Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Ode to Mama J.

People often ask me how I like living next door to my mother-in-law, and they usually give me a look of disbelief when I tell them I don’t mind. It’s true. After fourteen years, I don’t mind…anymore. Our relationship has been an interesting journey that has finally brought us to a comfortable place. It ain’t Tahiti…but it’s alright.

To get a good visual of our family, watch an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond..any episode. I would swear the writers of that show based every third episode on an incident at our house. It’s like they were spying on us. Mama J. is a lot like Raymond Barone’s mom, Marie. Same hairdo, same manicured nails, same obsession with cleanliness. Just like Marie, she meddles, manipulates and controls with the cunningness of a CIA operative. And just like Marie, she is usually motivated by her love for her family, me included. I’m just like Ray’s wife, Debra; stubborn, resistant to advice and frustrated over things that don’t go my way. Now Hubby is smarter than Ray and has always been better than Ray at supporting me and standing up for me in front of his mother. However, he often gets stuck trying to make me and Mama J. happy at the same time, which is like trying to balance a BB on your nose. Even Papa T. is like Raymond’s father in that he tends to worry about very little except what he’s having for dinner. I’m telling you, we ARE the Barone’s. To me the most interesting relationship on that show has always been the one between Marie and Debra because I can relate to it. While we’ve often been at odds over the years like Marie and Debra, we’ve gradually grown into a relationship that’s more of a partnership than a competition. It was a little ugly at times, though.

When Hubby and I first started dating, I found Mama J. nosey and intrusive. She was frustrated because I didn’t give up much personal information, and I didn’t wear lipstick. I didn’t share her love of makeup or purses, and I didn’t like that she let the men eat first at family get togethers. I hated that she was never satisfied with services such as dry cleaning and tailoring. On the evening before our wedding she made me drive her to the home of the shop owner who sold her a dress for the wedding to complain about the way it was hemmed. When Teen Angel was born, she hammered me with child rearing advice that I really didn’t want to hear. She bought more baby clothes than Teen Angel could ever wear but kept all of the nice ones at her house, only sharing the older, worn ones. I suffered many backhanded comments about my laundry and housekeeping skills.

When Teen Angel was a little over a year old, we bought the house next door to Mama J. and Papa T. because it was in the neighborhood we loved, it was a steal and we knew Hubby would be responsible for the bulk of his parents’ care when they got old. Also, Mama J. babysat Teen Angel while we were at work, and it was handy for her to be next door. I knew it would be tough, but I told myself I would get used to it. It took a long time.

We’ve had some disagreements, a few arguments and a couple of knock down drag out fights. We’ve been mad, frustrated and exasperated with each other. Hubby and I have threatened to move just about every year, but never have. We’ve also had some laughs, some tears and some hugs. We have lived, loved and learned throughout these past fourteen years. Somewhere along the way, things started to change. Mama J. quit popping into our house and getting into our business every day. She grew older and mellower, and I grew up. I realized that she really did have some good advice when it came to child rearing…and cleaning, and that I was too stubborn to admit she might be right about some things. I figured out that a lot of her annoying habits stem from some deep rooted insecurities. She is shaped by the fact that she had to scrape and dig her way out of poverty and some less than ideal family situations. She has worked her backside off all her life, and she doesn’t want to lose what she finally earned. I have also realized that I’m not the easiest person to get along with and that..gasp!...I can be wrong…and impatient...and mouthy. And..this one is tough to admit…I know that she loves me despite all of that. How do I know that? Because she has always treated me like her own daughter, even when I’ve been a butt. I love her too, even when she's being a pain in my patookus.

Over the last few years, we’ve settled into a more laid back relationship. Teen Angel is old enough that we don’t have child rearing debates any more. In fact, Mama J. is getting too tired to fight about much of anything. The roles have shifted. She now needs us to take care of her. We pop into her house and are into her business every day…all day long..and she doesn’t say much about it. She is grateful for the help. Her manipulation is limited to scoring the front seat of the van when we go places and controlling Papa T.’s clothing choices. There are many days when I get frustrated by her complaints, but most of the time I bite my tongue because I know she’s scared. She is eighty years old and scared that time is running out for her. That cannot be an easy pill to swallow, so I don’t mind carrying her purse for her when she shops. Or straightening out her cell phone bill when she’s messed it up. Or toting her butt to the beauty shop. Years ago, I would have, but I don’t mind….anymore. Really.


janjanmom said...

Number 5 on the list of reasons why I love you!!

Jason said...

No wonder I find you so entertaining. . . you're Debra and your mother-in-law is Marie! I could watch the two of you go around and around all day long.

Mama Mia said...

the cycle of life just goes on doesn't it? Remember all these things when YOU become a mother in law!! : )