Wednesday, June 20, 2012

In-Laws

I've spent the morning collecting things for a project MOTG and I are creating.  Truth be told, she's doing the creating and I'm doing the collecting, but we're in it together, that's for sure.  I'm in charge of technical details, she's in charge of beauty and artistry and design and composition.  We're playing to our individual strengths, almost without thinking about it.  It just kinda happened this way.

I spent last night in the company of JannyLou and her daughters-in-law, celebrating a year of health and well-being.  The girls - mothers themselves but young enough for the appellation in my eyes - were supportive and protective and loving through JannyLou's surgeries and recoveries and re-surgeries and re-recoveries but they never failed to acknowledge the fact that I was there, right next door, as back up.  They were glad to have me close at hand, nearer to a woman they hold dear than their lives would allow.  Their concern, their conscientiousness, their love and devotion gave great weight to the advice JannyLou gave to Amster over wine and salads - Be sure to make friends with your sons' wives.

It's good advice, for mothers of sons and mothers of daughters, too.  I'd append an addendum, though: It's even better if you are friends with the in-laws.

There's not an English word for the parents of the person my child marries.  Yiddish provides machatunim to define the relationship, although there is some controversy over whether the term can also be used by the couple to identify the other's parental units.  (Are you as confused as I am?) Personally, I go with the larger definition, simply because mother-in-law and father-in-law are perfectly fine distinctions.  Little Cuter's Husband's Parents is too much of a mouthful.  Machatunim is just right.

Blending family traditions isn't easy. Do you open presents Christmas Eve or Christmas morning?  Does the Thanksgiving sweet potato casserole have marshmallows sizzling atop the pyrex or are they too yucky for words let along the dining room on the best eating day of the year?  Are birthdays mega-events, spanning a week or more with frivolity and gifts in abundance?  Or, are they quietly noted events within a small circle of loved ones?  Do you drive to see Grandma and Grandpa every Sunday afternooon, or is the day spent in front of a football game, chips and salsa at the ready?  These are the things that make married life difficult... more difficult than the larger issues of trust and commitment and devotion, I think.

TBG and I enjoyed the other's parents, in doses large and small.  Luckily, the parents returned the favor, to us and to each other.  Living in Cleveland and Long Island, the opportunities for interactions were limited, and that may have added to the joy they found when they were together.  The moms chatted about things moms chat about.  Daddooooo talked and talked and talked and talked to Grandpaw, who smiled and nodded and turned off his hearing aid.  The two men would sit, most memorably for 4 hours in my parents' backyard the night before our wedding, my father blathering and TBG's father deriving equations in his head, blissfully unable to hear Daddooooo's rambling.  That suited them just fine - Grandpaw could let his mind wander, calculating patterns and admiring the stars and Daddooooo had, to his great satisfaction, an audience willing to sit and listen.

It worked for everyone. 

I had only one argument with Nannie in the 30 some years I knew her.  TBG was going off on a business trip during a blizzard and she insisted that I keep him at home.  I understood her worries; I shared them myself.  Listening to her detail all the things which could go wrong did nothing to soothe my nerves as the father of my infant son prepared to board a plane and fly into the eye of the storm.  I was looking for solace, she was looking for comfort, and I yelled at her.

I was sorry and sick about it for days. 

It never drove a wedge between us; TBG assuaged our bruised souls by reminding us that HE was the one who was in danger and that our love for him was putting us at odds.  We all wanted the same thing.  He was right, of course, and we were able to agree that all that caring sometimes led us astray.  Of course, Grandpaw, his father, thought we were all nuts.  There was work to be done.  Damn the weather, full speed ahead.  It was an obligation and obligations were to be met.  Daddooooo, my father, agreed. 

Perhaps that is the real answer.  Despite all the differences between us, our families' core values were rock solid and exactly the same.  Stay safe.  Work hard.  Protect one another.  That is what comes to mind when I think back on it.  Our friends and neighbors thought that our husbands were wonderful human beings; they, themselves, shared that opinion.  Every once in a while my phone would ring and Nannie's voice would be in my ear, begging me to agree that her husband was not as perfect as he thought he was.  Invariably, I had my own similar story about her son.  We couldn't go outside the family with these complaints; that would have been unseemly.  But between ourselves, despite our differences, we could agree that while we loved them unconditionally, every once in a while one or the other of them made a mistake. 

They were not perfect.  We could laugh about it, knowing that our relationships with our guys and with each other were strong enough to weather the storm.... the snow storm or the verbal storm.

Watching Anna and Amy loving JannyLou last night warmed the cockles of my heart.  Emailing MOTG this morning rekindled the fire.  I'm looking forward to creating my own new family circle.  I have some pretty good role models to follow.

2 comments:

  1. I love my MIL, but I hate the guilt trips she places on me and my hubby. "You are soooo busy. Don't worry about me". I have never yelled at my MIL, but my hubby did at a restaurant because she was yelling at our daughter for not sitting down. I was so proud of my hubby for standing up to his mom that day. She's Italian and the matriarch of my hubby's family. She's very vocal about her opinions. But I'm lucky in that she loves me.

    It's always good to get along with the in-laws.

    Have fun with your project.


    Megan xxx

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  2. Ah, Megan, she can lay the guilt but you don't have to embrace it. Her comments are a snapshot of herself not an executive order directed your way. And you're right - you are lucky she loves you! It shows she has good taste :)
    a/b

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