One year ago...
Even though the holidays can submerge one in the dark depths of stress, I am still managing to comfortably cling to a buoy, enjoying the sun glistening atop the deep waters. I don't know if it is the effects of watching the holidays through the eyes of a 2 year old, or earnestly enjoying the creation of new family traditions, but I feel surprisingly satisfied with this season and very blessed (my new and overly used descriptive term).
A big part of my joy comes from my family, both our own small nuclear unit and the extended relatives that create a comforting umbrella of protection around us. I am so lucky to have married a man who comes from a wonderful, generous and genuine family. Since day one they have welcomed me into their arms, and I cannot think of a moment of friction in our eight years of bonding. I feel especially thankful for my wonderful Mother-in-Law.
As usually happens when you first meet someone, there is much focus on your similarities and sometimes even more awareness of your differences. In a lot of ways, my Mother-in-Law and I are very different from one another. Much is generational, but even more is just the difference in our upbringings. She is from the Midwest, and grew up during a time when I think children were more innocent. Women played more traditionally defined family roles, church was a prominent part of each week, and patriotism ran deep. In contrast, I do not feel like I was sheltered from the darker realities of life. I grew up having honest discussions about sex and drugs, and questioning issues of equality, government policies and religion. As the oldest child, I craved independence and wanted to be an 'adult' before my time, moving out of my home at the age of 17. My MIL has described her young self as painfully shy, and a little fearful of the greater world. Yet, marriage to a Navy man, meant that the wider world was thrust upon her, forcing her to move across an ocean to a foreign country, Spain, as well as live in several states across the U.S. (all far from her own relatives). The military life, which meant long separations from her husband, and months of living as a 'single' mother strengthened her confidence as she rose to the challenges. My husband and his brother often talk about the immense respect that they have for their mother, especially now that they have grown and truly realize how much that she managed in the absence of their Father.
The more I learn about her, the more that I am amazed and the greater my respect grows. When it comes to work, I feel that I am a great multi-tasker. When it comes to parenting a child, cleaning house, getting dressed, shopping, arghhh! the list goes on, my capabilities tend to fall short. Perhaps, it is years of experience that make my MIL such a wonder at managing a household and simultaneously playing with her granddaughter, but I think it is more than that. She is gifted - a true organizational wizard when taking care of all things domestic, AND she did this with her own sons, while holding down a part-time job!
Beyond her honed abilities to prepare a 3 course meal, keep the kitchen clean, and deal with a toddler - all skills that have proven unbelievably helpful whenever she visits, my love for my MIL has grown due to our talks and a greater understanding of the good woman she is. Despite all of our different personality traits, views on politics, religion, etc., I have always felt acceptance and a lack of judgement. I would guess that my relationship with her son and all it's stages, living together before marriage, having a civil wedding ceremony, and some of our parenting decisions might not have been her first choice, but if this is the case, she never made a big deal out of it, and it never effected our connection negatively. Above all, I believe that both of my husband's parents have recognized that the good intentions behind any of our choices are all that really matters, and have thus never felt the need to exert their influence against our plans. This patience and acceptance has made for a very smooth and respectful relationship. I can only hope that I will be the same kind of Mother-in-Law to my own children's spouses.
Dear Gayle, I really love you and hope that today, your birthday, is a very special occasion and celebration of all that makes you wonderful. Stella, Dan and I wish that we could be with you now, and look forward to your visit in February.
Above photo from Mother's Day 2007
Above photo from October 2007