I’m a reasonably intelligent person. Even as a kid I knew enough to crawl into the van to make sure there was candy before I agreed to the search for a missing puppy. I followed Bugs Bunny’s sage advice and looked down the barrel of a shotgun to make sure it wasn’t loaded. After all, the worst that could happen is I might get a blackened face right? Smart, that’s me. So, can someone tell me why I have to endure someone lecturing me about my entire family and then telling me I’m wrong when I disagree with her?
Superman is flustered today. While normally able to handle all adversaries with superhuman strength and resolve, he has been vanquished by the largest chunk of Kryptonite to fall to earth…the mother-in-law.
Yesterday she called me from work, supposedly barricaded in a closet for privacy, to discuss my wife and the situation we are in. If you have been following along you may know that my wife and I are pending divorce, living very far apart and our kids are all over the place. My wife is living with her best friend and she has our two youngest with her. It is a bad situation, the living conditions are not good and I worry about the kids living with such a messed-up family. All because my chronic illness finally took me out of the game and the money ran out and our beautiful family was torn apart. Regardless of how many people tell me it’s not my fault, I still bear tremendous responsibility for this and I feel awful about it.
She is the type of person that only asks you a question if she knows (or thinks she does) the answer already. From the beginning of my marriage, she and I have not spoken often because every conversation dissolves into discussing, and her bashing, her own daughter to me. I won’t have it. I may have my issues with my wife but I won’t disrespect her like that. Perhaps their relationship is toxic but I won’t be part of it. My expectations of the call were about the same until she tearfully told me how concerned she is for the mental well-being of her daughter. We had that in common, I have been terribly concerned for her as well, she is clearly depressed and I am helpless to do anything about it. The mother-in-law says she wants to help but doesn’t know if it is the right thing to do.
There is nothing that I can say here. I’m as useless in this situation as can possibly be. I have nothing to offer financially, which is killing me but I can’t suggest that she does. It’s her money, not mine. As she waffled back and forth between helping financially by renting her an apartment and then pulling it back because of “the precedent that it would set” I just sat there as her “Charlie Brown’s teacher” voice prattled on in my ear. All I could think of was the disapproving look on her face when wifey introduced us. It’s embossed on my brain. She was right, I wasn’t good enough for her daughter and now she was going to save the day when it was supposed to be my job. I finally told her that I think she should do what she thinks is right, that I will help as I can and I really can’t tell her what to do. That’s when the rest of “what was on her mind” came out.
She wanted to talk about my children. She is, justifiably, worried about my youngest daughter. I am as well. She lives with my wife, in that fucked-up house with my youngest son as well. She is not doing great by some standards. She does not have a room of her own, she does not have a job because she can’t get a ride to one, and she spends a lot of time alone. We all hate it. But she likes her school, has made a lot of new friends and she is making the most of it. The mother-in-law thinks she is depressed. I disagreed with her, and I was told that I was wrong. I was starting to get annoyed and very territorial. I know my children well because I make it my business to. I changed the subject. She then started on my other three.
My oldest two have lived with her since the move, or as I call it “the collapse”. They both were in college locally and it was nice of her to put them up. Now, my oldest daughter has graduated, gotten a good job and has spread her wings a bit. She has a room at Grandma’s but she spends most nights at her boyfriend’s house. She’s almost 22, I’m fine with it. Yet here I am getting lectured about how irresponsible and rude she is and how unacceptable it is to live with her boyfriend. I was again outraged. My daughter was a 4.0 student, worked full time and saved all of her money. She now has a great job, a full bank account and a nice guy in her life and you’re calling her rude and irresponsible?
Then she starts on my oldest son who just told her that he is moving into an apartment with his friends off campus. I don’t like it, I think it’s too expensive and I asked him not to do it. But he’s almost 21, has a good job and he wants to do it. But here I am being told how irresponsible he is, how he is an unfocused and lazy student. The blood pressure was rising again! My son has a 3.5 GPA, has worked every weekend since he was 16, has plenty of money in the bank and she should be glad he’s moving because she always complains about how late he comes in! He is a great kid and she was really pissing me off now. But the call wouldn’t be complete without tearing up my youngest son, who she never even sees.
She started to tell me how many “issues” my youngest son has. How he jumps from thing to thing, has a poor attention span and is a terrible student. I really had enough at this point. I told her that he is fine, in fact, he is just like me at that age. But she was insistent on continuing. Finally, amazed that I had lasted this long, I told her to stop talking and listen.
“Do you honestly think that you know my wife, your daughter, as well as I do? For 29 years I have been with her through everything while you two have done nothing but argue the entire time. Do you honestly think you know my children, my pride, my legacy, my only real accomplishment in life as well as I do? I tolerated this conversation because we’re both concerned about your daughter. Help her, don’t help her it’s up to you. But now I know why you and I don’t talk often. You like to be lemon juice on a paper cut.”
“Well, I’m sorry you feel that way,” she said. “I don’t feel better at all after having this conversation”.
“If it helps, I feel worse than I did. If that’s even possible”. We said our goodbyes and she went back to work.
She left a message for me last night apologizing. I’m afraid to call her back for fear of how much of my remaining dignity it will cost me.