom.

I just went to look at the lyrics
to pick one 
to end this post with.

I can't just pick one.
They are all perfect for her.

She would never say where she came from
Yesterday don't matter if it's gone
While the sun is bright
Or in the darkest night
No one knows
She comes and goes

Goodbye, ruby tuesday
Who could hang a name on you?
When you change with every new day
Still I'm gonna miss you...

Don't question why she needs to be so free
She'll tell you it's the only way to be
She just can't be chained
To a life where nothing's gained
And nothing's lost
At such a cost

There's no time to lose, I heard her say
Catch your dreams before they slip away
Dying all the time
Lose your dreams
And you will lose your mind.
Ain't life unkind?

Goodbye, ruby tuesday
Who could hang a name on you?
When you change with every new day
Still Im gonna miss you...
Ruby Tuesday ~ The Rolling Stones