So, Mother’s Day I just leaned into, & enjoyed. Lived in the many blissful moments of family, food, and affection. My sister, my niece & her fiancé, my nephew and his girlfriend, my wonderful husband, and calls from both sons. Great presents, too!
The day before, my husband and I went to see my mother-in-law. We timed it for when she’d be awake (after all, it takes a LOT of naps to maintain 93 years old), and barely made it. Laden w/ flowers and a card a-flutter with birds, we wrapped her in well-deserved love.
My mother-in-law is as dear to me — in very different ways — as my own mother, whom I’ve written about many times. Obviously we don’t choose our mothers, nor — at least most of us — do we pair-bond because of our beloved’s mother. But we do make a choice (as she does) whether or not we will love each other. And I more than grateful that my mother-in-law has made it very clear over the years that she loves me.
Saturday, sitting on the edge of her bed, holding her hands, the slippage of my name from her memory was more funny than sad. She knew who I was; my name had just come temporarily unmoored, floating above my face, just out of reach. When Glen handed it to Mom, we all three laughed and shrugged our shoulders. Names are far less important than so many other links between us.
For years I would call my MIL w/ questions, especially as my own mother bumped down the spiral staircase of her Alzheimer’s. What about this? I would ask. And Mom would listen, rarely offering advice. Just letting me know she heard me, and was there. Like Ruth, I followed so many places Mom led: the cooking she taught me, the advice on teaching gleaned from her 30+ years in the classroom, her successful marriage of 65+ years… Journeys she offered maps to, so that I could find my way after her. A place to bring her grandsons, my niece & nephew, to bask in love & sunlight.
Now I’m a mother-in-law myself. And I wonder how to be there for this young woman who is so very dear already. There are no classes in how to love. It’s always beginner’s heart, at least for me. Sometimes we are vouchsafed affirmation — this worked. Holding Mom’s hands, hearing her say I love you too as I kiss her cheek, held her hands. Sometimes we have to just hope we’re not screwing up, and leave our hearts as open as we can to new residents. Who, like cautious cats, may take a while to feel safe. Feel welcome. And may not be as happy to have us as we are to have them.
I don’t love easily, but it’s far easier for me to love my family (not defined by birth only) than not. And I attach (oh non-Buddhist trait!) even more easily yet. I’m pretty sure my DIL thinks I’m great (if not, hopefully my son would tell me!). But I wish my mother-in-law were able to tell me just how she made herself so essential to me. And how I might cultivate the uncritical love she has always given so freely.
Here’s a counter-narrative to the stereotpyes of MIL and DIL. A heartfelt gratitude for the riches 2nd mothers & adult daughters bring into our hearts.