Posted by: Kate | July 1, 2011

Unexpected Guests

I’ve had a whole lot of unexpected visitors, just lately. Please excuse the mess; if I had known you were coming, I’d at least have kicked some of the bigger piles of paperwork and knitting projects into the corner and spread out the baby’s toys a little more, so that I could look busy and a bit flustered as I scampered around to pick them up.

(Look at that: another one of those bizarre little quirks in the Mind of Kate. Somehow, if I knew you were coming to visit, then I don’t devote a moment’s concern to the typical clutter and mayhem of a houseful of people… but an unexpected caller somehow makes me feel as though I’m failing a test of some sort. I can hear the announcer, whispering just off-camera to a rapt audience: “Ohh, too bad… her living room floor is in such disarray that she is unable to even pretend she was in the middle of cleaning it. And just look at that pile of half-finished projects in the corner! And do I spy one or two not-yet-started ones, as well? I hope she’s able to pull off an adequately disconcerted-but-potentially-competent attitude now, or she’ll lose her standing as…” …well, you get the idea. I hope.)

You’ve come from two very different directions, and I can’t answer both doors at once. So, if those of you from the message board would please just let yourselves in, peek around a little if you’d like, and hang on for a day or so, I would be happy to entertain you with the style of appreciation and respect that you so deeply deserve.

For now, instead, I’d like to offer a big wave and a wry smile to the people who have landed here looking for that suddenly-viral letter from a mother-in-law-to-be. It’s such a cliche, isn’t it, that whole hateful-mother-in-law routine? I mean, there are books about it, blogs and message boards devoted to it, even an upcoming series on a popular cable network – guess how I know! (…no, no, I’m not appearing on it, but I was actually contacted by producers. Twice.) It’s the kind of thing that people laugh about, sometimes out of a sense of relief that their mother-in-law isn’t quite so intense, and sometimes out of a snicker-or-weep sense of affinity. It really is a sad club to be a member of, those of us who are failed daughters-in-law, and I would happily trade in my membership card.  I just can’t seem to find a doorman willing to help me check out.

In my case, there has been an alteration in the trajectory of my relationship with my mother-in-law.  Long before the wedding, my mother-in-law began a decreasingly subtle campaign on a passive-aggressive anti-Kate platform.  There are stories, so very many stories… many of them already detailed herein.  From the iconic – the plane tickets story, her choice of clothing at my wedding and her husband’s memorial, the Splattered Brains commentto the mundane, I’ve told a lot of tales here already.

Now, she would tell you – and I know this, because she has told me repeatedly – that these stories of mine are blatant lies, fiction, and slander (though, to be accurate, I think she actually meant libel, seeing as how the blog qualifies as printed material instead of the more transitory, spoken offense of slander). This invites an immediate regression into a she-said/she-said sort of tantrum, too boring and predictable by far.

Let me put it this way: my mother-in-law insists that not one of the stories I have ever told here, or at least none of the negative ones, hold the slightest bit of truth. She says she is deeply hurt by my words, because she insists that I have been lying about her for years. There’s an interesting distinction happening there, to my mind: she’s not claiming to be so upset that I opted to tell some potentially private, family stories to a theoretically infinite, fascinated audience of strangers (of course she has raised that point a time or three, but more in reference to specific posts). Instead, her angst stems from her belief that I have this tremendous ability to lie, consistently, for years, with callous disregard for anyone else’s feelings.

I can’t be certain, of course, but I tend to think that she probably didn’t intend for her finger-pointing to provide a certain amount of pride inside me. But, seriously, this suggestion that I made every single one of these stories up, just made out of whole cloth, without a glimmer of truth underneath: what a tremendous compliment. I do perceive of myself as a fairly creative person, but she has given me credit for a level of imagination far beyond anything I ever considered myself capable of. I simply love the lengths of passive-aggression inherent in the plane tickets story or her choice to wear black to my wedding, because that style of indirect hostility and wordless communication is not something I was familiar with, through my childhood and teenage years.

In short, just because I can recount an event with a certain amount of flair and interesting turns of phrase, just because I can knit a sock or a stuffed animal without a pattern, just because I have three separate closets full of crafting supplies in my home (all of which I use, I might add)… that doesn’t mean I also have the ability to invent entire scenarios and long-term relationships.

On the flip side, let me be clear about something: I truly do wish that my words here actually were lies. I wish these things hadn’t happened, because that would mean that I could have some level of relationship with my mother-in-law. Not so much for my own sake – the silent treatment we’ve been receiving for the past two years is probably less harsh of a punishment than she had hoped – but for the sake of my husband, my children, and even herself. Willem and the kids are so consistently beautiful and brilliant and amazing, and I simply cannot fathom her choice to cut off her son to spite her daughter-in-law. She’s missing out on so many potential good times and heart-warmingly sappy sorts of experiences, and the best I can do is hope that she has found satisfaction in her chosen separatist lifestyle.  I’m a psychologist by training and a humanist by nature; my communication skills are among my most treasured internal possessions… the fact that I put more than a decade of work into just trying to establish a simple, mutually respectful relationship, and failed utterly, is among my deepest regrets.  My choice to “go public” with my own angst and stress is a method for me to vent, and to desperately send a signal or two out into the world, to try and feel a little less alone and solely responsible for this failure; the number of other people who have experienced similar – and, sometimes, so very much worse – relationships with their own family members often depresses me far more than it comforts me.

Anyway, without any real involvement from her since the summer of 2009 (there were a few telephone calls while I was in the hospital, which form the basis for another sad/weird/crazy story, for another day), I can’t share any new stories just now. But if your search for a mother-in-law rant landed you here today, I hope you found an anecdote or two worth clicking on.


  1. Hi from an allnurses RN. Your “drop your pants” post made you kind of a big deal to us nurses. I became intrigued, however, when I saw you were from Salem (I’m right down the road) and read the past year of your life. So horrendous and heart-wrenching. Your story actually made me no longer want to work at NSMC. It also inspired me to start my own blog!

  2. just curious, do you write about your MIL on this blog knowing she reads it?

  3. Hi- hope things get a lot better.

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