As I type this, my brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and nephew are flying over the Atlantic Ocean on their way home to Norway. I am so jealous—and it’s not because they are returning to a land where fermented fish is considered good eatin’. I’m not even jealous that they are returning to their normal lives where they never have to think about granny-care or dementia. Okay, I AM a little envious of that, but can you blame me?
I am, however, absolutely green that while they were here, my mother-in-law was so unbelievably pleasant towards them. She laughed, she smiled, and she conversed with them in ways which I thought were no longer possible. She told my brother-in-law that she loves him.
Of course, I am also genuinely happy for them. They only see her once a year and this could be the last time they see her alive. It’s good that she recognized them. It’s wonderful that she was able to interact with them in an appropriate manner and that their vacation in the States will become a blissful memory. That is exactly as it should be. That is exactly what I want for them.
Still, part of me thinks, “Really? She’s capable of being nice, but she chooses not to be when dealing with me? When dealing with my husband? When dealing with our children? Why? We have given her a safe and comfortable home. We have cared for her, held her hand through hospitalizations, and rearranged our lives for her, and I’d say it’s a good day when she doesn’t call me tonta or bruja. What the hell?” (“Tonta” means “idiot.” “Bruja” means “witch.” See? I could write A Gringa’s Guide to Really Mean Spanish.)
Last night, I went to sleep thinking that maybe it is me. Maybe I’m not as affectionate with my mother-in-law as I should be. Perhaps I need to smile more and speak more sweetly. Maybe she picks up on how disappointed I am when I have to cancel my plans to stay with her. Maybe she knows that I have become overly concerned with our finances since taking on the responsibility of her care or that I have found hiring help to be stressful. Maybe she is aware that I resent always having to put everyone else—my children, my husband, and myself– second to her. Of course, I haven’t voiced any of this to her. I think I have put on a brave face and pretended that I want her with us, but let’s be real: How many women do you know who want their mother-in-law living with them 24/7? My guess is “not many.”
So, this morning, I told myself to be more like our Norwegians. Be happy to see her. Greet her with a smile. Make conversation. Be charming. Think of this situation as temporary. Pretend I am leaving tomorrow and only have to get through one more day.
And honestly, I’m not beating myself up over not always being exuberantly chipper when in my mother-in-law’s presence. I really, truly could be charming if I were spending only three days with her. I’m sure I could be quite friendly and affectionate IF I hadn’t been caring for her these past ten months.
So, did my plan to kill her with kindness work? No, she is still alive. And frankly, I find being nice exhausting.
I will, however, give it another shot tomorrow. I’ll say, “Good morning, Mom! What would you like for breakfast?” with a smile. If I am lucky, she will mutter, “whatever” or stare blankly at the floor.