‘Mother-In-law’ has long been a fear-inspiring phrase.
And I sympathize with the myriads of women the world over who have endured years of oppression under the malevolent yoke of spiteful torturesses who delight in terrorizing hapless daughters-in-law.
However, I must make a case for the forgotten breed of good mothers-in-law, who are often sidelined, stereotyped and maligned. My Mum-in-law is wonderful, and I am deeply grateful to have come into her life.
My Mum-in-law and her sister came today to see their granddaughter.
She does not drive, so they came on foot, loaded down with goodies. Mum is one of those old school Mamas who buys vegetables by the sackful and carries them expertly on her back. Today she brought a special gift for her namesake, a frilly, kitschy dress that her mother would never buy for her but will nonetheless make her wear because it was from Granny.
From under their kiondos and sacks, two wrinkled, beaming faces emerged to greet the shy toddler, who quickly warmed up to them when they began dishing out presents. There is a slight language barrier between us but we enjoy each others company and chat (mostly I am nodding and smiling) for a long time. After tea, she turned to her sister and said ‘to the shamba!’ With a decisive nod, her hard-of-hearing, docile, older sister got up and off they went to cultivate our now lush, expansive, vegetable patch. It was her gift to us.
We had just moved into our house and our baby was born in the midst of renovations.
Things were chaotic, to say the least. Mum would come and after sitting just long enough to gush at her very first grandchild and gulp a scalding cup of tea, she would get to work, digging, weeding, planting and watering. I must say I felt embarrassed because I had grown up believing that mothers-in-law are prima donnas who sit imperiously, while their daughters in law wait on them hand and foot.
As a new wife eager to please but at a loss as to where to start, I felt guilty for ‘putting her to work,’ as it appeared. With time, I grew to learn that behind our awkward exchanges and brief superficial chats, we were both struggling with our new roles. She had never had a daughter-in-law, and I had never been one. The love we share for her son and her grandchild unites us. The rest is unimportant – I play the dutiful hostess and try to make conversation in my limited vernacular, and she demonstrates her love by working non-stop from the moment she walks in. Even while we sit in the living room making small talk, her hands are busy – shelling peas or beans that she has brought.
She waxes lyrical with nutritional advice about foods and herbs that will make her namesake grow strong and healthy.
I listen politely, mentally noting what I will use, and discarding what I will not. She looks at her watch and rushes off, but this time I am grateful that she has let me cajole her into eating a meal first. She promises to take her granddaughter with her upcountry soon. I smile, feeling heartfelt gratitude for those rare lovely mothers-in-law. I have a feeling they are not as rare as you’d imagine.
If you happen to fear your mother in law its never too late to borrow some tips to appease them just for the moment.