Being Nice

Maybe if I dressed as Santa, people would preceive me as "nice" despite the obvious green color of my skin.

Maybe if I dressed as Santa, people would perceive me as “nice” despite the obvious green color of my skin.

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.


4 thoughts on “Being Nice

  1. Auntysocial

    Easier said than done I know but try not to take it as a personal attack or think she doesn’t like you and is ungrateful because in actual fact, it’s the total opposite.

    It’s like you and your husband stomping and huffing your way out of the house after a barny and both stopping in your tracks to smile and cheerily respond to a neighbour saying hello as though everything is rosy. You can flick a switch and control your temperament and behaviour far better for people you don’t know as well or with whom you aren’t particularly close because there’s an odd need to keep up a front which we all have.
    Your mother in law is closer to you and your family so can be a god-awful wench that finds fault with everything, shouts, bawls, creates and carries on something rotten. Unfortunately, it’s always the closest relatives (usually the women as well!) that get the crap end of the stick when caring for someone.

    The unbearable pleasantness that surfaces when your brother in law is around is the front SHE puts on so don’t worry about it.

    You’re doing a good job. Go easy on yourself 🙂

    1. peanutbutteronrye Post author

      Thank you for the encouragement, aunty!

      I’m not beating myself up over it. I think you are right–we can be at our worst when we are around people with whom we are comfortable. I was just shocked because I didn’t know that civility was still an option for my mother-in-law. I thought the dementia had claimed her ability to be genuinely pleasant and social, but apparently, she can pull it off when she needs/wants to.

  2. Gabi Harris

    Susan, I took care of my mother and stepfather for two years before they both passed away last year within months of each other. I know how stressful your life is. My parents lived in New York so I had to make almost weekly visits to deal with aides, social workers, doctors, physical therapists etc. It was stressful on me and almost ruined my marriage. What I learned from that experience is that people have a hard time relying on other people and giving up their freedom. They can lash out because of this loss of control, and not matter how much you love them, you can get fed up. You have to take care of yourself, because without you nothing works. The caretaker often gets ill herself due to the demands on her time and emotions. If you need to talk, I have plenty of experience with this and can empathize. Let me know.


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