My mother-in-law, Husband's blood mother, has been visiting us for the last seven days from New York. It's the best time she and I have ever spent together, which is saying a lot. She is not mean or malicious or overbearing. She's very neurotic, which I tend to like in a person, but it's just that . . .did I mention she’s a Jehovah's Witness?
She requested, starchly, to be called Grandmother at Mina's birth which we've all transformed into "Grandmutter" whether she realizes it or not. For the past ten years I've thought of her as stiff and kind of cold. I've had no idea whether she's liked me or not --I couldn't get a bead on WHAT she was truly feeling -- and I only assumed, by how she acted around me, that she did not feel I was good for her son. Or she thought I was destined to eternal damnation. Frankly, both opinions didn't really bother me much as long as Husband was cool with everything. She being a Jehovah's Witness and me being pagan heathen kinda put this wedge between us for some reason, and it's made for uncomfortable visits in the past.
Grandmutter was not always a Jehovah's Witness. She converted when my husband was only eight years old. This is an incredibly tough age to make such a drastic change which included taking away Christmas and birthdays; JW's don't believe in celebrating these. To a child of that age those holidays feel like a celebration of THEM; stopping that feels personal. Her conversion was a painful time for them both. She had a new husband, also a converted JW, and she wanted her son to blend seamlessly into this transition. She wanted desperately that he too be saved by Jehovah. But my husband was Bronx-reared and an incredibly smart child and by the time he was eight, he was too independent and jaded to convert easily. He decided to move to Long Island with his father instead. From what Husband has told me, this move hurt Grandmutter tremendously. As a mother, I can only imagine how much. But getting out of the Bronx and moving to Long Island saved my husband's life on many levels. At such a young age he made the best decision for his own survival, to better his life in the grand scheme of things. I admire him for that.
During these last seven days, Grandmutter and I have talked the most we ever have. It's actually the most time we've spent together mainly because Husband has been working a lot and because he’s only spent as much time as he can handle with Grandmutter, which is just enough before someone notices that it's not quite a lot. He loves her, but she has a deep history of grating on him. Sometimes she can get to him still, beginning with the fact that she still calls him by his childhood nickname. She yells it out in an all-nasal tone -- so nasally she barely moves her lips -- and she lilts the last syllable upward until Husband's eyes shut and his teeth clench. She says my name that way now too which I find partly endearing and partly nails-on-chalkboardish.
She and I have mainly talked about the Road to Health this past week. Recently, she has found herself focusing on the power of good health. She's lost 23 pounds this year. Health is a good common ground for us. It beats the topic of why I'm going to hell. She's asked for my advice on staying fit and for healthier cooking tips. It's the first time she's ever asked what I do for a living. We've walked everywhere – miles and miles -- in Santa Monica and she's taken the bus around here like a pro. We've been good listeners and attentive and kind to each other. To me this is god's plan in action.
That said, seven days is a long time for any house guest. Especially one with a lot of nervous energy and Mother's Guilt. She paces. She asks a lot of nasally questions. “MaaddNESS, do you have a safety pin? I can get it. Just tell me where it is. I just need one little one. Do you have one? Don’t get up.” “MaaddNESS,” (at 10:30 at night right as I’m about to go to sleep, she peaking into our bedroom), “How do I get HGTV on the television?” “MaaaddNESS, do you think that radio is too close to the sink? Because I"m worried about the water, the way it creeps towards the radio.” And if she’s obsessing about something, FORGET IT:
"How far to the Getty Museum? You don't want to go? Can I walk? Can I take the bus? Can you look up the schedule for me? You don't want to go? It's really that far? No, it's ok, we don't have to go. Fine, no, it's ok. Maybe I'll just go. You want me to take your car? Oh no --- really? I'll just take the bus. Over an hour? Really. You don't like the Getty? I just really want to go to the Getty . . ." And on and on and on and on.
I’ve also never met someone that uses so much toilet paper in my life. I mean, I buy the hug-gigantic rolls meant for an entire half-way house. Rolls are gone in a matter of hours, moments? I don’t know what’s going on in there.
And she’s one of those old school women where every plate of food has to be prefaced with, “Oh my dear, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to eat this. This is far too much. I probably won’t eat that whole thing. Ok, just a tiny bit more. Oh, that’s so much food. Oh my dear . . .(repeat several, several times until we've completely tune her out)” and then she cleans her entire plate and is eating something else within the hour saying again how much food it is. I actually found this ritual very entertaining.
Anyway, though it was a pleasant visit, all that stuff and the general Feeling of Being On Call ALL THE TIME for a Neurotic Houseguest has made me feel very enclosed in my own house which is the theme over at Self Portrait Challenge this month.
(Blogger is not allowing me to upload my "portrait". Great. What's funny about the photo is that while Grandmutter was getting ready in the bathroom, I stealthfully walked by and snapped a photo without her knowing. We're both barely in the picture, but we do seem boxed in. I'll try to upload again later. *sigh* [Holy shite - I've tried, like, 500x's and still nothing -- I wonder if it's me . . .naw, I just looked on Blogger's "Known Problems". Uploading is one of them, among other things. So much hype over this dumb photo that isn't even that good.])