I have thought about this post for a while, coming up on two years now. Every time I've looked at that last blog entry from February 2012, and remembered the old house, my desk in the sunny dining room, my mother-in-law standing behind me, reading over my shoulder as I quickly drafted the few lines I needed to make my website current. She had been visiting us from New Jersey and I was irritated with every single thing that weekend, until getting word from the editors at Hello Giggles that they wanted to run a Valentine's Day piece I'd written, hence the need for the hasty post on my own website. Something to track back to. I was excited, she was happy for me--and curious, and even though I typically will shoot swords of fire straight out my eye sockets if you even come near me to check my "progress" on a project, I allowed it. Gosh, that makes me sound like a pretentious a-hole. "I allowed it," which is to say I didn't sigh petulantly and storm off, the easiest way to make my annoyance known without actually having to be a grown-up and ask for what I really needed: privacy.
That may have been her last visit, though there was probably a time after that--late summer, maybe? February is what I remember most; it was the year I tried to use one of those "happy lights" to fix my mood, that is, until I realized one has to stare directly into the Verilux 2500 for thirty minutes a day to achieve the desired results, and who on earth has time for that? My mother-in-law was the kind of woman who never needed to recalibrate her circadian rhythms with Balanced Natural Spectrum Daylight. No matter the season, or situation, she'd breeze in with a sunny outlook and start tackling your to-do list, even if you weren't entirely sure what was on that list, or if you had a list at all. This was a woman who traveled with her own flax seed, an individual who could make one green smoothie last for five days, and if you were married to her son, this last detail is the kind of thing that could incapacitate you with wounded rage. Stuck in the corner, eyes narrowed, you'd watch as she reorganized your Tupperware cupboard with an offhand authority you'd never possess. What is she even thinking about right now, you'd wonder as you nibbled jelly donuts and stared, rodent-like, until you'd eaten the entire box and had to throw away the evidence. She never had to throw away any evidence. In fact, she rarely threw away anything because unlike you, she wasn't wasteful. She was resourceful, uncomplicated, and helpful. And I struggled mightily to love her.*
It used to comfort me, that everyone struggles with their mother-in-law. It's a foregone conclusion at this point; a cultural cliché. How many sitcoms would we not have without the iconic, overbearing matriarch to beef up the storyline? No one meddles like a mother-in-law, and no one resents the meddling, the idiosyncrasies, the everything more than the woman who marries her son. I fed my resentment because I was insecure, because, over the course of my marriage, every one of my weaknesses became a question she could answer with a strength. All my deficiencies were, in her presence, magnified. It didn't matter that I could create beauty out of chaos, that I could make you feel like you were the only person in the room, maybe even the world; that you always knew where you stood with me because I made a point of telling you. And how I'd look into your eyes so you knew I meant every syllable. When she was around, what mattered was the three-month's worth of ironing she could whip through in an afternoon, how she never put off essential errands to read a romance novel, how she excelled at every quotidian requirement at which some part of me believed a wife and mother should. And, how I shrank in the shadow of her confidence. I was an adjective, she was a verb. And out of all the parts of speech, my husband liked himself a verb.