Posted by: Kate | July 28, 2008

Now Entering Grudgeville

Somehow, my mother knew when my son’s birthday party would be.  She knew with enough earning to be able to rearrange her work schedule, reserve a hotel room, fill up the gas tank, and make the drive out.  She came out and had a nice time, and even found a way to sneak in some beach time before going home.

Somehow, my mother also knew when my husband was leaving on his Mancation.  She arranged to bring my daughter home with her for the week prior, but has worked with both of my sisters to make plans that allow them to be back here in time to stay with my kids while I’m at work.  She wished him safe travels, and I’m sure that she’ll call beforehand.

It’s a magical thing, really, her ability to find these things out.  It requires a precise combination of technology, linguistics, and interpersonal communication skills… also known as making a phone call.  Can you imagine?

My mother-in-law, on the other hand, is not apparently invested with such a complex set of skills.  She is certainly able to make phone calls when it benefits her, but apparently calling to find out the dates of the boy’s birthday party or her son’s vacation are not personally beneficial.  She might call on Jacob’s actual birthday – she has another day for that – but she won’t be chatting vapidly with me when it happens.  I’ll make sure of it.

She favors my daughter.  I’ve watched it grow since Jacob was born; at first it was a vague sympathy for me at my misfortune, having birthed a boy-child, because she always wanted a girl.  This is a woman who raised two sons, albeit badly and without bothering to invest them with an abundance of self-respect or respect for the opposite gender.  She always wanted a girl, and when it became clear that she wasn’t going to get one, she spent some time dressing her younger son up in girls’ clothing.  Might as well consciously set a kid up for a few dozen complexes when he’s older, no reason for it to be a surprise.

So she showers Emily with gifts and attention, gives her money at odd moments, tries to convince her to accept trinkets or treats without telling Mom.  Thus far, I don’t think Emily has actually kept any of those secrets, but she’s reaching an age where secrecy is going to be as natural to her as overdramatics and door-slamming.  It’s not a comfortable prospect, wondering what sorts of secrets her grandmother, who already dislikes me, will ask her to keep.

It’s not likely to be a big issue, the way things have been going lately.   Because she blatantly unfavors Jacob.  Last year, she drove out here – 19 hours round-trip for an overnight visit – to attend Emily’s birthday party, and this year she invited herself to my mother’s, a 6-hour round-trip that required her to delay a weekend away with her secret new boyfriend.  She didn’t attend Jacob’s birthday party either year; last year she cancelled at the last minute for some vague health-related reason, and this year she never bothered to find out when it was, despite us telling her as far back as April that it would be held on the 26th of July.  She spends quite a bit more money on Emily at Christmas, something that wouldn’t matter to me as much if it was anyone else, but this is a woman who has taken last-minute runs to the grocery store to buy Tic-Tacs just to make sure her sons’ gifts were equivalent down to the dollar.  She makes a statement with how much she spents for each person, and has told us so.  The message is pretty clear.

She hasn’t called, and it’s frustrating and annoying.  I’m already more irritated with her than the normal, baseline level of irritation, because I sent out an email to friends and family asking that they send a card or package to Emily at camp.  I included a capitalized, italicized line to the effect of, “If you do send a package, please do not send cash or candy, per camp regulations.  They make no mention of bomb-making materials, so presumably those are acceptable to send.”  She sent both cash and candy.  Of course she did.

So I was already torqued by that, and now she has missed Jacob’s birthday party.  I understand, sometimes people pick favorites, and I can’t impact that.  But you don’t show it.  Not so blatantly.  My panties are well on their way to bunched, and this time I’m prepared to hold a grudge.

Not that she’ll know, since she doesn’t call or check in.  But I’ll know.



  1. I hate your mother in law. I don’t even have any advice, because you already know there’s a limit to what you can do.
    I have a mother in law whose manipulation is much more refined. She grew up in an abusive alcoholic home that resulted in her father comitting suicide because he thought he had beaten her mother to death. She has one mood- Happy. The “secrets” are a definite, real, fear for me. Not now, but in the future. She tries to establish “secrets” to make herself feel special and to manipulate. I think it continues to surprise her that I am my kids’ mom, and not her. OH, I could go on and on, but this is your blog, not mine. Be strong.

  2. My ex’s mom favored the ex’s son over the daughter – some old-fashioned Greek thing that boys are more precious than girls. It was really horrible to watch, especially since the girl is really smart and knew that grandma didn’t love her as much as her brother.

    Watch out for the secrets. We have already had problems with Shane’s dad (with whom we do not have any contact) sharing secrets with BB. I suspect it will just get worse as he gets older.

  3. Yes yes and yes.

    The more you can drag the whole dynamic into the open — hard to know how to do it with kids — the less power she’ll have over Emily and her keeping secrets. It’s not so much fun to keep secrets from mom and dad when they’ve always said, “Oh, yes, Grandma X favors you because she always wanted a girl. Isn’t it sad how she tries to show it by giving you more and asking you to keep secrets?”

    But you know much better than I how to handle this. It’s a lifelong practice, though. Sad.

  4. Wow. This woman never ceases to amaze me. But then, neither does your ability to deal with her with such an incredible level of maturity.

  5. […] despite the phone call and balloons of Monday, she never did end up actually speaking to Jacob on his birthday.  She […]

  6. I found you in a round-about sort of way through MadMad.

    Your mother-in-law makes mine, who is a piece of work, look like a saint. I’m still skipping her birthday party tomorrow, though.

  7. […] haven’t heard a thing from her since last month’s not-calling and such.  This is fine with me.  Every day that slips by makes it that much less likely that she […]

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