Holding it all in ... but don't thank her yet

The Middle Ages

January 06, 2008|By SUSAN REIMER

Congratulations are in order. I am going to be a mother-in-law.

(When I tell people the news - and I have told positively everybody - they all have the same question: "Do we like her?" blunting this indelicate question by using the first person plural. "Yes, we do!" is my unequivocal answer.)

Being a mother-in-law beats being a grandmother, for those of us who still think of ourselves as 26, but not by much. Mothers-in-law are just this side of Disney's evil stepmothers in the lexicon of family characters.

Great. I have just been given a free membership in another vilified sub-group, right up there with liberals, feminists, helicopter parents and Steelers fans.

I guess that's why everybody is treating me like a hand grenade that's just had its pin pulled. They are all cringing, expecting me at any moment to be negative, judgmental, overbearing and intrusive.

Me?

And, as if regretting this expectation, which no one has had the nerve to express, everybody is praising me for not being a, well, it rhymes with witch.

My husband keeps saying things like, "You keep up that sunny mood, OK?" And my daughter asks me earnestly, "Are you OK?" I have to tell you, it wears a little thin.

It was like that this summer, when I went camping for the first time and everyone kept mentioning how nice and patient I was being.

Suddenly, I got mean and impatient and told everybody to back off with the backhanded compliments. Nobody likes to hear how they are not being as difficult as everyone expected them to be.

They might as well have said, "Thanks so much for not whining. We can't tell you how much we appreciate the fact that you are not making us all miserable with your bad mood."

It reminds me of high school when the boys thought I was funny, which meant they didn't think I was pretty because if they thought I was pretty, no one would bother talking about my sense of humor.

The catch is this: It is absolutely killing me not to be overbearing and intrusive, but I have to act as if there isn't an overbearing and intrusive bone in my body. And I have to pretend that my feelings are genuinely hurt that anyone would suggest that there might be.

Oh, the tangled web we weave ...

These would be teachable moments for my children if I had the nerve to admit what the real me is like and talk about the value of restraint and not saying absolutely everything that comes into your head. But I have spoken my mind too often to be credible on this topic.

So I let my hands fly to my cheeks in mock horror and I gasp, "Who? Me?" I don't think I am fooling anybody, but it keeps up appearances.

For better or worse, I am the list-making, get-stuff-done, go-to person in our family. But the burdens of leadership are heavy, and they come with a price. When I start making lists and getting things done, everybody starts howling that I am trying to run their lives.

I have tried telling them that if I did run their lives, their lives would go a lot smoother. And if I wanted to run their lives, their lives would get run, but good.

So I guess I shouldn't complain when they notice that I am not trying to run their lives - and they thank me for it.

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

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