My mother-in-law, in her 80’s, has taught me much through the 40 years I’ve been married to her son. We all get wiser with age and life experience, she’s no exception. I’m still trying to abide by her favorite piece of advice, that it’s better not to speak one’s mind in anger, because those words can never be taken back. And she’s followed her own advice, without fail.
The first encounter with my mother-in-law was when I phoned her son to invite him to a college prom. Shutting myself into a dorm phone booth, I repeated the speech I had prepared. “Hi! You might not remember me, but…” My heart raced in anticipation of hearing his voice at the other end of the phone. When I heard “her” voice instead, my heart stopped and I gulped. Expecting her to refuse my request, I asked for her son anyway. To my extreme delight, she asked me to wait while she called him. Hallelujah! My heart was racing again…
Since that day, my mother-in-law has shown nothing but support and love for my relationship, and marriage, to her son. Her generosity isn’t reserved for just us, it extends to her 11 other children as well, and her many, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She never speaks unkindly towards any of us, or about any of us. She is a living lesson in self-restraint and compassion for others.
Early on while dating my husband, I learned another valuable lesson from my unwitting mother-in-law. In those days, she was younger and feistier, and given to using a high-pitched, piercing voice when nagging her children about some undone chore or mischievous act. Who could blame her? With 12 kids to care for, I’d have taken a long vacation into the next millennium. I remember once witnessing her storm through the house, screaming the name of the villainous child, who quickly escaped out the back door. Those of us present glanced at one another with knowing smiles.
That scene often came to mind while raising my daughter. When upset my voice dropped several octaves and my words were measured, as I reprimanded her for inappropriate behavior. The only time I screamed at her, my daughter stood in absolute shock near the kitchen table looking as though she had escaped her body, hovering overhead until the tirade was over. So learning what not to do from my mother-in-law, disciplining my daughter was less exhausting. But then again, the odds were in my favor having only 1 child to her 12. And God bless her, she went on to babysit many of her “moapunas” (grandchildren). I have yet to experience that pleasure. Will I even have the energy?