Saturday, 9 April 2011

My mother-in-law

Mothers in law occasionally (!!) comes up as a topic of coversation among some of my friends.

It is beyond me why male comedians seem to poke fun at their wife's mother-in-law. I think my women friends, like me, will agree whole-heartedly that there is nothing on earth worse than the mother of your husband, especially if you have married the only or favourite or most useful son. (Mine was the latter)

In point of fact my partner got on very well with my mother, and she loved him to bits. Even my father was heard to refer to me, his daughter, as his son-in-law's wife. Now is not the post to dissect that one.

Moving swiftly on to my infamous MiL. My first words to her were over the 'phone when I was in Australia and we had decided to get married. (Married to my partner, not my MiL, heaven forbid). I don't remember anything terrible about that, so let's move on to her first bout of interference.

We got married in a Register Office in Sydney. Neither of us is/was religious, and we weren't into show. Getting married was for us, quite simple really. We invited two obligatory witnesses and had three gate-crashers. My parents didn't come/chose not to come, and luckily the MiL couldn't either.

Happily married and ensconced in our little flat in Potts Point, we received a letter from her one day. Telling us how she was going to organise a church blessing and a party for us when we got back. Knowing what I do of her now, I'd be surprised if she was going to pay for it. And anyway, it's not the role of the mother of the bridegroom to go around organising stuff. That would have been the prerogative of my parents, who, luckily weren't stupid enough to suggest it. MiL didn't give up lightly.

In the end Partner told her in no uncertain terms that we had absolutely no interest in a church blessing or a party, and she had better not lift a finger to organise a cup of tea - let alone anything else - because we certainly wouldn't be attending.

That first attempt to interfere should have rung warning bells. Maybe it did. When we first met, she looked me up and down, and said, in a very pronounced South Wales accent, "Well, you're a skinny rabbit aren't you?" Possibly I was. Almost certainly I was, but "Hello, daughter-in-law, how lovely to meet you and welcome to the family," might have been a nicer greeting.

What should I call her? "You can call me Mam, or Our Mam," which is what all her children called her. But I noticed her son-in-law called her by her name. She wasn't my mother and I wasn't going to call her Mam. She got her name when I called her anything to her face.

Next up, we have moved to a rented place in Herts just north of Watford. MiL lived further north, we were probably equidistant between her and Watford. One evening she rings up and declares she wants to go to Watford Market the next day. Er why?

What Partner was instructed to do, was to drive up to collect her, then back (past our house) and on into Watford. Followed by a traipse around the shops with her, dutifully carrying all shopping, no doubt paying for coffee at a caff, and then piling her and and shopping into MY car, set off on the return journey past our house, up to hers and finally back to ours. Get the picture?

Hello MiL, how about you ring up saying YOU are driving to Watford and would one of us like picking up? She did drive and had her own car. Dear reader, alarm bells were def ringing on this one. I could see no logical reason for my partner to take my car to his mother's and drive however many miles out of the way when she was more than capable of driving herself.

The words CONTROL, POWER, DOMINANCE, MANIPULATION, sprung to mind. After - amazingly - a reasoned discussion that evening, he agreed to ring her in the morning and explain that sadly he was no longer free to do the Watford shopping run.

Then there was the bags of coal story. By now we had moved to our own house. She had been down to visit her mother in South Wales, and came back with a couple of bags of coal that were no longer needed.

Did she take them home and ring to ask us to collect them? The woman who couldn't drive herself to Watford? Of course not. She was with a friend, and they just happened to be passing our new house - which she had not yet been invited to, I may add. She happened to be passing 20 miles or so north of her own house, on the way back from Wales.

I think she needed a GPS because there was no way our house was remotely on the route between her place and Wales. At all. Nosy old MiL couldn't resist an excuse to come and sticky beak around our house. Like hell. I called Partner from whatever he was doing and he met her at the door, thanked her for the coal and sent her on her way. She didn't get across the threshold. In fact she never did.

Nor did she get to the second house either. But the third one ..... this was where Her Majesty was allowed to visit. I don't know what came over me. We were of course, living in the best part of the city, although in a small terraced house. We hadn't been in long, but we invited her up for autumn. We put a bed in the small bedroom, and tidied it up for her arrival. She was scheduled to stay a week I think.

I did the dutiful DiL thing as best I could. It included carting her over to the Lakes when I had a business meeting so she could traipse around some twee town and enjoy the scenic journey. I cooked for us. We were vegetarian by then. One day I came in from work and she was ensconced in the kitchen - she had decided she wanted cauliflower cheese and had bought a cauli and was preparing to cook. Well, she couldn't cook for shit. Her sprouts were soggy as hell because she put those stupid crosses in them, her gravy was undiluted salt, and any meat she ever cooked was virtually cinders. I quailed. And took over the cooking. Bloody cheek anyway taking over my kitchen without asking. Imperious dragon.

But she obviously liked something about the trip, apart from the cheap shopping trolley that she bought up the high street as a souvenir. Shortly before leaving, she announced that she could live with us in the small room (well until she took over ours no doubt). "I can just bring a few knick knacks, a couple of bits of furniture and install myself here." I was rather diplomatic in those days. Well sort of. I didn't actually say "Fuck. Right. Off. Mother-in-Law."

I developed paranoia about the descent of the MiL demanding permanent residency status. Apart from anything else, she had three other kids who all lived within a stone's throw of her down south. Why in hell did she want to come and live with us? I'm an only child and had both parents at that time, but clearly one would probably be left and it would have first call on being looked after. Not the MiL. Go live with your own daughter or your other two sons.

She announced her next visit would be at Easter. JFC, how much furniture and knick-knacks would she be bringing? And anyway, I didn't want to entertain my bloody MiL at Easter. Just wait until you are asked (not that she would be again).

Partner rang her back and patiently told her we would not be around. It seemed she had some friends visiting the area and she had cadged a lift (she seemed to make a habit of it where possible). Well she could damn well uncadge it.

By now, I was beginning to get the measure of her, say seven years into the marriage. I figured she'd turn up anyway. Partner wasn't so sure. I mean, why would your mother turn up on your doorstep when you had told her point blank you wouldn't be around? Nevertheless he agreed to my precautionary measures.

We stole out of the house incredibly early, bustled the dogs into the car, and escaped up the coast. We stayed out all day and got rather hungry although we had some lovely dog walks on the beach. Eventually, we headed for home. We pulled into the back street to put the car in the garage. Then we went into the garden through the back gate and sneaked into the house through the back door.

I had visions of her sitting on the front doorstep complete with bags, baggage, knick knacks and furniture. I had left the curtains pulled so she wouldn't see us in the house if indeed she had turned up. I ran through scenarios in my head about sending her on her way in a taxi. I skulked up the stairs to 'HER' bedroom to peep out of the window. The coast was clear. I breathed the biggest sigh of relief.

As I walked leisurely down the stairs I glanced through the glass door into the porch. There was something on the floor. Shit! I picked up a letter. In her handwriting. Oh yes, the old dear had honestly had the balls to turn up. I knew she would.

It seemed she was embarrassed. She had told her friends that she was coming to stay with us over Easter. But when they turned up we weren't there. (No, we said we wouldn't be - did you tell your friends that one too?). Can't remember what happened after that. I think she ponced some accommodation from the friends of the friends before they all went back down south again.

Not long afterwards there were snotty letters, snotty 'phone calls, general family interference, and Partner got sick of it. He stopped speaking to her.

Fast forward to a couple of years ago, and he spoke to his sister expressing his condolences on the death of her daughter, his niece. 'Oh, it's your wife's fault that you and mum aren't speaking isn't it?' said Big Sis. 'No,' said Partner patiently, 'Mum and I fell out about something else'.

See, the miserable woman had clearly told all the family that everything was my fault. Well, fuck her. Because you know what, we didn't even get a frigging wedding present from her. Or Christmas presents. Or birthday presents (not as though she could forget mine, given that it is the day after Partner's).

Just forgotten the Mother's Day tale. Partner and I don't do Mother's Day. We didn't do it separately before we met, and we didn't do it afterwards. We both figured - before we met each other - that we did enough for our mothers all year round and we were damned if were going to pay through the nose for flowers and buy a silly card. We agreed, on marriage, to continue with this policy.

What happened when we visited his mother's a few days after the dreaded Mother's Day? There was a bloody card signed by my Partner. I was not pleased. When we got home I tackled him. He swore blind he hadn't sent one. So was I supposed to believe that she had dragged out a card from many many years previously, dusted it off, and displayed it so that people wouldn't think he hadn't sent one? Well, knowing her as I came to do, I could easily believe that.

I think that's the lot. Hope it brought a smile to someone's face somewhere. If not my MiL. I lied. There is more. My MiL's generosity knows no bounds. When we first turned up on her doorstep for the Big Reunion after getting married in Aus, she offered us a drink. Well not straightaway. In fact, I think when she offered tea, Partner asked for a beer. She frowned. "What would you like to drink?" she asked me and pointed to her drinks cabinet. "But you can't have the brandy. That's mine." Just as well I didn't like brandy wasn't it?

That same trip, we were naturally sleeping on the floor in the sitting room. One night she was going out with the new old husband, ie it was her third marriage. This was to her second husband who she had married twice because they had got divorced at one point. Sort of like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Maybe not quite like them. "Don't take too much money" she instructed poor FiL. "And don't go buying people drinks." We had a nice peaceful night in. Partner's gran was staying too, and took a bottle of lemonade to bed. Presumably to combat the salty food.

Some time near midnight the reckless party animals came in. MiL plonked herself down on the sofa, next to our sleeping bags on the floor and started blethering away. Jeez! Just shut up and clear off to bed. Suddenly she said "Isn't the ticking of that clock annoying you?" "NO!" shouted Partner. "Just the sound of your voice." She went to bed then.

However, we could have stayed there for some time. Unemployed, on the dole, and looking for work. Naturally we would have to pay board to sleep on the floor in the sitting room, accompanied by the noisy clock. We went back to my parents where we had our own room, and didn't pay board.

Sadly, some years later the FiL died. He was a nice guy. We went to his funeral in South Wales. See previous funeral post. MiL had done her usual trick of buying and selling council houses which she always got housed in because she had a registered disability and now had a small two-bed council house back in SW. She had one of the bedrooms. Her sister had been staying with her and had the other bedroom but come the day of the funeral and the advent of the guests, she cleared off to her own place. That left a bedroom free. The guests were us, one of Partner's brothers, and two friends of FiL. Who got the double bed? Well not us. Not the oldest bloke either (nice guy). Just some bloke who no-one else knew. The rest of us slept on the floor.

But the real issue was our two dogs. They HAD to sleep in the cupboard. Huh? Dogs sleeping in cupboards. Locked up in a tiny space?? We didn't rock the boat. Waited for everyone to go to sleep, aka the grieving window, and the guy in the double bed, and then the four conspirators - us, the younger brother, and the guy sleeping on the floor - let the dogs into the sitting room with us. The brother and the older guy didn't have a problem with the dogs so why the hell were they in the cupboard? In the morning we popped them into the porch and told MiL they had been out for a walk.

The dogs of course, were an issue at the wonderful future residence never-to-be of the MiL. When she came to stay, she insisted on waving her hands in the air at the dogs. We said this wasn't a good idea. Being dogs, they thought she had food for them. And jumped up. And knocked her over. So. Don't. Do. It. And don't blame the dogs. It is your fault, their home, and we have explained why they are doing it. Don't wave your bloody hands around.

Then there was the Cardiff trip. We were still in nice mode and Partner had gone to do up yet another of her council houses in South Wales. I arrived somewhat later by train to stay for a few days and travel back with him. It was our birthday week. MiL offered us her car for the day. My birthday. 'We can just pop into town, check on the curtains, blah blah boring blah, do this that and the other, take me back home, and then you can go to Cardiff.' ('Can you just?' should be written on her gravestone, 'Before you go, can you just ... rehang the toilet door, fix the toilet seat, hang the mirror, paint the wall - you name it.') I could see the day evaporating. And did I want to spend my birthday in boring local Welsh town following MiL around? Did I hell. And did I care about going to Cardiff in a Land Rover? MiL might have thought her Volvo was better but I didn't give a toss. We took the Land Rover to Cardiff and left her to her own devices. It was a very nice day. I liked Cardiff. I also liked not spending the day with my MiL.

Now, I really really think that is it. No husbands were harmed in the writing of this post. He has read it and corrected a couple of points. We both had a laugh remembering crap from the past. Lesson to MiLs. Don't fight battles you can't win.


Letty - A Little Girl With A Curl said...

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh! This brings back so many horrible memories and also present day ones.

I loved this post, (well I think you know me well enough with my MIL problems to know I would love it!)......but I also didn't love it, because your MIL seems cut of the same cloth as mine.

Mine has always disliked me intensely.....

Oh I will read this again tomorrow just to make myself feel better that I am not alone....

J x Have to also say, as a mother of two boys who have really nice girlfriends, I cannot imagine ever being so horrid as our joint mils seem to be towards us.

An AAM moment here, we too got married in a Registry Office, much to 'her' disgust, her being an "I am a christian and only attend church at easter and christmas type religion"..after the registrar confirmed we were both legally married, she loudly pronounced to the waiting throng in the registry office "well two minutes and it is all over!"..........and so it began. The long saga of hatred and cross contamination .........

Imogen said...

Reading this again, very early cos I have a mountain of stuff still to do here, but you have inspired me to write another post on my MIL Rant blog. The phone conversation I accidentally had with her last evening (picked up the downstairs phone in kitchen which doesn't have Caller Display), led to a few, if not many, LGWAC moments. So thank you for more inspiration. I won't thank her, cos she don't ever need thanking for anything. Well apart from her lovely son. I think he was like Moses in the Bullrushes, she must have "found him" he cannot be anything to do with her.

Bitter and Twisted Imogen. Who has not written her rant post yet, but soon will.