An Open Letter to My Mother-in-Law

 Photo by  Tom Pumford  on  Unsplash
Photo by Tom Pumford  on Unsplash

Dear Mother in Law,

You drive me crazy. I know I drive YOU crazy. You always seem to instinctively know what it is I am trying to avoid, like clothing with kid’s characters on them, and bring it home in droves. And damnit, if those clothes don’t make the kids so happy.) You are impossible to say no too, you simply don’t accept no as an option. We don’t agree on many things and sometimes we bicker, but you know what? As far as I am concerned, I won the mother in law lottery.

Sure, we are very different, but we are both the same. First, we both love your son. Second, we both love your grandkids. I’ve always joked that our problems and minor bickering are always a product of our loving TOO much. Especially you, not that one could actually love too much, but you are fierce in your love. You are never mean-spirited or spiteful. You didn’t give the three-year-old sprite at 9 pm while we were on vacation because you’re mean, you did it because you knew it would make him happy, and we were on vacation. It did make him happy, till almost midnight! But I digress…

You’ve taught me how to be in a family. How to laugh, and fight, and work together. How to negotiate, and how to close ranks and have each other’s backs when necessary. You’ve taught me how to be angry and then simply let it go. You’ve taught me how to never turn my back, how to open my doors and my heart endlessly and without reserve.

When we had a house fire you were the first number I dialed. When the Red Cross asked if we needed a place to stay, we knew we didn’t. We knew you guys would take us in. Just as you did before. Just as you took in my mother while she was healing from an accident. You have the guest room, after all, you said, and she would surely be more comfortable there than she would on the bottom bunk of the boy’s room! You were right. You are right with an almost annoying regularity. 

Just a few weeks ago you brought your own mother home to die. We hoped it wouldn’t be that, but it quickly became apparent she was winding down. I watched as you arranged everything for her with a lightning speed. How you had so much patience with her, and how you held yourself together for her. I watched as you spent evenings brushing her soft hair and whispering to her about trips you had taken when you were young, reliving funny stories of your life together. You held her hand for hours. I was amazed. You never left her side except when you truly had to for work. She must have known you were there, always there, talking her through this and making her feel so safe and cared for. Your capacity to love is truly tremendous.  Even when she passed, and I was so worried about you and what you needed, your first concern was us. Especially, your grandchildren.

I grew up with a single mom, a good mom, but it was just the two of us. Mother/daughter relationships are tricky, they always are, especially when I am the daughter in question. But you and your daughter lessened my fears about having a daughter of my own.  You taught me how to mother in a family. And I see now that while circumstances leading us to live with you when our firstborn was a baby seemed like the end of the world, it was really Family Boot Camp for this only child of a single mom.  Everything I learned about being in a family of more than two people, I learned from you. If everything does happen for a reason then that happened so I could learn to give and take, and how to let more than one person love my baby.

I always dreamed of a big family and I have to tell you, the reality is better than a dream.

Even if we make each crazy. I’ll take it. I love you.

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