I can feel her eyes boring into my shoes. She somehow can’t raise her head and eyes from my shoes. I can’t find any appropriate words for it. She finally clears her throat and says in a level voice
“I’ll wait for you to finish looking. Did you say you got a sundae for me?”
I silently hand her the sundae that I had been carrying and that was already starting to lose some of its texture. She takes it and sits in one of the chairs.
With a heavy feeling that has nothing to do with eating both mine and my husband’s sundaes, I start going around the store.
But my heart isn’t in it anymore. For as long as I have been married, all I want is for my MIL to like me just as much as my husband does. But this has never been easy. She likes me here and there but I don’t think she truly likes me. This hurts me a lot and I have talked to my husband about it who has told me that his mom takes a while to come around. But I don’t have a while! I want her to like me today.
As I silently make my rounds at the shoe store, the remorse of what just happened washes away and I start to get excited about the shoes again. I mean, she can take a while or a lifetime! I really can’t help that. But what’s this nagging feeling at the back of my mind? Well, that’s probably because I haven’t bought anything as yet.
I quickly rid myself of these thoughts and skip towards what I had come here for. These shoes are divine. They have just come out and only four women in the entire world have them in my size. Of course it’s a rare edition, celebrity-sought, every woman’s dream, kinda shoe. Not everyone can have it but I had preordered it which ensures that I’ll have it here today. The sales associate is ready with my pair. I quickly slip them on and I’m not saying this because the shoes are mine and the feet are mine but it’s like a goddess is wearing them. I can’t part with them. They’re my soul mates. Oh no, I already told my husband he’s my soul mate. Well I can have more than one soul mate. There could be different capacities of soul mates. These would fall in the shoe category and he would fall in the human category.
I quickly ask the associate to box them and go up to the counter to pay for them. But wait, why is my MIL at the counter before I am?
“Dear, I’d like to pay for these. Would you mind that?”
Mind that? No, not at all! This would leave enough money for me to buy the perfect outfit to go with them. But didn’t she just think that this store is very overpriced.
“Absolutely not, MIL! I would actually be very grateful”.
She takes out her credit card and hands it over without so much as asking how much the shoes are for.
I heave a sigh of relief. I was worried she was gonna be disgusted at me again for buying something so expensive.
As we step out of the store I ask her if she’d like to visit a particular store. She mumbles about needing new clothes.
Bingo! I mean this couldn’t get any easier for me. I wanted to switch up her wardrobe and now I want to thank her for her generosity too so this is my perfect present to her. I’ll help her look like a woman.
I lead her to a “budget” store. Something tells me that she would be much happier with these prices.
As we enter she is immediately attracted to an ugly display of Hawaiian type shirts that she already wears so much of. I gently help her change her direction by taking her arm in mine possessively and pushing my entire body against the winds to make her see the opposite end of the store where much more stylish clothes are being sold.
As we approach this section I can feel her eyes narrowing.
“My dear! I won’t be wearing this”.
This? This is high fashion. I know she thinks herself above most things but is she above high fashion too?
“May I ask why, MIL?”
“Dear! First of all they’re much too expensive and secondly, they don’t look like something I’d wear”.
“Something you’d wear? Of course this isn’t something you’d wear. I didn’t bring you to this store so you’d buy something that you’d wear. The whole point of bringing you here today is to change the way you dress”.
“But why would you want to change what I like wearing?”
I can’t find words suitable to explain my motive behind this. I can’t say without sounding rude that her clothing choices embarrass me when my friends see her. There is no polite way to say that many of her clothes are extremely unbecoming on her. I have no idea how to tell her that in order to be thoroughly respected in this world, you have to look successful and thriving. I know she’ll blow it all off and judge me as a superficial, immature person.
“I’m waiting, dear”.
“My dear MIL! I don’t want to hurt your feelings”.
“I can assure you that no one can say anything to me now that I haven’t heard in the seventy years that I’ve been alive and that would hurt me. I have developed a particularly tough skin for women who make fun of me or think me beneath them because of the way I look”.
So she knows what I’ve been thinking. I decide to be honest.
“Well, I guess there isn’t a perfectly polite way to say it but I think you’re so much behind the times. I don’t think you realize that you look out of place at most parties. You dress for an evening out with your friends like you dress for a funeral. There is no difference. And that’s not what bothers me. What bothers me is that your friends are extremely stylish women. They don’t think age is a barrier to looking pretty and presentable. They take care of themselves like a woman should. But you…. all you care about are your kids and your dogs and your books and taking long walks. I’m not sure why your range of interests is so narrow. You hardly talk to me and when you do I feel you’re disapproving of me. All I wanted to do today was bond over some shopping and get some nice clothes and shoes for you. But all you’ve done since coming here is exclaim at everything as either too expensive or too inappropriate. Why can’t you be agreeable for a day? Do you not care how much I put into this trip? I wrote a letter that barely got a nod from you. I brought you here but you’re not happy. What is it that makes you happy? Why aren’t you a normal woman?”
As soon as the words leave my mouth I feel my MIL stiffen. So far she had been listening with an intent expression but now she’s wearing that cool and collected look again.
I also realize that my voice had gone up several octaves during my passionate recounting of her flaws.
“My dear! Why do you think I’m not a normal woman? Just because I don’t draw pleasure from shopping or spending every morning watching TV or chatting on the phone or flipping through magazines? I think you’re right in thinking that I don’t give you much of a chance but I think it is safe for me to assume also that you’ve not given me a chance either. You have an impression of me which is that of a deep, dark person. Someone who is always thinking of how to save the world. You think that every move I make has a purpose when actually most of what I do is without purpose and more for my pleasure. Most of my books are actually novels written by Jackie Collins and Sophie Kinsella. Have you heard of them?”
Heard of them? I picture myself regularly as one of Jackie Collin’s female protagonists. And I don’t know who Kinsella is but definitely sounds like an important writer.
“My dearest DIL! You have to understand that I’m not your enemy. Sure we are different but you’ll meet many people who’ll be different from you. In fact the chances of you meeting people different from you are much higher than meeting people similar to you. Different isn’t bad. Different is just that….. different. Also, call it my old age or being a fiscally conservative person, I do find spending money on shoes and clothes somewhat of an unnecessary expenditure. But that doesn’t mean I have a judgement of you. I believe that you should live your life like you want to. And when I was your age, I can assure you, that I wore a pair of Valentino shoes that cost my husband a month’s salary. It’s not like I never indulged. I did. And now I’m indulging in different things. I’m exploring a different phase of my life. This is normal for me. I am a normal woman, even though different from you”.
Oh God she’s being so eloquent! Whereas I was spluttering and stammering, she is actually eloquent. May be I’ll be that too when I’m seventy.
“I’m sorry, MIL! I was wrong in condemning your clothing choices and trying to change them. I was wrong in assuming that you have a dull personality. I was very wrong. I’m not sure how to make up for that? And I haven’t even properly thanked you for my present. Those shoes are all that I’ve thought about for weeks”.
“I know my dear and no thanks is needed. I wanted to get them for you because unbeknownst to you, when they called to tell you that the pair was available, I had heard you whooping with joy and overheard you talking to my son about it. I wanted to buy them for you and have you keep them forever as a gift from me, as a memento of our first shopping trip together”.
She’s being so nice!
“But I want to do something for you. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Yes show me the Big and Tall section in the mall”.
“Didn’t you mention in your invite that if I liked nothing else then we could always end up at the Big and Tall section?”
Oh my God! I was being a smart ass when I wrote that and I half expect to see a stern look on her face. But when I look up, she has a tiny twinkle in her eye.
I laugh and take her hand and we walk towards the Big and Tall section, chatting like old friends, my husband hurrying behind us, smiling.
We enter Big and Tall and just as I had predicted to myself, she sees a pair of extra-large Hawaiian shirts and quickly gravitates towards them. She holds one up against her torso.
“What do you think of these, dear? Do you like them?”
I look at her. My tall, stately, grander than life MIL. The woman who gave birth to the love of my life. A woman whose sternness and command of life is intimidating. A woman who should be like a mother to me but has become a sister in this moment. I look at her wrinkled face, with the wisdom of the world, the corners of her eyes with lines so deep that our entire history may have been buried there, many laugh lines around her mouth indicating a time when she was like me and laughed often and thought seldom. I look at her beaming at me, so much like a child, and I can’t break her heart.
“I love them, MIL! I love them!”