The mother-in-law weekend is over.
It ended Saturday around 10:00p, which is at least twelve hours earlier than predicted. This came as a not-unpleasant surprise, and my only regret is that she didn’t leave because of anything I did. If that were the case, I’d be able to write it down and use it again on future visits.
No, my mother-in-law has a new boyfriend, and she wanted to get home to see him tonight. This is part of the whole new life she has constructed for herself: new boyfriend, new horse (she rides dressage, which apparently explains a lot about her, for those in the know), new money, with all of her focus on herself and her own life. Which, truly, is fine with me. It’s a reasonable and legitimate choice to make, and she, very clearly, has made it. Unfortunately, I know of an untold number of people who have chosen both to pursue their own lives and to still find time to include their grandchildren and get to know them, at least on an annual basis. This woman has created an either/or situation for herself, and our family has taken the less-desirable second place to her. The last time she visited was in April 2007, so we get biannual status.
I am thrilled about this. Sad and hurt for Willem, because he deserves better. Everybody deserves a mother that thinks of them with care… Willem’s mother doesn’t use care, and it’s obvious she doesn’t use thought, either. I wish, for his sake, that he had a mother that was at least meeting some minimal standards of affection and interest, or, failing that, appropriate behavior and politeness. But for myself, I’m thrilled that she has emphasized other areas of her life, because she brings so much unhappiness into our house when she visits, and as the kids get older and more aware they’re only going to be more confused and upset by her. A visit every other year sounds fine as a maximum.
I doubt we’ll be so lucky, because she has such a keen gift for misunderstanding and misinterpreting. As I dropped her off last night, she made a comment about what a fantastic weekend it was, how she had a really great time and she was so grateful. It would have been a nice sentiment, except it was obviously canned and rehearsed. She had said the same thing to me a few hours earlier, verbatim, when she thought we were saying good-bye for the last time.
But before she arrived, Willem and I – not without strife and angst of our own – came up with a clear plan for the weekend, so there wasn’t room for that horrible “I don’t care, we can do whatever you want, let’s play it by ear” conversation that ends up killing an hour of each day and frustrating everyone. We also agreed that we would use all reasonable efforts to avoid conflict in front of the kids, and that we wouldn’t leave her alone with the children for any length of time, because often that ends up with her saying something that they repeat back to us and then she denies. Good times.
We worked hard this weekend. We had lots of talks with the kids, not scary-intense ones, just calm, honest talks about how it was going to be a busy and confusing couple of days and they could take time to themselves whenever they needed it. And they did great, really. They were really well-behaved and polite, and the few slips that they had were always easily redirected instead of snowballing into a Big Thing. They’re getting lunch out at McDonald’s today as a reward – their choice, not mine – and heaps of praise and appreciation. And Willem and I were a finely-oiled machine (this despite my recovering from general anesthesia on Thursday – he did most all of the oiling and heavy lifting Thursday and Friday), guiding conversations away from sticky areas, ignoring or squelching her inappropriate questions (she wants, reeeeeeaaalllllyyy badly, to talk about money – Willem’s money – and it takes some serous vigilance to keep her from steering the conversation there and keeping it there), and just juggling the extra work it takes to parent kids who are confused by the grown-ups around them and organize a weekend with company here and so on.
Frankly, I’m proud of us all.
A big reason that there were no confrontations or conversations that went deeper than cocktail-party chatter is that she stayed in a hotel instead of in our house. This was partly our choice; we’ve closed off the second half of the house, where the spare bedroom is, so that we’re not heating as much space this year. But it only takes about a day after the heat vents are opened to bring those rooms up to normal temperatures; if anyone else wants a place to stay, we’ll make it happen, and comfortably. It was more her choice; in the past ten years, I can count on one hand the number of times she has stayed in our house. She just prefers the comfort and convenience – and perfection and privacy – of a hotel. This meant that she left immediately after the kids were in bed at night, arrived here after they were awake and dressed in the morning, and left for about two hours in the afternoon while they had quiet time. We didn’t have any solo, grown-up time with her. No chance to get into child-unfriendly topics or open possible conflict. Again, fine by me. With most people, I’m very much about openness and honesty, even if it risks disagreement, but with this woman, it’s all about self-preservation and careful boundaries.
So, she thinks the weekend went great, because she looked at the surface and saw a smooth, happy family weekend. We think it was a depressing and disappointing experience that only reinforced things we already knew about her. I’m sure that she’ll be calling sometime within the year to ask for another visit, and I’ll be very comfortable putting her off.
You were hoping for the stories, weren’t you? I know. But I’m already pushing a thousand words, and I felt more of a need to outline the bigger picture first, so that’s Sunday’s post. Stay tuned for tomorrow – she did and said some things that were just typically obnoxious, and there was one particular incident that was horrifying. Egregious, really.