“I knew it”. I jumped up from my chair belligerently. I had finally solved this mystery. I couldn’t believe it. Oh heaven! I had absolutely no idea how conniving and strategic she was to win this battle.
“Knew what, dear?” Mother-in-law inquired urgently. She clearly was shaken by my sudden impersonation of Tom Cruise when he professed his love for Katie Holmes, except I felt no love for her in that moment.
“Oh no no no no! Don’t “Dear” me! I can see through your deception. I can see through your tricks. You say you’re trying to have negotiations with me about how to make this a successful party but really this is a full-on campaign to sabotage my position as the wife. This is an attempt to overthrow my regime. This is the ultimate coup that you don’t even need an army for. You alone, because of your master manipulation, can win this one. You aren’t trying to throw a party with me. You’re trying to throw a party WITHOUT me. I’m not cooking. I’m not getting a speech. I’m merely cohosting. I’m basically an accessory for this party. You have me down as the clown of the party. I’m going to sing and dance and tell stupid jokes to your fancy people. This is why you’ve been agreeing to everything. You have been getting all the big, visible, gigantic things. The food! The cake! The speech! The praise! The adoration! And you’re throwing pandering crumbs at me by tweaking your menu just a teeny bit. What corrupt operation are you running here, mother-in-law? Why are you trying to overturn my rule during my husband’s life? Why can’t I get a speech? How’s that fair? You can’t get the speech. You can’t take credit for the boy or the man. I won’t throw this party with you if you don’t step back from every single thing you’ve suggested. I don’t want your organizational skills, or your knack for happy hosting, or your scrumptious food. I’d rather eat what the rats are eating that day. The amount of planning that’s going into this is already giving me battle fatigue”.
As I was blithering off with nonsensical expressions and phrases, she watched me with a stoic face. Then she said, somewhat apologetically,
“Dear! I have no idea why you feel about me in this extremely unfair way but let’s put that aside and talk about something that has struck me with some unexpectedness. Why are you using military language? Do you think that you and I are embroiled in a war here?”
I couldn’t help but marvel at her talent of picking my monologue apart so she could focus on the one thing that would seem most offensive and out of place out of everything that I had said. But years of being subjected to her casual but assertive interrogatory style and her absolutely artful demeanor when she has to get an answer of her liking had transformed me a little into someone who answers on the first go instead of skirting the question.
However before I answered, I composed myself a little and therefore answered more steadily than I felt,
“Are we not? I feel like we are always stuck in a perverse power struggle and neither of us can let go. I know you have commented on how I insist on people meeting my childish demands and requests. But has it ever occurred to you that what you consider childish is actually something I want and is as valid to my happiness as a more grownup thing is to you?”
She looked at me for the longest time and then said,
“Dear! There’s no power struggle. There is no hierarchy. To tell you the truth this party, to me, is as much for you as it is for him. You’re both my children and I wanted to make this nice for the both of you and my grandkids. May be you don’t remember but in addition to this being his fortieth birth year, this is also the year when you are celebrating your tenth wedding anniversary with him. I had wanted to make it special for you too, unbeknownst to you, and that was my only intention behind agreeing with everything of your choice. This is as much about you as it is about him. Regarding demanding a speech, well, I’ll admit my selfishness in that. For a woman who was widowed while still young and who has little to look forward to, I accept my intrusiveness and the desire to be included. I’m glad we had this conversation today because it reminded me of another woman who was extremely intrusive and really not very liked by another young lady whose life that old bat had sworn to make miserable”.
I see a glimmer of utter dislike in her eyes that would’ve been frightening under different circumstances but Ibv venture carelessly,
“Who was she?”
“That, my dear, was the most dreadful woman who ever walked this earth. She was so into my business that I had no control over my life. Her complete hold on my life coupled with my husband’s absolute adoration for her was a nuisance that I had to live with for as long as she lived. That woman, my dear daughter-in-law, was my most diabolical mother-in-law”.
For my mother-in-law to say the word “diabolical” is like how kids today use four-letter words but I let her go on.
“I vowed to myself that I’d never be like her but it seems that I have, in fact, become exactly like her”.
I instantly feel bad for my mother-in-law. If I was honest, mine is so fair and just. She loves my kids and loves me too. She has been there for me during my pregnancies. She has been a great financial support to us on occasion. Why couldn’t I let her have the cake? I’m really extremely emotional.
“Dear”, mother-in-law continued, “I’m going to break the cycle of toxicity that women bring down on women by making a promise with you. In the future, I’ll be honest with you. I’ll be forthright and I’ll be forgiving. You’re young and learning. So what if you don’t like domestic chores? Being better than you at baking and cleaning doesn’t prove I’m a better person. “I’m very proud of you” is what I have wanted to say many times before but didn’t. I was never told that she was proud of me and so I learned that this is not something we say to our daughters in-law”.
She’s being so genuine that I can’t help but hug her. She’s about six inches taller than me and I’m super gangly so it’s an awkward hug but I feel warm and fuzzy.
Suddenly I remember,
“Dear mother-in-law! Did you get a chance to tell my husband that he is to write a speech for you?”
“No, dear! But it’s not necessary now”.
“It’s absolutely necessary. You deserve it”.
“Okay. Since you have reminded me of my speech, I should remind you of that song that you were going to sing for him”.
I suddenly felt shy. I had been practicing a song. I said,
“Well I was gonna sing Cocacabana”.
For a minute it looks like she’s going to make a snide comment but then her face breaks into a grin and she asks me to sing it.
I try to carry a tune but my voice breaks many times. I continue singing and try to detect subtle signs of amusement in her face but find none. She is attentive and encouraging. Finally when I finish I ask her, breathless from the singing,
“So, did you like it?”
Mother-in-law looks at me. She has eyes the color of the sea and it looks like they’ve seen a storm or two. Her brow furrows exactly like my son’s when he’s thinking hard about what to say. There’s always the ghost of a smile on her face, something that makes her formidable as it makes her endearing. I asked her again, thinking she hadn’t heard me,
“Was I any good, mother-in-law? Is this song fit to be sung for my husband?”
Her face with its thousand lines broke into the most beatific smile.
“You were perfect, dear! This song is fit for a king, dear child! Fit for a king”.