Posted by: Kate | July 30, 2008

The Train Has Left the Station

I’m continuing my spate of adorable titular analogies in the saga of my mother-in-law, though I have to admit that the cuteness of such a contrivance is starting to wear thin.  (Freud might say that by comparing my mother-in-law experiences with a map, I am wishing for her – or myself – to take a long journey.  Freud might be right.  I hate it when he’s right.)

Anyway, despite the phone call and balloons of Monday, she never did end up actually speaking to Jacob on his birthday.  She called twice, once during lunchtime and again at dinner time, both times leaving petulant messages about how we weren’t home for her call, and she would call back later.  I suspect the timing of the calls is in itself a passive-aggressive maneuver, because she has been at my home before to witness the fact that I don’t answer the phone during meals.  We screen calls via the answering machine, so if you were to call and leave a frantic message as the boa constrictor nibbles its way up to your knees, I’d catch it and be on the phone with you by mid-thigh at the latest, but I refuse to interrupt my time with the people actually in front of me to talk to someone I can’t see.  At one point in time, she knew this, but it has been a while since she’s been at our house for a meal; I can’t be certain whether her calling at those times is a deliberate attempt to get my knickers in a twist or just a happy accident.

Those poor knickers were further torqued by her complete inability to figure out the purpose of an answering machine.  See, the way it works is, you call, once, and leave a message, and then we call you back.  Not, you call and call and call and leave a message every time that informs us that you will keep calling until you find us, getting increasingly upset that we’re not sitting home waiting for your dialing finger to do its thing.  This is a long-standing problem of hers, and if I continue to roll my eyes about it I’ll strain something.

So she left her messages, and at a quiet moment in the evening – at least, as quiet as it gets with conscious children in the house – we tried returning the call.  And she wasn’t home.  Nor did she call back again that evening.  I’m not especially upset by this.

I am a bit upset by the fact that she spent well upwards of $100 on Emily’s birthday gifts, not to mention postponing a weekend trip with her secret-secret-boyfriend to attend her party, and she sent balloons and a ceramic mug to Jacob without any effort to infest his celebration.  The favoritism, it burns. 

But I’m only a bit upset by it, and in the bigger picture it’s better that she be so [enter descriptive phrase here].  It creeps me out when she behaves well or treats us nicely, because it feels fake and makes me wonder what she wants. 

Besides, it created a very fun game for Willem and me.  The other night, before bed, we spontaneously launched into a list of all of the grievances, big and small, that we had against her since we’ve been together.  I wish I’d written them down, because an hour and a half later, we were still adding to the list.  Many of them are here, but we came up with lots more.  It still makes me sad for him, but it was kind of hilarious, too. 

Our current favorite is a tidbit that I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned here.  It’s really a masterstroke of passive aggression, hard to spot because it’s an absence, rather than an action.  In her house, there are several dozen photographs.  On the walls, in albums, and covering a long table in her entryway.  There are so many framed photos on that table that you have to pick them up and move them to be able to see them all.  And not one picture, anywhere in the house, contains me. 

Not one.  No wedding photos, none of the annual family portraits that we dutifully send out to family every year.  None.

And they’re not cut out or folded to keep me out; she just doesn’t display those ones.  I’m not sure if she just throws them right in the garbage or performs a ritualistic balefire during the full moon, but in either case, she has succeeded in ridding her home of my malevolent visage.

I’m sure that, sometime in the next few days, she’ll call and reach us when we’re actually home.  We all need little things to look forward to.


  1. are you share we don’t have the same MIL? I could swear they are the same evil person.

  2. I think Evil breaks itself into pieces and infects MIL’s on a regular basis.

    Now that you mention it, the ONLY picture of me in MIL’s house is my wedding picture, and of course its displayed but I had to hear about the shadow in the back ground and my train is cut off from the photos etc.

    Breath in, breath out. And learn some passive aggressive behaviours yourself, they’ll come in handy, I promise!

  3. For her birthday, and every one thereafter, send her a nice, 8 X 10, framed photograph of your family – with you in it 😉 or just one of you smiling contentedly.
    Like clock work. Every year. Till she says uncle.

  4. She’s just wicked insane. Seriously.

  5. I love ‘Paul is a Hermit’ suggestion…that is the most perfectly deserved gift!! 🙂 lol

  6. Oh HELL YES! Do what Paul is a Hermit suggests.

    If you won’t do it for yourself, or for me, do it for the good of all mankind. She has earned it, I think.

  7. Or copies of the same identical complete-family photo all year: mother’s day, grandparent’s day, her birthday, the holidays…


    Yeah, the phone is such a great P-A tool. e.g., my MIL declines to leave messages, and then complains BITTERLY if we don’t call her back — on the grounds that “You have that thing that tells you I called.” THREE TIMES I have explained to her that Caller ID doesn’t work that way. Or, more precisely, *I* don’t.

  8. blah. balloons. blah. A mug? for a four year old? What a crazy hag. My mil leaves multiple long-winded messages of urgency, urgent only to her. I don’t respond because I usually hate answering the phone anyway, and because when she is not actually HERE, I don’t want to have a pointless conversation with her on the phone. I also have the fear that she’ll give me one of her lists of things I have to get done.

  9. I’m totally with Paul but I’d add balloons!
    I’m lucky . .wonderful mother in law!

  10. I think your MIL and my SIL must know one another. Not one shot of me w/kids or spouse any where. Sheesh, like I give a damn. Now that I am not going to SB, guess who is looking forward to spouse’s and BBB’s visit? Shocking, ain’t it? BPB refuses to go again because of his feeling about his aunt and her comments about me(subtle but definable to a smart child).

    Be glad the woman doesn’t live next door. YEAH!

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