Posted by: Kate | April 15, 2008


We saw my mother-in-law this weekend, for the first time in a full year.  Well, Willem and the kids saw her last July for a visit, but I haven’t seen her since Emily’s last birthday.  I daren’t hope for another year’s reprieve, but the precedent has been set…

The time with her was both more and less irritating than I expected.  Since I’m just a bastion of optimism and cheer, let’s focus on the less-stressful side first: she showed up on time, avoided everyone in my family and friends as much as socially possible in my mother’s not-overlarge house, and left after three hours.  She didn’t make any egregious statements to anyone about Willem’s horrible choice in life partner or financial status. 

It’s not much, but we take what we can get.

The more-stressful stuff started in the attempts to plan the party in the first place.  We hadn’t been in contact with her in several weeks, because Willem has been crazy-busy with school and I just don’t like her, and she never calls us (note: this is not a complaint).  So, absolutely, the argument could be made – and was – that he should have called her sooner to let her know about the party.  But he didn’t call her before Tuesday, because it took that long to sort through all of the ambivalence (weighing “don’t want to see her” with “grandkid’s birthday” with “effort goes both ways” with “taking the high road” takes a while) and decide that inviting her was righter than not inviting her.  She initially responded with, “Oh, no, I have plans for the weekend, guilt-guilt-guilt,” which solved everyone’s problem: he’d done the right thing, she couldn’t go.  But then she waffled, particularly when her alternate plan of flying out just to spend a day with Emily in the middle of the week was declined, and eventually decided that she would try to change her plans and would get back to us later that night.

Three nights later, we still hadn’t heard back, and so Willem called her from the road.  She didn’t take down my cell phone number, and he has lost his phone altogether, so she ended up calling my mother because she assumed that Willem’s phone going directly to voice mail was a clear sign of the apocalypse.  You know, moon turns blood red, locusts rain from the skies, technology works as intended… it’s scary stuff.  Anyway, she called my mother to report that she would be there for the party.  Fine, at least we knew before she walked in the door.

Once there, she was dressed in an age-inappropriate manner, intended to show how much weight she has lost – and don’t get me wrong, she has lost a lot of weight and looks good… but I never thought she looked bad when she was heavier – but it was a shirt I’d have considered too young for me.  Not too revealing, just young.  But otherwise, again, no large faux pas moments, thanks mainly to her self-imposed isolation.  She’s the only person I know who can make a conversation with my kids’ godparents an awkward and stilted experience. 

But she sat and chatted with Willem, and gossiped, and referred repeatedly to her weekend plans.  “I’m going up to Toronto with friends,” she said at first.  Then, later, “…with a friend.”  Later, “…he, um, they will be there.”

Finally, after several more veiled hints and innuendos, Willem got frustrated and asked, “Are we going to play the pronoun game all night, or are you just going to tell me who you’re going with?”  She admitted that she was going with a man; in fact, that she has a boyfriend.  It took several more direct questions before she was willing to admit his name out loud, as though saying it would make Beetlejuice appear in all his snake-like glory.  And even after that, she returned back to the pronoun game again, later, as though Willem might have lost all of his short-term memory on the drive down.

It came out, a bit later, that Willem’s brother, the 30-going-on-13-year-old who has been permanently emotionally scarred by both of his parents’ antics, is Not Coping Well with the idea of his mother having a boyfriend.  Ignore the fact that my father-in-law died almost two years ago, and that my in-laws had been living separately for over ten years before then.  Ignore the fact that we’re all adults and what my mother-in-law chooses to do with herself and her time is her business.  Ignore the fact that she’s lonely and having a partner might actually be a good thing, in terms of overall happiness and fulfillment.  A. is upset, and therefore she has to assume that Willem will be at least that upset, likely involving tantrums and sulking and avoidance.  Because Willem is just like that.

Frustrating.  Especially because that same night, after the party, we went out to dinner with a crowd that included my mother and her new boyfriend.  Who were openly – but not grossly – affectionate, and seem to make each other happy.  In an honest and aboveboard way, can you imagine?

Sigh.  So, it’s all just more of the same, really.  My mother-in-law lives a life full of repression and avoidance, which leads directly to frustration when she’s not understood and loneliness because the emotional connections just aren’t there.  I find it all incredibly sad. 

At one point, while stressing over his mother’s impending arrival, I mentioned to Willem that A&J, the aforementioned godparents, were coming.  He immediately brightened and said, “Oh, that will be good to see them.”  It makes me sad that he doesn’t have that same knee-jerk reaction to his mother.  He deserves better.  And so, truthfully, does she. 

But she has refused to let it become a solid, grown-up relationship, and I have serious doubts that it ever will become so.




  1. Nope, people get the relationships they make. Not always the ones they deserve, and wouldn’t it be nice if everyone got the benefit of every doubt and could overcome the obstacles and blocks set in their way, but it just doesn’t happen like that, alas.

    I’m glad some things went well. Were you able to mention to her that you were happy for her new pronouned status?

  2. You need to get together with my best friend, V – you could swap horror stories of MIL’s. I don’t know who has it worse. I really lucked out in that department!

  3. Well, look at it this way, at least she didn’t try and steal the limelight of the party, by regaling everyone with stories of her new found sexual experience…..

    ALA my MIL :vomit:

  4. Can I send my MIL for a visit (permanently?) You are so much nicer about it-I can’t stand my MIL and I don’t want the chance to try AGAIN. Hubby here just gives her time because”she gave me life and that’s what I at least OWE her for.” (eyeroll) I can’t imagine that would be the only thing thankful for in a mother child relationship but it is in their case and it is odd, uncomfortable for all of us. She lives 2 miles down the road and we see her no more than 4 times a year.

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