Posted by: Kate | April 23, 2007

Spewing Forth Toxicity

Let’s face it, I’m pretty smart. I can think things through, and I can organize my thoughts, and express myself with a halfway decent chance of being understood.


So, then, you’ll understand why it feels so strange to me that I just can’t find the right words to express my horror and dirty-feeling and resignation after a weekend with my mother-in-law. She’s not Joan Crawford; there were no wire coat hangers or even raised voices. Her damage happens in more insiduous ways; if she was a government test facility, she could plausibly deny that her toxicity even exists because it takes such a long time after exposure to manifest. In the moment, there’s a vague feeling of nausea and ickiness, but it takes some time to fully comprehend her unique skills.

I don’t like her. I did, or tried to, once upon a time, on the theory that you’re supposed to like your mother-in-law. But aside from her overtly inappropriate displays in the past, I also just plain don’t like her. She leaps at every possible chance to be hurtfully sarcastic, and is all the more gleeful if she can make you feel stupid in the process. So, if you have the audacity to stutter, or misspeak, or pause just a millisecond too long to find the right word, she’ll interrupt, correct, and smirk. And she’s wildly, frantically defensive; nothing is ever her fault, and she is always, always the victim.

Which, honestly, is sad and pathetic, and I do have some pity for her. It can’t be comfortable or fun to lug around that level of anger and learned helplessness and resentment on a daily basis. But pity is not the same as like, and it’s nice to be able to dislike her because she certainly does not like me.

So, it was a long weekend, and I feel dirty and abused, and I just need to toss out some of her bon mots so that I can get them out of my system and move on. Without further ado…

  • To my coworker, Kerri, who somehow has managed to stay in this job for several years and still has a sense of humor and therefore gives me hope for myself, “No one gives me birthday cake anymore. The last time I got a birthday cake was over five years ago, and I was so shocked when it happened that I got choked up.”
    Willem was right there and was able to remind her, “Wait, we gave you a big surprise party and cake and a $500 gift certificate to an airline in 2005, so that you could come visit the kids. You went to Paris instead.”
    “Oh, no,” she replied. “I went to Ireland that time.”
  • Again to Kerri, who trains horses, making her my dressage-riding mother-in-law’s favorite person ever, “Next time I buy a horse, I’ll be able to spend as much as I want, because my sons have trust funds now.” Okay, that’s just crass.
  • To my friend N., “Well, if Willem hadn’t married Kate, he wouldn’t be living like a pauper.” Indeed. What kind of an idiot was he, getting married and having two gorgeous children? Seriously.
  • No words for this one. After some soul-searching and a decision that raising the topic doesn’t imply a promise, I brought out a magazine of knitting patterns to show her, with the statement, “I’d like to get an idea of what types of styles you like, just to know and maybe someday be able to make something.” She flipped through about three pages, tossed the magazine on the table, sat back with her arms and legs crossed, and never acknowledged it at all. Seems to me like the offer for a handmade, customized knitted item might be appealing, but apparently not. Since it would be knitted by the hands of Satan Kate.

And then there was the big huge bombshell that Willem dropped on her head yesterday morning. After much agonizing and thought and planning, he decided he wanted to tell her that he’s been in touch with his birth mother, and that it’s going pretty well. He hadn’t told her before now, both because it was too new to really be able to get his own head around it and because it was so close to my father-in-law’s death and she was so over-the-top with her reactions. But he felt like it was the right thing to do, to tell her before she found out some other way, and we’re not sure (amen!) when we’ll next see her.

So he told her. And she reacted just as selfishly and guilt-intensively and inappropriately as one might expect. Her knee-jerk reaction was to change the subject to how awful Willem’s childhood was, emotionally, but how it wasn’t her fault because she was “barely keeping my head above water then.” This is not a woman with any long-term history of depression; and you know what? Being a parent removes your right to wallow in your own misery, at least while your kids are young. If you truly felt that they were being mistreated by their father, then you leave. End of discussion.

From there, she went on the attack toward Willem about, “You had pericarditis a few years ago. Are you getting regular EKGs now? Because you can have valve damage years later. Why aren’t you getting better health care? You know I worry about you.” The woman must have some serious arm strength, to be able to trowel on the guilt like that.

Then she found a way to insist that Willem needs to be more accommodating and understanding about his brother, who has never once showed the slightest interest in having any sort of an adult relationship with Willem or any of us. “He has a documented, diagnosed learning disability and expressive disability, you have to cut him some slack.” Cutting him some slack is one thing; holding the responsibility for the entire relationship is something else altogether. He’s an adult and he’s not disabled; he has a job and a home and is his own guardian. She can defend him all she wants, but he’s not unable to have a simple social chat. He’s unwilling.

She did eventually circle back to the topic at hand, and cried, and talked about how scary it all was, and got angry, and proclaimed, “Well, I’m your mom and those are my grandkids.” She told Willem that since his birth mother didn’t provide him with any new information about possible genetic disorders or health issues, then he didn’t need to have searched for her in the first place. She argued with him about his ethnic heritage, to the point where he opened his computer to pull up that email from his birth mother to read it from the source. Then she went off on a fresh new guilt trip about how he emails with his birth mother but he doesn’t email with her, and now he has to email her because she knows he emails other people.

It’s all just so pathetic and competitive and insecure, I really can’t find the right words.

Then she spent the rest of the day sulking on the couch, barely speaking except to the kids.


She left this morning, after bogging down our Monday-morning routine as much as possible, and it will be at least a few months before we deal with her, face-to-face, again. I should be done banging my head on the wall by then.


  1. At least she leaves. Oh god imagine if you had that kind of venom living next door.

  2. Toxicity is seeping out of my monitor! Ick!

    My MIL has a few of those traits. I practiced for years just letting the bombs fall around me while muttering “don’t get sucked in, don’t get sucked in.”

    Now I just stay silent, ignore nearly everything (I refuse to let her poison my life) and marvel at her creative ego in keeping the turmoil around her going, going, going.

    She’s turning 90 next year. How many years do you figure yours has to go? aaggghhhh

  3. I was going to say what Maggie said. But that kind of poison has a way of staying around even after the snake is gone.

  4. Oh my. Is it even remotely possible that we share a mother-in-law. Because reading this post was like reading the one I WOULD write about my MIL if I knew for CERTAIN that she didn’t read my blog! But I think she does.
    Luckily she lives 1000 miles away. We’ll see her for all of 36 hours on our next trip to Florida. 36 hours with MIL, then 15 days at Walt Disney World. I’ll need all that pixie dust to drown my anger and disgust.
    UGH. I empathize with you girl.
    (btw, knitting needles are not just for knitting….not that I’m suggesting you stab her with them!) 😉

  5. Poor thing, just close your eyes and think of Paris.

  6. Hugs Kate! Sounds like a long and trying weekend! I have been thinking about you and missing you!

  7. Wow. Holy MIL from hell!

  8. Well, you seemed to handle her very well when people were around. 😀 Seriously, the woman should cut a pauper some slack!

  9. Holy shit! Poor Willem, poor you, poor grandkids…and I don’t mean in a monetary fashion, either. My MIL sucks sometimes, but not like that. Hope you have a much better week than the weekend that prefaced it.

  10. Thank you for reminding me that my mother-in-law is actually very nice and wonderful. I need that every once in a while. I’m sorry you got stuck with a bitch.

  11. oy, I ws thinking about you this weekend and hoping things wouldn’t be too bad. you know, after meeting her myself you would think I’d know better… Sorry that she is that way with you guys. Always amazing how such a good human being can come out of such a crappy early life.

  12. I have a MIL like that. I actually lived with her for the first two years of my relationship with her son. What a fucking nightmare that was! Anymore nowadays, I tend to discourage anyone from asking her to visit us, and I tell the family to discourage any suggestion she makes of the same.
    The husband takes the girls to go see her, and I stay far, far away. I don’t need that kind of bullshit in my life.

  13. :sigh: I am sending you detox vibes.

    She has no idea what she is missing with you, your family and your knitting skills.

  14. You have described my stepmother to a T. Took me a decade to detox from her. Sorry you have to deal with this shit.

    Hope you’re feeling better. We had a round of strep last week. Luckilly it didn’t hit too hard.

  15. I’m not sure how some women get so screwed up about their children. They’re so attached to them, so DESPERATE to have their children need them AND ONLY THEM that as soon as their precious little baby has someone else to make a life with, someone else to need, they freak out. She resents you because she think you’ve taken her place. It’s a screwed up way to think, but… man. I’m just sorry that you’re in the middle of it. Hopefully hubby will one day step up and take her to task for the way she treats you… for the way she treats you both!

  16. […] she brings gifts for everyone except me.  She has told my friends that by marrying me, Willem has lowered his quality of living.  She has explicitly demonstrated her belief that I am inferior to him.  She told us both that I […]

  17. […] includes literally scrounging through the couch cushions for lunch money, so – no matter what certain fan club members might say – we’re not […]

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