Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The "M" Word aka "mother-in-law"

by Judy Merrill Larsen

I don't know about you, but I certainly grew up hearing mother-in-law jokes (not in my own family of course. Never. Ever.)

There was even a really stupid late-1960's sit com (I guess that's redundant, huh?) called, you guessed it, "The Mothers-in-Law". Starring Kaye Ballard and Eve Arden, the story line had these two women as neighbors who, while diametrically different (one liked to clean house and cook; the other didn't), were best friends and when their kooky kids were in college they fell in love and got married (natch) and since both moms wanted to be underfoot the kids lived in a renovated garage apartment between the two houses.

Hilarity ensued.

It seems as though M-in-L jokes have been a staple of comedy forever.

I remember one of the first times I realized I might be on the butt end of one of those jokes: I was pregnant with my younger son and frantically trying to finish a darling cross-stitch pattern to go over his crib. (Okay, real quick, did any of the rest of you cross-stitch? Do any of you still do it? Cause if so, I've got scads of floss and patterns and unfinished projects I can send your way.)

Anyway, I was showing the finished, framed product to a friend who was oohing and aahing appropriately when I blurted out, without even thinking, "Yeah, and when he grows up I can give it to his wife when they're about to have a baby and she 'll show it to a friend and say, 'I have to put this in the nursery because Eric's mom made it.' And then they'll both groan."

My friend, who was also a mom of a boy, looked at me and we knew. If we weren't careful, we were someday going to be the butt of jokes and snide comments from the women who'd married our sons. (Little did we know how much practice we'd have as the mothers of teens.)


Now, let me be clear. I'm not yet a mother-in-law. And I'm not in any real rush. I'm even in less of a rush to be a grandma just in case anyone's wondering. For one thing, I'd have to find that silly cross-stitch picture. It's, um, somewhere in the house. I'm almost positive. (Yeah, I'll be more the Kaye Ballard role, I'm afraid.) But I seriously used to worry about being pushed aside. You know there's that stupid saying "a daughter's a daughter all her life but a son's a son 'til he takes a wife." I mean who the flip coughed that one up? And I also know that a wife's mom has her own bad rap from son-in-laws.

I'm here to call a moratorium on all M-in-L humor.

Because I'm also here to say that I just spent a weekend with the queen of mothers-in-law. She has it down to an art. And a science. She embraces everyone. She makes cookies and fluffs pillows and smiles. She's interested in everything her family does and is the biggest cheerleader for all of us. She encourages us all to be who we want to be and if she flinches at a grandchild's piercing it's always done in private.

Almost her entire extended family (kids, in-laws, grandkids, great-grandkids, nieces, etc.) gathered this past weekend to celebrate her 90th birthday at a Cubs game. She had a blast. (We'd also gathered last spring on the actual day, but she's so cool we wanted to celebrate again!). She's funny and smart. And she rolls with life.

So, Kaye Ballard and Eve Arden, you need to step back and learn from the master.

And so do I. Thank goodness I've got time.


Barb McKone said...

You'll be the best one ever. You'll say all the right things, and some of the wrong, and they'll love you for it!! But, I agree with the cease-fire. Let's do it. We might not have much time...

Daisy said...

So funny! I have always enjoyed my daughter's boyfriends, and her long term significant other was a wonderful young man. I mourned when they broke up. M-I-L? I'm still not ready for that moniker.