When I was growing up, there was one thing we weren’t allowed to say. It’s not a ‘swear word’, but it packs a pretty powerful punch. In my house, it was the equivalent of getting slapped across the face, punched in the gut and kneed in the groin (at the same time). “Shut up.” Ack! I hate those two words!! There are so many other ways to get the same point across without being so aggressive. When I talk to my husband, even when things get heated, as much as I want to scream it, I just never say it. Those two words carry as much weight (in my world) as a 4-letter word. Not just any 4-letter word, but the kind that the censors ‘bleep’ out whenever there’s a live show on TV. They are words that once spoken, leave a permanent mark.
Imagine my shock and surprise when several years ago as I stood at my mother-in-law’s bedside as she lay dying, her last words to me were, “Shut up!”. I kid you not. My response? After looking across the bed at my husband with wide, teary eyes, I walked out of the room. He knew. He knew his mother had crossed ‘the line’ when she uttered the forbidden phrase. And he also knew I’d likely never recover from it. He knows me well. Every time I see her ‘gazing’ at me from her photo on the bookshelf in the livingroom, I hear her famous last words. I mean, looking back, it’s almost legendary. You think of all the last words you can say to someone, “I love you. I’ll always remember you. Stay strong! Hug your kids every day. Don’t forget to smell the roses. Make the most of your life. I’ll see you on the other side.” But, nope, not in my case. My mother-in-law gave me the 3-fer (slap across the face, punch in the gut and knee to the groin) before she departed the planet.
Look, I know it’s frowned upon to speak ill of the dead, but I think I should have at least one crack at it. And I think it’s important that you understand our history to know what a ‘fitting end’ it was between us. As you can probably guess, things got off to a rocky start. I didn’t meet my mother-in-law until my wedding. For all future brides-to-be, I do not recommend this. I went into the whole affair blind as a bat, literally. My husband and I met while stationed in northern Germany and I never had any communication with his family prior to our wedding. My poor husband only had three guests at our wedding, his mother, his best friend and his best friend’s girlfriend. That’s it. And when I finally got an opportunity to meet his mother, I knew I had my work cut out for me. And I do realize that my story is not that unusual. Most daughter-in-laws never end up in their in-laws’ favor. But my friends, I’m afraid our relationship was doomed from the start.
After the ‘tepid’ welcome I got from her at our wedding, there wasn’t much contact afterward. She made it pretty clear that she wasn’t a fan. But I was hopeful in time that things would improve. They didn’t. One of the first things that happened that left me reeling occurred when I returned to the states after becoming pregnant and seeking a discharge from the military. I went ‘home’ and stayed with my family for a couple of weeks, and then my husband flew back so we could spend time together before returning overseas for our next assignment. He wanted to introduce me to his family out in California, so we made the rounds. I met his brothers and grandparents, his aunts and uncles and a few cousins, and of course I got a chance to get even more acquainted with his mother (as she lived there, too, and we ended up staying in her apartment). And maybe ‘acquainted’ is not the right word to use in this case. I’m not sure. All I know is, as a result of what happened while we were there, I knew there’d likely be no chance she and I would ever be ‘friends’.
You’d like more details? Ok. Well, I probably should mention that it was December when we flew out to California, which meant that we were not only there over the holidays, but for my husband’s birthday as well. He was turning 21 and his mom was really proud. She and her boyfriend offered to treat us to dinner at a VERY expensive restaurant, not one we’d seen the likes of before or since. There were appetizers and entrees and desserts and BOOZE. A lot of BOOZE. I wasn’t drinking because I was pregnant, but everyone else was having a grand old time running up the tab. The thing about a ‘grand old time’ is it’s fine if you can keep it to the confines of your table, but when you’re in a very expensive restaurant and your behavior starts to affect the comfort and enjoyment of the other customers that are spending the amount of a car payment on their meal, that’s when an intervention becomes necessary. That’s when two numbers were referenced that I’d never heard before. Eight, six. Huh? What does that mean? What that means is that you’re cut off, the booze fest is over. It’s time to order a cup of coffee and stop acting like a belligerent idiot.
This was something I’d never experienced before. But I understood why the restaurant made the call. Even I was embarrassed by the way my ‘dinner companions’ were behaving so it was a huge relief when the consumption of alcohol came to an abrupt end. But someone at our table was not too happy about it. Yes, you guessed it, my mother-in-law. And she made a big scene! But she wasn’t about to let this little setback stop the party. Onward and upward! I didn’t know about her next plans for my husband, but she had more in store. After we returned to the apartment, possibilities were discussed as to how to spend the remainder of the evening. And since I was pregnant and couldn’t or wouldn’t drink, it was determined that it’d be best that I remain at the apartment (by myself) while they resume their partying. It was her son’s 21st birthday after all! Where did they go? Where do most mothers take their sons on their birthday? A strip club, of course! And, boy, was she proud! She kept telling all of the strippers that it was her son’s birthday! Yes, I still shake my head about it.
How did all of this make me feel? That’s a tough one, I don’t think there’s one word that could accurately depict how I felt, so I will use several. Humiliated. Disrespected. Shocked. Insulted. Angry. Stunned. Hurt. Offended. Burnt. Mortified. You probably get the picture. Only six months into my marriage, this wasn’t getting things off to a good start, not only with my husband, but even more so with his mother. Seriously. Who does that? It felt like one great big “SHUT UP!” screamed in my face. So now do you understand when I mentioned earlier that when she spoke those final words to me as she lay on her death bed, that it was a fitting end? How could it be anything but?
I wish I could say that we ultimately did have a wonderful relationship. There were the briefest moments, ever so brief, when I felt some warmth from her. The majority of the time, however, I think she would have preferred having anyone else as a daughter-in-law. Anyone else. And she made no bones about it. Most of the time, if there was any communication, I was excluded. When the phone would ring and I would answer, she would ask to speak with ‘Mijo’. There was never any small talk. She never inquired about me or the kids, she just wanted to talk to her son. And if a card or gift arrived in the mail, it would be addressed to ‘Mijo’. I thought at first that maybe it was unintentional. Maybe she doesn’t realize that it’s my birthday or one of her grandchildren? But when one year becomes 5 and 5 becomes 10 and neither you or your children (his children, too) are ever acknowledged, you start to figure it out.
At least, despite our differences and all of the disharmony, we did have one ‘thing’ in common, one person that we both loved, her son. Clearly, she did some things that I didn’t necessarily agree with, but he turned out pretty great (in large part due to her), so I have to give her credit for that. I’m still a bit miffed about the strip club birthday party but I’m over it. Truly. It was over 30 years ago. What’s done is done. Water under the bridge. It’s a-l-l in the past. You don’t believe me? You noticed me crossing my eyes and my legs when I just wrote that? Haha! Busted! No!! I’m still not over it!! Come on? Seriously. Leave your pregnant daughter-in-law back at your apartment while you take your son to a strip club to celebrate his 21st birthday?! Who even does that??!! Well, my mother-in-law, that’s who.