You all know how much my mother-in-law and I love my husband. She loves him as the son she lost to me and I love him as the man who hasn’t been able to come out of his mother’s shadow. The quest to prove our individual worth to him is sometimes all-consuming and overwhelming. Sometimes it’s a way to be. Sometimes I win and sometimes she beats me. Regardless, we both have an intense, furious and crazy love for the man whose approval and love we contest for constantly.
So it’s no wonder that the one time every year when this battle of wills really sees profound heights is his birthday. His birthday is the most charged period of the entire year. We both wait for it with anticipation. We both can’t wait until one can outdo the other in how they celebrate his big day. We both can’t stand being one-upped by the other. We keep our plans a secret from everyone because when you’re planning a war, strategy is everything. I hide it from my kids as discreetly as I can. Kids can’t be trusted. They are so naive that my enemy can get a lot of information from them merely by luring them with candy and some snacks. My kids can be my biggest weakness when it comes to losing or winning this war. Sorry! Have I been saying “war”? I really meant my husband’s birthday.
If she plans a party, I devise a romantic getaway. If she buys him clothes, I buy myself lingerie (smart women know why it’s a gift for him. The rest of you need that subscription to Cosmopolitan ASAP). If she entices him with food, I conquer his heart with sex. We dance a captivating dance around him every year of gifts and favors and niceness and love and one of us usually is victorious beyond the other’s imagination.
So you can imagine my personal dilemma for this year when my husband, sensing that his birthday usually is loaded with a lot of insincere love, declared that he would like to see the both of us plan a birthday for him together. According to him, he wanted to see what our organizational skills and imagination would create if put together. He jokingly called it a challenge of sorts because according to him we never seemed to agree over anything. He finally made it emotional and announced that this would be his gift for this year.
We both stood there, mortified, thunderstruck and honestly, in a mental state that is best described by the famous war term “shell shock”.
Finally, reluctantly, my mother-in-law started to address this most unique wish of my husband and asked me if I could come over to her place the next day to start planning his birthday. Now, naive as I may be when it comes to my opponent’s skillfully laid landmines, I’m not that naive. I knew that the first order of business was to start by holding all meetings at my place. That would serve as our headquarters. If she made headquarters at her place then I might as well give up any hopes of winning this battle at all, right now.
I asked her, in the same respectfully curt manner that she had employed to offer her home for planning and organizing, if there was something wrong with my home that she had been completely dismissive of it. That she hadn’t even thought of it so much as a place where we could at least start planning and then may be expand our businesses into her home. Mother-in-law immediately became contrite and gave up her demand of holding these meetings at her home immediately. I found this almost too easy of an achievement that I had achieved and knew in that moment that my enemy wasn’t a mediocre one. She really had the strategic artillery that I lacked.
I immediately sized up her intentions behind this quick agreement. Why would she argue over where the meetings should be? I mean that’s a mundane argument to get into. She has agreed to me for this almost like some adults placate children. She has actually shown herself to be the adult here. I was momentarily angry at myself for not thinking it through and making a small issue a huge one. Just as quickly I congratulated myself for being astute in constantly analyzing my game and ways in which I could improve my tactics of modern domestic warfare.
Now that we had decided where to meet and plan, the next question was what we were going to do. Now this was the major decision as you probably realize too. This was the foundation of the big day. This was where both of us had to come forward with some of our finest ideas and most sophisticated inventions. I’m no genius but I have celebrated enough birthdays in my time to really have a wide range of options to choose from regarding what we could do for my husband’s birthday.
But……. another wrong move by me. Mother-in-law advised very gently that may be we should let my husband decide what he would like for his birthday this year. According to her, he should have the most say in this. She went on to apologize to my husband for how selfishly she had been planning his birthdays so far and had almost very snobbishly chosen his presents also in yesteryears without much input from him. She expressed her remorse at getting him his favorite Armani jacket the year before, his favorite Prada shoes the year before that and his sports car five years ago.
Believe me, I hadn’t seen my husband ever looking at his mother like that. He was teary-eyed and when he thanked her for being so considerate, he choked on his words a little. She got him all emotional towards her.
Until that moment I hadn’t realized what I was dealing with. But now that I knew, I had to be as smart as her. I always had to be two steps ahead of her. I couldn’t let her get in my head. I couldn’t trust her. I had to be savvy. I had to be shrewd . I had to sleep with one eye open.
We met the next morning over tea. MIL had some interesting ideas but I kept blowing them off. I couldn’t possibly agree to her ideas. That would be like forfeiting the whole thing here. I had to come up with an idea so impressive that it would wear the socks off of everyone.
As MIL was reciting ideas off of a piece of paper and I was jealously wondering why I wasn’t so creative to have ten ideas for a birthday party, I had an epiphany. Grabbing my MIL’s hands enthusiastically, shushing her mid sentence, my eyes as round as orbs and my breath quickening, I said,
“I have the perfect idea for his birthday. Let’s throw him a party together”.