Today I realized I’ve known my mother-in-law the same number of years that I knew my mother and my first reaction was that I didn’t want my mother to feel bad about that.
My second reaction was to look around and see if there were any witnesses to the first reaction.
That’s the number.
1999 minus 1961 equals 38.
2020 minus 1982 equals 38.
When my mother went ahead of us to heaven it was decidedly too soon in my way of thinking and it took me a long time to regain what could be called a steady footing. But 38 years is a lot longer than many people get to have with their good mothers and I eventually was able to pick that notion out of the haze in front of me. Sort of. After a very long time.
So here we are.
What’s the big whoop, you say? Well, if you’re wired like I am, this 38-year thing is an outstanding opportunity to embrace that familiar ol’ Friend, that Wrap-it-Around-Yourself-Like-a-Blanket emotion:
Call me crazy. No don’t. Call me something else. Just not on Facebook, please. That grieves me.
I’ve clearly followed in my MIL’s footsteps in matters of hearth and home. That probably surprises her to hear that. She might not think she taught me anything because of my failures at crocheting, canning, sewing, quilting, stick shift driving, and whatever that green/yellow Jello thing is. But I’m like the Grasshopper kid right out of TV’s Kung Fu as far as modeling myself after her in ways of child rearing, laundry folding, table setting, “putting on a hot noon meal for the hardworking men,” showing up at church morning noon and night, and wearing out my knees praying for my children and grandchildren.
I can make school lunches, feed the dog, load the dishwasher, iron shirts, hold the hair of a vomiter, bandage knees, shovel snow, determine if a smell coming from cheese makes it rotten or still viable, distribute advice and/or lectures, kiss foreheads, vacuum behind the stove, and start a crockpot for dinner all before breakfast. While holding an infant.
The majority of those skills flowed straight through the mother-in-law pipeline. And I don’t know what life would’ve been like without her or how I would’ve survived. I clung to her from Day One.
It’s like I got married and abandoned my mother.
And now my own mom is losing the race of having me for only 38 years. Doesn’t seem fair.
So I’ve been thinking. (And trying to avoid self medicating with toast and jam and chocolate milk which is a natural offshoot of “thinking.”) What made me me before I knew my way around a Maytag or before I became slick at juggling children? Somewhere in there is somebody that existed before marriage and motherhood and became someone because of a mother. A list, very incomplete, began to form.
If it weren’t for my mother I couldn’t:
Love the warm feeling of a good story and the way words play on a page.
Type like the wind.
Pick out an alto or tenor part from the back seat on a road trip.
“Think like an ant crawling along” when I read a road map.
Champion the notion that it is better to play the piano after supper than to do the dishes.
Find it difficult to read a book, any book, without holding a pen in my hand.
Recite lots of nursery rhymes and hum many a lullaby.
Be devoted to extended family. No matter what. Keep in touch with them. Plan reunions.
Stand in the gap for those who cannot do it for themselves — and I must admit I am not as brave as my mother when it comes to this. I saw her hurt because of it and in the interest of self-protection I hesitate. Strange though, after her death it’s one of the characteristics folks most love and praise her for…some of them the very ones who hurt her for it when she lived. But as my wise husband says, “People are funny.” Onward.
Understand that it’s best not to write angry and to never ever mail whatever it is. Ever.
Adhere to the philosophy that everyone is redeemable.
Remember that often a person’s actions don’t necessarily reflect their true motives. Look for the deeper self.
Shout from the mountaintops that education is never wasted. Learn something new every day.
Embrace the practice of gasping loudly from the passenger seat at opportune moments to prevent a car accident from happening with one’s husband at the wheel.
Appreciate that families have roots and trees and that cemeteries tell tales.
See the beauty in old things. Old people. And mules. Yes, mules.
Look like her–except her hair hardly grayed.
Hear a piece of music that is particularly beautiful and announce to anyone in the general vicinity, “Would you just listen to that!?!” (I almost clapped my hand over my mouth the first time this spilled out of it.)
Sound like her–whoever taught me to talk threw a little Texas in there.
Smooch and hug unsuspecting grandchildren, nieces, nephews, random children at church, etc.
Always honor my husband in front of others and infuse him with reminders of his gifts and abilities so he can soar to heights he might never have imagined.
Express genuine interest in people and their stories. Listen however long it takes.
Refuse to abandon ideals because they prove difficult to uphold.
Love Jesus steadfastly even if it doesn’t look the same on me (or her) as it does on others.
This month she would’ve turned 87.
Very very high on my list of scenes I look forward to when I reunite with loved ones in heaven is an easy, even keeled, equitable connection with my mother. What that looks like in light of eternity, we don’t get to know. Folks already gone on to that place are probably chuckling at the naivete of another one of earth’s ponderers but I don’t really have any choice but to keep pondering and looking both heavenward and to scripture for glimpses. We do know all our tears are dried and mourning is turned to joy and that’s good enough for me in the waiting. I can almost feel her embrace. It will be heavenly. And I’ll be home.
Ok. So I feel better. Dribbling some words onto paper does that sometimes. The guilt is retreating. It’s still weird though and a little wrong-ish that I’ll soon have known other mothers longer than my own. But in using my Kung Fu skills to sniff out the good from the bad, what to toss and what to keep, I’ll store up these thoughts and remembrances, this list, to nourish my soul. I’ll apply what she gave me to the space I occupy in the world and in my relationships with the ones I love. And just as she relentlessly pursued the notion of “being herself,” so shall I, knowing that it means she is a powerful part of me.
That’s some good cheese right there. It’s worth keeping.
I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.
For you have heard my vows, O God; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.
P.S. On this International Women’s Day 2020 where the word “empowerment” is much used, let me just say that Dera Keen wrote the book on women’s empowerment way before it was popular or acceptable or embraced and did it with class.