Thursday, January 24, 2008

Zen and the Art of Mother-in-Law Maintenance

I've been away for a while. And by away, I don't mean on a sunny island. I mean away in the recesses of my mind, and in the depths of my apartment. I'm briefly coming up for air, but it may be some time before I'm around again on a regular basis.

RaggedyDad's mother is staying with us. For three weeks. She hasn't seen me or the kids in a year and a half. Last summer, I wasn't able to travel, so RaggedyDad went to visit his family alone for a week. She hadn't met baby Little Rag yet, and remembered big buster Andy as not much older than Little Rag is now.

What's been interesting is that people's reaction when I tell them about this visit are very much colored by where they are coming from. It ranges from "I can't believe that you are dealing with that!" to "Of course, where else would she stay? That's what families do."

I sense that my parents, in their own way, feel sorry for what they perceive as a significant imposition on us. While not tycoons themselves, they have the means not to have to stay in my brother's apartment in Jerusalem when visiting him, his wife, and their now 6 kids under 8 years old (Mazel tov!)

But all families differ. In MIL's case, we are the ones who undertake a great deal of help, though it doesn't really come easy to us. Admittedly, it was a bit of an adjustment for me, as I'm not accustomed this approach from growing up, and had the fortune of having parents who, if needed, could help their children. But I'd have been a fool to have let modest means stand in the way of marrying RaggedyDad.

The language and culture barrier are an issue with MIL, and without them, we'd likely get along even better than we already do. She's an intelligent, fun-loving, adventurous person. And helpful, and nice, and well-intentioned.

In that typical European way, though, she tends to be very direct and straightforward about a lot of things. Like asking me how many children I plan to have, and when exactly I plan on having the next one. Or letting me know that the sweater I'm wearing looks very nice, but would cease to, if I were to gain any weight. Or stating that people in the town where she lives are very adamant about order and cleanliness, and if they saw our place, it would not fit their standards.

Whew, I'm realizing that venting is GOOD!

The odd part is, those above statements sound a lot worse than they are intended. They are liberally sprinkled with self-deprecation and, though it doesn't always take the sting out, stated utterly non-judgmentally, but merely as facts. If you know any Europeans, that's just how they are. (Israelis do this too, though in somewhat of a different manner). They'll tell you that one of your kids is not as cute another one. They'll tell you that they don't care for the coffee you just served them. They tell it like it is, and then come back and say that we Americans are not known for our manners!

I'm coming to some understandings in the midst of all of this. No, this is not my favorite time, but it is very infrequent. Yes, sharing one small bathroom is a challenge, and someone will always be in it. Yes, I'm buying enough bread to feed the Russian army and then finding that amazingly, it is all gone 3 days later. I am talking loaves and loaves here. And meat. And cheese. And herring, which the kids have now learned to like to eat at breakfast time, but there are worse things.

Okay, venting is REALLY good.

The truth is that I have a whole lot to be extremely grateful to MIL for. Because not only did she raise the most kind, unassuming, helpful, and friendly husband I could have hoped for, she also made tremendous sacrifices for him and his sister.

She left the Soviet Union as a widow with two children under dangerous circumstances, and thereby left behind her extended family/entire support system, relative financial security, and the hopes of ever feeling comfortable anywhere else to a native-like degree. She endured tremendous hardship that could fill a book, and took it very much in stride. Although far-removed from religion, she was supportive and encouraging when my husband became interested in exploring his faith at age 15, and eventually moved to America, only to meet . . . me.

I'm taking things one day at a time, and having a few deep-breath moments. And all in all, I'm trying to see things from a perspective of appreciation, and inject a little bit of . . zen.


Ezzie said...


So when are we going to meet her? She sounds like fun!

frumhouse said...

You are truly a good woman! 3 weeks is a long time for a live-in visit, but you will probably find you miss her when she leaves!

PsychoToddler said...

It's difficult having someone stay in your house for that period of time no matter who they are. There's a certain sense of space or privacy that will instantly evaporate.

On the other hand you and your kids will really get to know and be comfortable with her.

If you need pointers on dealing with the Europeanism, maybe ask Fudge.

mother in israel said...

Beautiful post. Her comments are hysterical, esp. considering how thing you are.

Scraps said...

Three weeks is a long time for anyone to visit. I think you're a great daughter in law. :)

SaraK said...

You are an amazing wife, mother and daughter in law. Kol hakavod. 3 weeks can be a very loooong time.

Shoshana said...

well-intentioned is a great word ;)

You are doing a huge service to both your MIL and your kids - as someone who didn't get to see my grandparents very often while growing up, it's really important and I'm sure your kids will one day appreciate that you are doing it.

Chaya Tova said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Baila said...

My MIL used to come either every year for a few months, or whenever there was political unrest in her country (and stay indefinitely). One year she came to help with the baby that was coming. She came in March, but the baby wasn't due till the end of July. After Pesach, she said something like, "so it should be any day now"--she thought I was due after Pesach. She turned green when I told her I still had three months to go (and no I wasn't that big). She drove me nuts with her daily "Aren't you going to be cold/hot in that outfit?" question, and I couldn't binge on ice cream in my own home. But when she left the house always felt empty, and I had to cook dinner on my own. Now we both live in Israel and I see her frequently--but we never have any alone time. And I miss that. I think I'll invite her for Shabbat next week!

triLcat said...

It's really a hard situation. I give you a lot of credit for keeping your cool and taking things in stride.

I hope that when my M-I-L comes, I'll be able to be as nice.

SephardiLady said...

My MIL is also European. Maybe I will credit her upfrontess to that. Goodluck. Hosting a MIL is part of the job description and I'm sure you are doing a fantastic job, even if you need to come up for air.

I never emailed you after our visit, but it was so enjoyable and I can't wait until next time.

Jack said...

I am not sure that I could do what you are doing.

fudge said...

raggedymom, that's all the venting you got for three weeks? bring it ON!

no, seriously, it amazes me how you step back and take the time, when hit with statements which by the way really do propel you across the room with a certain force, to remember context, intention, scope. i think you'd have to be inhuman to endure three weeks of a visitor you don't even know so well with perfect serenity and zen, but what you're doing - having your limits tested in certain places, feeling strained, but still focusing on the positive aspects of the situation - i almost feel like that's humanity's mission as a whole. you have my salute.

and when it's all over, i'm buying you. a pizza*. :)

*or chocolate-covered pretzels, your call.

Abbi said...

I'm really late to the party, but I thought you would enjoy this article I read in the times (right about when you were enduring/enjoying this visit:

RaggedyMom said...

Thanks for all of the chizuk, everyone. I was reading, and sometimes commenting elsewhere over the past few weeks. I have to admit that while I'm glad things are back to normal, I do miss having my MIL around!

Abbi, could you repost that link?