I used to hear stories about other people’s in-laws and think that I really shouldn’t complain. My mother-in-law is a bit of a handful, sure; but she’s generous, energetic, and great with my kid. I used to think I had it pretty lucky.
We just got back from a trip to Nana and Papa’s. We don’t get up there more than about twice a year, because whether you take a car, a plane, or a train, at some point the trip necessarily involves hours of driving. (I suppose helicopter would be an exception; they do have a big enough field that one could be landed there. I haven’t priced helicopter charters recently, but I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t fit in our budget.) This was a minor annoyance before the birth of HellBoy; since then, whenever the subject comes up, I get a visceral reaction something like I imagine a mild case of PTSD to be. But HB is much, much better in the car than he used to be, which is to say, he doesn’t keep up an unearthly, earsplitting, gurgling, yodeling howl the entire time.*
Anyway, we armed ourselves with dvds and treats (both of which lose all potency after about twenty minutes), and off we went. It was bad, that’s all I’ll say. But we got there. And it’s little boy heaven at Nana’s. HB went on a horse and a tractor, caught a fish, swam in the pond, chased tadpoles, ate cherries, and was doted upon. TrophyHusband did lots of bike riding. I caught up on some work, which was relaxing in its own way. I had insisted in advance that we only stay three days, because by the fourth day, I’m usually cracking from the strain of not saying what I’m really thinking. This time, though, Nana seemed to be behaving herself. No comments about HB’s size—well, not very many; no comments about the fact that he doesn’t go to sleep at seven pm like his cousin—well, only one or two. On Tuesday evening, I had been lulled into thinking about offering that we put off leaving for another day.
The usual routine at Nana’s is that Nana and Papa take HB on adventures until he’s worn completely out; TH and I get a break until the end of the day, when one of us takes over wrangling him. Our last night there, Nana had just brought HB back from the pond. He was worn out and a little hungry. TH was off riding. HB and I played in the family room for a few minutes, but he insisted on jumping on the chairs naked, which is against the rules at Nana’s (both the jumping and the nudity), so I took him outside. We took a walk back to the pond, where he was happy for a little while, until I refused to push him around on the inner tube in the exact direction he preferred for the forty-seventh time. Then he threw a fit because I wouldn’t carry him in my arms like a baby all the way back to the house. Then he threw a fit that I wouldn’t let him go back inside to jump on the chairs naked. Then I didn’t spin him around by the arms and land him on the grass quite the right way. And etc. Finally his dinner was ready and I took him back inside and got his pants on.
Nana asked why he was being grumpy, so I recited litany of his complaints against me.
“You know where I think you should take him?” she said.
The hackles rose on the back of my neck. I knew I wasn’t going to like where this was leading. “To daycare?” I joked.
“No,” she said. “I think you should take him to a therapist. The two of you should go together, so that you can learn how to handle him.”
I was stunned speechless. Or more accurately, I was too stunned to think of something to say that wouldn’t take us right to in-law DEFCON 1. She mistook my silence as rapt attention, and went on. “You work really long hours, and when you get to spend time with him, you should be able to enjoy him, not resent him!” She kept talking, but the buzzing in my ears was so loud I couldn’t process it well.
I got HB safely into his highchair and fled upstairs to, I’m ashamed to say, bawl in the bathroom for the next fifteen minutes or so.
It’s a lot easier to take outrageous statements from her when they’re about something that I know she 100% wrong about. That we don’t feed HB, for instance. But this, this is a sore point. Of course it is—don’t most people fear that they’re not doing the “right” thing with their children? The fact that I know she’s batshit crazy didn’t make it less painful to hear. In some ways it made it worse—I had been thinking that maybe she wasn’t so bad, maybe we could have some real conversations from time to time. I had let down my guard.
Finally I splashed water on my face, came down and got a beer, and went back outside with HB until TH got home. I didn’t get long enough alone with him to let him know what was going on until we went to bed, at which point he was appropriately comforting, reminding me of all the horrible things she’s said to him over the years. We got out of there first thing in the morning, and I didn’t have to have any more conversations with her.
Thanksgiving, I’m staying home.
*When HB was an infant, Nana was terribly offended that we wouldn’t drive up to see them, and said that we just needed to let him “cry it out.” The next time she came to visit us, we got in the car for a short trip and HB did his usual routine. It lasted maybe five minutes before Nana was howling too. “My god, what’s WRONG with him?” she shrieked. “Make him stop! Make him stop! Let me out!” (In fact, I often had my husband let me out of the car once we got within a half mile of our house. He would have climbed out too, but that would have left no one to watch the baby. Although the way HB shrieked, I don’t think anyone would have been willing to even carjack him.) I think the longest we ever tried to let him “cry it out” was 45 minutes; perhaps we just didn’t wait it out long enough, but by that point our nerves were shattered. Multi-stop trips were even worse; he got more frantic with each time he was strapped into the seat.