I actually wrote about this a month or so ago, when Mother’s Day was being held in the UK. Yesterday of course it was held in NZ, Australia, the US and Canada, South Africa, and probably a whole bunch of other countries. I was congratulating myself around 5 pm for getting through it okay. I realised I had seen little advertising, as these days – like so many people – our TV/internet/newspaper consumption is on demand, and we don’t have to sit through schmaltzy advertisements reminding me what I’ve missed out on. So I was feeling okay, as for the second weekend in a row I was a dutiful wife and daughter-in-law and spent the time with my in-laws.
My mother-in-law loves Chinese takeaways, and only gets them if we visit. So it’s easy for us to go out to their suburb, pick up dinner just down the street from them, and then have the meal with them. It’s a real treat for my mother-in-law, as for some reason she never walks the five minutes to buy them on her own. (That’s a whole different blogpost, that I won’t inflict on you!) Picking up the Chinese food, the lovely old lady who served us chirped, “Happy Mother’s Day!” I nodded (it wasn’t her fault), then grimaced – ouch - as we got outside. It took me by surprise.
Then, as we arrived at the in-laws, the MIL was so excited that her son had come to visit again. I should feel sorry for her – and I do – that all her grandchildren live overseas, and that three of her four sons do. Later, we chatted. She bemoaned the fact that she never had a daughter. That she used to commiserate with her next door neighbour (mother to two sons) that they never had little dresses hanging on the washing line. How sad it was that she couldn’t dress up a little girl. And she does all this in front of me. And her son. What I wouldn’t have given to be able to hang up little boys’ shorts and T-shirts on the washing line! I tried not to let it show. But of course, she doesn’t notice.
When her first grandchild arrived (a girl), she never bought her little dresses. She never did girly things with her. She doesn’t do that now with her other three grand-daughters, even when she visits them overseas, or they visit here. And I figure “maybe my life isn’t that bad?” My nieces know that Aunty “Mali” buys them cute clothes, fun girly things (without being too stereotypical). An older niece remembers me teaching her to wear mascara, and taking her shopping every year for all her school clothes once she turned 13. (Her mother would hand me a cheque, and send us off, knowing we both enjoyed doing it together). A friend’s daughter was delighted when I bought her a bunch of ear-rings for her newly-pierced ears. And I take pleasure in their pleasure. My mother-in-law has four grand-daughters, and it is no-one’s fault but her own that she doesn’t have the fun of going into a kid’s clothes shop to buy the most adorable little girls’ clothes. Besides, one of the benefits of being a gran or an aunty is that you don’t have to worry about how to wash or iron the cutest little outfits. That’s a mother’s problem, after all.
And finally, I’ve been a member of her family for over 20 years. So has my closest sister-in-law. My other sisters-in-law have been around for at least 10 years each. She has had the opportunity to have daughters, to learn from us what it means to be a young-ish (well, compared to being 87!) woman today and to share life with us. She doesn’t recognise the role we all play in the family. It’s not easy to communicate when the family is in five different countries, and most of the sons are dreadful correspondents. But we – the daughters-in-law - arrange family reunions, we talk and share issues and concerns, we keep that family together. We may not be daughters – but we’re the nearest thing she’s got.
It seems that this is an exercise in writing as therapy, rather than just a moanfest. I felt sad last night, but in writing this, I realise how lucky I am. I take the opportunities I have - I love buying my nieces presents and clothes, spending time with them, relating to them, sharing what I can of myself. I’ve nurtured a lovely relationship (albeit long distance) with one niece in particular, who is now emerging so beautifully and confidently into adulthood. Of course it’s not without pain. But as I said in my previous post, I’d rather have that, than the inability to relate at all.