Friday, April 12, 2013

3714 Mother-in-laws

Friday, April 12, 2013

Facts do not cease to exist just because they are ignored.


I just read an old online article about things mother-in-laws should never say to their son's wife.  The comments were a litany of horror stories.

Got me thinking about my in-laws, and my relationship with SIL Hercules.  I think with Ex#2's mother I had it about as bad as any of the horror stories, and I think I've been pretty good with Hercules.


Ex#1's mother was pretty much a nonentity.  She was one of those quiet mouses.  We had to be very careful around her, because if she sensed the least tension anywhere, she'd burst into tears and take to her bed. She reacted to everything like an abused puppy.  She had grown up in an orphanage, a real honest-to-god orphanage!  One of those dreary stone warehouses, and no one had ever been kind to her or taught her the things you have to know to function in life.  I don't think she was bright enough to figure anything out herself.  Although her occasional jobs had been as a waitress at lunch counters in places like Woolworths, she had never learned about cooking.  Everything was boiled.  She'd throw chicken breasts, skin and all, in a pot with no seasonings, and boil the hell out of them.  Steaks were boiled.  One day she asked if I'd like her to "boil some tea" for me, and sure enough, she threw a handful of tea bags in a stewpot, and boiled them for ten minutes.  I had to drink it, or she'd have cried.  (I suggested we add a bunch of ice and sugar and make iced tea.)

Very soon after Ex#1 and I divorced (and Ex#1 had remarried within six months to a woman with three children) Ex#1's father left her.  As Ex#1 put it, "He didn't know it was so easy to change things!"

I felt SO guilty.  I don't suppose things were too bad for her, because she had two doting married sons living close by, but I don't really know.   I still feel sorry for her.


Ex#2's mother was my only real experience with a mother-in-law, and that was pretty bad.

When Ex#2 and I were dating, she went to mass every Wednesday and twice on Sunday.  When we announced our engagement, she started going every single day.  I naively thought she was just very religious.  After we were married, she dropped to just Sundays, and when I asked him why, Ex#2 told me that she had been going to church every day to pray that he'd break up with me.  She had always planned, since birth, for her oldest son to be a priest, so his marrying me was a blow.  And worse, I was a divorcee.  She had never said anything to him about any of that.

She hated me.  (More, I think, than she hated the woman her father had married in his 70s after her mother had died.  She despised her so much it scared me.  I'd never seen such hate for no apparent reason.)

She was the most passive-aggressive person I've ever met.  She never said anything nasty directly TO me (about me was a different story), but she made her feelings known.

She was a high-up sales rep in one of those companies that does home parties, selling jewelry.  She recruited reps, who recruited their own team of reps, and everyone climbed the management tree.  At the time I knew her, she had a huge territory, with over 200 people working directly under her.  There were prizes for the highest sales figures, and at her level the prize was a Longines watch, solid gold.  Note that the cheapest stainless steel and leather Longines today goes for over $1,200, and she was winning one, two, three gold watches a year.

She kept the first for herself.  The second went to her daughter.  Third to her foster daughter, then her other daughter-in-law, then her best friend, then her other best friend, then her cleaning lady....  At first I wasn't hurt.  She'd known all those other people longer than me.  I didn't understand until she started donating  them to the church and the nursing home for their rummage sales.  Note that the watch didn't matter to me so much.  I'm very hard on watches.  It was the outright snub.  Especially since she made it a point to tell me what she'd done with the latest, and was annoyed that I didn't tll her what a wonderful person she was for donating them.

By the way, everybody in her small town thought she was the most wonderful person because she took in a series of foster children, worked to raise money for the local catholic nursing home, and handled the church clothing donations every year.  What nobody seemed to notice is that the foster children were always teenage girls, who were expected to clean her house and take care of her kids.  Even better than free housekeepers and babysitters, since she got paid to keep them.  She stopped volunteering for the nursing home when the priest mentioned that they couldn't take people for free, no matter how much they had supported the home.  And on several occasions, I'd seen her, her friends, her daughter, and the daughter's friends sorting through the clothing donations and taking things they liked.

We were expected to dance attendance on her at every holiday, family occasion, vacation, EVERY period of time off, and random weekends when summoned because she needed our help with some project, even after we had moved halfway across the country to St. Louis.  Ex#2 was incapable of saying no.  I went literally years without seeing my mother.  He and I never had a vacation, except once when we went camping on a weekend.  (P.S.,  I hate camping, but he refused to pay for a hotel.)

And every time we visited, she had jobs for us to do.  We never had any kind of vacation, period.  Worse, we had to work harder on office projects before we left, and then play frantic catch-up when we returned, so we NEEDED some break.

Every year after Christmas she had a dinner for her sales reps, where she handed out gifts to everyone, and additional special gifts to high sellers.  Every year I spent my Christmas to New Year's "vacation" wrapping close to 300 gifts.  I am very good at gift wrapping.  I make sharp corners that I'm proud of.  But what she gave me to wrap with was scraps of used paper (often on its third or fourth go-round) that she had saved and collected over the previous year - wrinkled, torn, with scraps of tape randomly stuck to it.  The ribbon scraps were worse, and every package had to have ribbon.  It killed my back.  I hated doing it, but there was no getting out of it.  Eleven years.  At least I was able to hide in my wrapping corner on the floor for three days.

(It wasn't 'til I was much older that it occurred to me that I could have just bought several rolls of wrapping paper and ribbon on sale and taken them with me, although that would have been harder when we lived in Missouri and had to fly.)

I can't handle cold.  I get chilblains.  She always assigned us the bed in the attic.  The dusty uninsulated attic.  There were two unoccupied bedrooms downstairs (it was a big old south Jersey farmhouse) but we got the attic.  And we had to keep the door closed "so the house wouldn't lose heat".  One Christmas Ex#2 gave me a space heater so I could use it in the attic (yes, for Christmas, and so I didn't even have it for the three days we'd already been there).  Our  next visit, the space heater was gone.  His mother mentioned offhandedly that she "may have given it to" so-and-so.

So many things, but those were the things that galled me the most.  Well, actually, there was worse.  After the divorce I was expected to send Daughter to visit for a month or more every summer.  When Daughter came back from those visits, she was angry and sharp with me for another month.  I'd turn around and find Daughter glaring at me.  When she went to visit my mother in Florida, she was fine on return, but not the NJ grandmother.  I wonder what they said to her about me.

She taught her son to be deathly passive, without the strength of aggression.  Actually, that was the worst.


Jay's mother died before we were married.  His father was a roll-your-eyes frustrating handful, but never nasty.  He even liked me a lot, more than Jay's ex, and said so.


Anyone have any MIL stories of their own?


Anonymous said...

My ex MIL would get drunk every other night. When she did,she would call me and cry on the phone for 2 hours. The calls usually came after 10pm.


Becs said...

My ex's mother used to refuse every gift I tried to give her ("Oh, no, we can't use it. You take it back."), bought me gifts of clothing at yard sales and when she died, left my ex 1/3 of her estate and gave the other 2/3rds to her other son and his children.