Friday, November 26, 2010

Mother-in-Law o' Mine, Part Five

Part Four is here, with links to Parts One, Two, and Three.  I'm too lazy to go back and link to all of them again!  :)

So.  The conversation.  The one that dramatically changed my relationship with my mother-in-law.

To reduce the suspense (so I don't drive Morning and Polly crazy!), I'll say two things upfront:
1) it changed things for the better (though it didn't seem so right away),
2) it wasn't even with her.

It was a Friday evening.  Jeff had just gotten home from work, and we were planning on leaving the house soon for my family night.  I had chosen a simple, peaceful trip to Skyline Drive (and I don't remember exactly, but probably a stop at Subway for sandwiches to take along for a picnic) as my family night activity.  Alas, peace was not to be found that evening!

Jeff and I had a fight.

You should know that, in 13 years of marriage, Jeff and I have only had a handful of real honest-to-goodness fights; in fact, now that I try to recall them, I can only think of four.  But that evening was one of them, and it was painful.  (You should also know that, just because I can count on one hand the number of fights we've had, that doesn't mean we've always seen eye to eye on everything or have always gotten along or have a perfect marriage.  It might mean that I hate to fight and that I avoid conflict like the plague!  It might also mean that my parents prepared me well for marriage, not just by personal discussion, but also through making available to me numerous resources on how to build a healthy marriage.  It might also mean that I married a man of maturity and wisdom and sensitivity.)

That evening, Jeff, standing in the kitchen, informed me that he had invited his mom to come and stay with us after Shav was born (that part, I knew), and she was going to be here for three weeks.  Three weeks.  THREE weeks.  Did you catch that part?  Three.

The longest she had been here previously was for two weeks; and although I always enjoyed her visits (really and truly), I was also somewhat relieved when the day of her departure came and we got back to our normal life with just our little family.  I'm guessing that anyone who has hosted guests in their home--welcome though they may be--can relate to that.

Now here I was, far enough along in my pregnancy to be hormonally-challenged (on second thought, I think I fit that description during nearly all the months of my pregnancies!); and frankly I was scared silly.  I was afraid of everything:  the labor and delivery, the adjustment to being a mom of four, the way the looming transition would expose my inadequacies as a wife and mom--in short, The Mountain that I knew lay ahead but that I didn't know how to cross.  And then to hear that my mother-in-law would be here for three weeks during that extremely emotionally-vulnerable time of initial adjustment?  That was just too much.

I knew that I would likely have down days during that time; I wanted Jeff's mom to see me during up days.  I knew I would certainly cry at random times for odd reasons; I did not want her--or anyone--to see me cry.  I knew that I would feel out-of-control; I wanted her to see me in a carefully controlled (by me, of course) environment.   I knew that all my weaknesses would be glaringly obvious; I wanted her to see me as a woman of strength and poise and dignity.  I knew she would see me at my worst; I wanted her to only see me at my best.

I didn't want to be very real with her, did I?

But honestly, I was still at the point in my relationship with her of not feeling quite comfortable with her, unless Jeff was around.  He was the go-between, he was the link, and he was, not only the reason my relationship with her started, but also the reason for it to continue.  When she was here visiting during previous visits, if he had to work too many days in a row, I fretted, longing for him to have time off to do things with us.  I felt like we had to go somewhere and see some things and have some new experiences and keep her entertained.  And preferably, Jeff had to be there with us, because she was, after all, his mom.

Let me be fair to her and say that I'm sure this was all my fault:  my silliness, my insecurity, my lack of maturity.  She had been gracious and helpful and generous and loving without measure, but I was still at the level of "let's treat her as a guest and do our best to help her have a good time," rather than "she's family so let's relax and be real with her, trusting that she loves us unconditionally and won't be scared off by how nutso I am right after I have a baby!"

So anyway, in the kitchen that evening, while we're preparing to go to Skyline Drive, Jeff drops what feels like a bomb on me (three weeks!), and I let it be known that I was not very happy about it and could he please contact his mom and sister and have them change the three weeks to two?  He said no.  He felt like that would be extremely insulting to her...and why couldn't I deal with having her here for three weeks...and after all, he deals with my parents being so close all the time...and he only gets to see his mom for a very short amount of time each year...and one of these days, she was going to die, and wouldn't we all be sorry then?

I was furious and so very afraid.  Looking back, a year and a half later, I can smile and shake my head and even laugh at how ridiculous I was!  But at the time, I was very hurt.

But, it was my family night, so the show must go on.  We all piled in the minivan, and up the road we went to Skyline Drive.  It was a horrible evening.  I think we turned on a CD for the boys (Curious George, maybe?), and let them listen to that so that they would be cheerful and not realize the "disturbance in the force" as we rolled along.  I'm not sure Jeff and I said a whole lot to each other.  I remember trying to fight back the tears.  I think I lost the fight, and the tears squeezed out.  We saw a skunk at a picnic table where we wanted to stop and eat.  No matter, it was too chilly to comfortably eat outside anyway.  I guess we ate in the van.  On our way back, for some reason I wasn't sitting in my usual spot in the front passenger seat; maybe I was sitting beside Tobin in the middle seat so I could soothe him?  I remember Jeff turning off the CD that was playing and telling Josiah and David that it was time to share about me.  (We always take turns verbally encouraging and affirming the person on his/her family night; it's a most wonderful part of that tradition.  But not that night!)  They were grumpy that their story was interrupted (and maybe they could sense the tension in the air - you think?!), and whatever they managed to share was lame.  It was a disaster, the worst family night ever.  I sat there in silence, tears rolling down my cheeks, sensing Jeff glancing at me in the rearview mirror with concern in his eyes.  I just wanted the charade of that family night to be over.  The only place I wanted to be was at home in bed, and I didn't exactly want Jeff there with me!  ;-)

Uh-oh, look at the time!  I told myself I could write until midnight and then I had to go to bed, and now it's 12:05.  Why does the time zip by when I sit down to write?  Let me see if I can summarize this really quickly...

Jeff and I hate to be at odds with each other, and I'm not using the word "hate" lightly.  That's one thing that has strengthened our marriage:  we love peace and unity, and really despise being mad at each other, so we're quick to work things out and make up.  If I remember correctly, the very next day we were able to talk rationally and restore harmony.  Jeff reassured me that he realized how fearful I was about how everything was going to go that summer with Shav's birth and the subsequent acclimation in our family life; I really felt his concern and understanding, and that meant the world to me.  And I reassured him that, no, he didn't have to call his mom and tell her she couldn't stay with us for three weeks!  I would welcome her and do my best to graciously show her hospitality during all 21 days she would be with us.

But in my heart, I was already counting down the days...

...the days until she would be gone!


Anonymous said...

You really know how to keep us hanging, girl! I am enjoying this "peek" into your family dynamics...It helps to know that others have similar struggles and I so much appreciate your honesty.

Anonymous said...

You really know how to keep us hanging, girl! I am enjoying this "peek" into your family dynamics...It helps to know that others have similar struggles and I so much appreciate your honesty.

Anonymous said...

As you can see, I am still having connectivity issues! :-)

Marie said...

I just got caught up with part three, four and now five and I say yes this is delightfully suspenseful, but keep making these lovely post coming with no end because I have really enjoyed reading them.

You are so sweet and sincere and I have taken such comfort learning about your fears of your last birth. Even in hearing about your fight with Jeff. Jon and I have had some gigantic fights but this last year and a half we have become more like you and Jeff, not wanting to be at odds with each other doesn't go well with us any more and for that I am so grateful.

~ Marie

Sally said...

I am so very much looking forwards to the next installment of this series! I know what it's like to have live-in help, to have non-live-in help that comes every day, and for me there are challenges no matter how I slice it. I have to exercise extra graciousness no matter what, and even if I don't want to. I also know what it's like to go the whole road alone, doing all my own work. Anyway, I'm anxious to read how you handled everything.

Oh, I think it's impossible for me to fight with Andrew. If I ever do, it will be a one-way fight because he just doesn't say anything. Now, there are times when we both have to be silent so we don't say things we'll regret. But that's when we're grouchy, not necessarily disagreeing. Anyway, our life isn't over yet either! Oh, once we nearly got into an argument over cheese, of all the things!