About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
A Letter to My Once Mother-in-Law
The doctors say that it won’t be long now. Your son just called and told me. I have to say that I didn’t expect to be sucked down the long tunnel of dread, and I certainly didn’t expect the tears. I haven’t spoken to you in a month or so. That’s mainly my fault. Since I split with your son, I don’t call as much. I think it may have been a little uncomfortable for you, too, because you don’t call me either, not like at first.
As young women, we are often told what type of relationship to expect with a mother-in-law, and unfortunately, we often believe it. That’s where we started, in that place that every mother-in-law-daughter-in-law dyad is supposed to begin, midway between disdain and respect and halfway to fear.
Over time, we both figured that each was going to stick around awhile, so we had to get past the paper cuts and passive-aggressive behaviors that we inflicted on each other regularly. You would always be his mother and I would always be the mother of his children. No matter what we did or wished, our families would be linked forever. We learned that no matter what our differences were, there were some ways that we were alike, whether we liked it or not, and that there were some lessons that each of us had for one another.
We lived together for a brief time, and you told me things I knew you hadn’t told anyone else, not even your own daughters, and you saw right through my designer-clad tough façade enough to call me out when I was hurting and break it down for me when I let injustice pass. Some of the things you said were not encased in pretty words to soften the blow, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t the truth. I had to learn that you had been where I was just starting to go. Time had taught you how to carry a burden with dignity, a lesson you were trying to pass on to me whether I wanted it or not.
I bitched, but you taught me a lot of things, and for this, I want to thank you. Some of the lessons were small. Although I acted like I was appalled, I know that you can use lipstick as blush in a bind. People used to do it all the time and just because new stuff hit the market, it doesn’t make that untrue or even bad. Thank you. And it’s true that it’s cheaper to take my lazy ass to the post office to mail packages rather than go to the local shipping store. Thank you. Tuesday Morning does sell the BEST high-thread-count sheets at the cheapest prices. I will have sweet dreams many nights because of you. Thank you. I admit that Crisco works on baby eczema. You told me years before I read it in a fancy parenting magazine. Thank you.
Thank you for being the kind of grandmother that you were for my children. I had to learn to let you live in the space where you were comfortable. Thank you for baking a trillion dozen cookies with the girls even though I objected. I said that my kids couldn’t have sugar and your lips said okay, but you were already firing up the oven. I know now that those early cookie lessons were also lessons in togetherness as well as lessons in math. Your love of the cookie-calculus will be carried on in your granddaughter, and I will make sure that she doesn’t forget the real sugar (not Splenda) and knows what salted butter does to a cookie recipe.
You told me stories of your youth, and I acted embarrassed, but those were things I needed to know. You pushed me to be a better mother to my kids, to think outside convention and to demand respect from myself and from the men in my life, your son included. You reminded me that degrees don’t make you smarter, just more educated, and that sometimes, plain old wisdom and not a textbook will get me to where I need to be.
I thought that when I broke up with your son, I was breaking up with you, too, but you didn’t believe that. You didn’t lose my number and didn’t even change how you acted towards me and reminded me that my children were still your grandchildren and I was still your daughter, whether I wanted to be or not. Mothering doesn’t always come from the person who is biologically your mother, and not everyone’s mothering is the same, but that doesn’t make it bad or not valuable. You urged me to keep my kids first and after you grilled me about what I wanted, you let me know that you were even woman enough to welcome whomever I let into my life next, into yours, too. If they made me happy, you would allow it.
I’m not sure when you’ll go. The doctors don’t know everything. Theirs is not the master plan. You were always strong-willed and definitely lived your life your way. You told me that many times, so I suppose you will go when you get good and ready. Good for you. The joke’s on them, isn’t it? You made me a promise a few years ago that you would let me know where you landed, and I know you will stick to that. I always have appreciated your stick-to-itive-ness, and I know this time won’t be any different. I will welcome your message, and won’t be afraid. Your presence in life challenged me to be a better me, so I can’t imagine that your presence in death will be any different.
Thank you, Charlenne, for being a part of my village of women. I didn’t expect to love you. I know now that the people who love you don’t always have to make you comfortable. Sometimes, it is their job to make you examine yourself and your truths and shake things up, helping you to divine your path. You helped me to divine mine. I’m honored to have shared almost twenty years of your life.
Nina Foxx is an award-winning filmmaker, playwright and novelist. She writes as both Nina Foxx and Cynnamon Foster and has authored eight novels, contributed to several anthologies and co-authored a text on writing. Nina and her younger brother were raised by a single father in New York City.