My mother-in-law is in town.
It seems more than any other sentence in the English language, that one evokes the most varied responses. Right now, you may be sympathizing, waiting for the punch line, happy for me, cringing, or the most common response of all, curious: is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Luckily for me, when my husband came into my life the in-law gods smiled upon me.
In the movie “As Good as It Gets” with Jack Nicholson, there is a line where he says to Helen Hunt’s character, “You make me want to be a better man.”
The biggest reason I love my mother-in-law, Dolores is because she makes me want to be a better person.
I was reminded of this from the moment we picked her up at the airport.
“How was your flight?” we asked. She answered, “Everybody is so nice to one another.” She went on to explain a scene at the bathroom where a couple of people were being polite, (the whole, “after you, no after you” bit). She also was filled with happiness that a young family traveling with a baby asked if someone wouldn’t mind giving up their seat so they could all sit together, and people were immediately willing to change seats.
These acts of kindness are happening all of the time, but the difference is Dolores notices them, and they mean something to her.
They make her happy.
My mother-in-law had much to kvetch about, if she really wanted to. She raised 11 kids. That is not a misprint. My husband is one of 11 kids. When I first met him, I remember asking him to recite them all:
“Carol, Sue, Gary, Paul, Neil, Mike, Nancy, Matt, Donna, John, Ray.”
At one point there was a kindergartener, first-, second-, third-, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-, seventh-, ninth- and tenth-grader who had to get up and get ready and go to school every day. Brush their teeth every day. Do homework, have clean clothes and be fed every day.
There was no housekeeper, no nanny, and no gardener. No mom’s nights out.
They went through 20 gallons of milk a week, a loaf of bread every day, and they used cloth diapers.
In one of my many question sessions under the heading of “HOW DID YOU DO IT?” she told me that by the time lunch was done and finally cleaned up she would set to work on dinner.
When the youngest were still in elementary school, my father-in-law suffered multiple heart attacks and underwent a heart transplant. For the next eight years before he passed away, she stood by him and cared for him. I can’t even imagine the fear and stress that put on her.
I never heard one complaint.
The stereotypical mother-in-law is portrayed as a woman who knows a better way and will tell her daughter in law how to raise her children every step of the way. Dolores, who could definitely share some tricks of the trade with me, has never told me what to do or given me advice unless I have asked for it. She is extremely generous with her compliments.
As if she hasn’t already earned her wings and halo, Dolores donates so much of her time. She treats all human beings with the compassion and dignity they deserve. Once a week, she volunteers her time at a homeless shelter doing guided imagery and reiki – a healing touch technique designed to reduce stress and heal aches and pains.
She once told me that many of the people she is with during that time really need a hug. How many of us would think to hug a stranger, a homeless person that may be recovering from addiction, battling mental illness or just down and out on their luck in life?
In addition, she is in charge of coordinating a group of people who monthly make sandwiches for the hungry.
She now has 29 grandkids, and I am always amazed at the time she will take to make each one feel so special. She will sit on the floor and play cards, sit through sporting events or plays, listen patiently while someone reads to her. They never expect anything material from her; they somehow know her gifts are more valuable.
My mother-in-law is an accomplished painter. Her watercolors and acrylics are superb. She goes to painstaking efforts to get everything just right with the light, shadows and color. She takes art classes and is constantly trying to improve her art. She can so easily pinpoint the ways she wants to improve as an artist: “become more confident … take more risks” I’ve heard her say.
Whenever my mother-in-law is in town, I am reminded of how lucky I am to know her and to share her name. She makes me want to be a better person, and mother. Spending time with her, I am reminded that I want to be more humble, give more, see the good in everything, and complain less.
And one day, I hope to be a mother-in-law that everyone is happy is in town.