Posted by: Kate | March 26, 2009

It’s not about you.

Because the overriding theme of the week seems to be my mother-in-law, I’ll return to the topic for a bit.

Along with the general, random, inappropriate comments, she also had an odd internal conflict that seemed to boil over once in a while.  Never in a loud, dramatic fashion – actually, she had a very flat affect, little to no emotional involvement except when trying too hard to sound happy and complimentary, and I really do suspect that she is heavily medicated – but still noteworthy.

It’s as though she wanted to be here for the purpose of visiting the kids, because that would be The Right Thing to Do.  She kept talking about how she wanted to just do whatever they wanted, because that’s why she was visiting.  But inside, she really wanted to follow her own routines and impulses.  And, since she’s not in the under-10 crowd and my kids aren’t senior citizens, there wasn’t much overlap between those options.

It appeared in various, subtle ways.  She wanted to sleep in late each morning, and resented it when we said the kids would be ready to go by 9:00.  We never said she needed to be ready to go at the same time, because we can always wait for her right here, no problem – but of course she had to act all conciliatory and insist that she would be here.

On Saturday, we had L’s kids for the day and so we took the whole crew up to Portland to the Children’s Museum.  It’s a nice place, well laid-out and more spacious than a lot of other children’s museums we’ve been to. Easy to get to, close to several restaurants, and just a block away from the arena where they were planning to attend a hockey game in the evening.  (I was originally going to go, but then things got crazy for L, so we gave X my ticket and I went home early with the baby.)

It was a good plan.  So Willem rolled his eyes a little, but didn’t take her seriously, when mother-in-law noticed the art museum next door and said, “Oh, I would love to go to an art museum.  I hope we have time to see it today.”  This is a woman who is chronically late for everything, and has a patented inability to accurately judge how long things will take or how the day’s schedule will include travel time and bathroom trips.  (It’s a part of her larger trend of Minimal Personal Responsibility, or maybe it’s better termed as a Lack of Self-Efficacy.  She just cannot act in a competent, adult manner.  She can’t cook, she couldn’t find her way out of a paper bag with a map and a flashlight, she can’t make plans.  Anytime she is called out on some form of inappropriate behavior, she immediately goes on the defensive about why someone else made her act that way. And yet she wants to be in charge of everything, and wants the rest of us to magically know what she wants so that she doesn’t have to commit herself to any spoken words.)

But she said it again as we were entering the building.  “I really hope we can stop by there for a while today.”  Really?  An art museum, with four children under ten, who will be tired and overstimulated after a few hours at a place aimed specifically at their interests?  It’s not about you, lady. This weekend is about the kids.  If you want to visit art museums and have quiet, mellow meals, go somewhere with your boyfriend.

Her level of boredom, at the Children’s Museum, was palpable.  She kept sighing, and checking her watch, and sighing again.  The kids didn’t notice, because, well, they’re kids and they were having a blast.  Finally she said, “You know, I noticed an L. L. Bean outlet across the street.  I really want to go see what they have.  I feel like I ought to, because I’m not in Maine very often.”  Willem was appalled, because he was happy just watching the kids play; he possesses an ability to derive pleasure out of someone else’s happiness instead of needing to always be entertained, himself.  I’m not sure she even knows such an ability exists in the world.  She repeated herself several times, and even announced that she was going to leave 20 minutes before us so that she could shop and then meet us at the restaurant, but she never followed through, and later grumbled about missing the opportunity. Let’s say it again: It’s not about you.

The final incident happened sometime between Saturday night and Sunday morning.  She decided that she needed to leave “first thing in the morning,” which for her is around 10:00, and she didn’t want to come all the way to our house on her way home. We are about two miles out of her way; her hotel was one exit down the highway. But, fine, we’ll go there and either meet for breakfast or just say good-bye in the lobby. No, no, she didn’t want that either, had to get going early. (I think she had a date with her boyfriend but she didn’t want to admit that that was why she was cutting her time short after being reprimanded by Willem for not trying hard enough.)

So she whispered good-bye to the sleeping children last night in the truck, and then I drove her to the hotel.  This morning, as we started to creep up on midmorning and still hadn’t seen her, Jacob asked, “When is Grandma coming over?” And I had to tell him that she had already left; turns out she never told them ahead of time. Both kids were upset by this, and I can’t blame them.

I reassured the kids that it had nothing to do with them, that Grandma chose to leave early without saying good-bye to them but that was her choice, not something they did.  They seemed to understand, but they were still deflated.  She may rub me the wrong way, in the same sense that a cheese grater rubs a slug the wrong way, but at least she praises the children six ways from Sunday and buys them fancy toys.  They’re willing to accept this as one form of grandparent relationship, and luckily the rest of their grandparents treat them more like people and less like prized pets.  So they missed her right away, and felt rejected when she left like that.

Willem said she told him that she also thought it would just be too hard, emotionally, to make a special trip to say good-bye, but, again, it’s not about you.

Of course it is. It’s all about her, all the time. That’s kind of the point, isn’t it?



  1. Sad, really. Of course, she doesn’t know what she’s missing out by being so self-centered. That would mean she would think of others, so that’s not going to happen. At least my MIL doesn’t even bother to pretend to be interested. The most she can do is give LouLa 30 minutes of her time every couple of months, and even that is an bit on an inconvenience.

    It must work for her, on some level, right?

  2. I don’t think I’ve told you often enough how very much I enjoy your writing.
    And sorry about your MIL, but hey, you got it out of the way for the foreseeable future, so a little good came of it…

  3. That’s such a pisser. I can’t understand her attitude. Most grandparents wouldn’t think twice about driving out of their way to see their grandchildren. And I know my parents just enjoy sitting and watching the kids play! Sadly – not only is she missing out on the fun but so are your kids – missing out on having a great relationship with their grandma.

  4. I loved reading this follow up. You really get at the nuances of her, I must say, incredibly irritating personality. Aargh!

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