I have become my mother-in-law. I don’t know how it happened. I got ready for bed one night, just like any other night. Brushed my teeth (checked for wiggly ones), washed my face (with soap, don’t tell!), put on my sexiest XXL Waste Management T-shirt, and snuggled in under the covers.
I don’t know what happened that night. The day had been busy, I’ll grant you. My oldest daughter, Tootie, moved into an apartment and I had been very helpful toting things to her new place in the mini-van. Encouraging her to throw away the 900 dried-up bouquets and corsages which festooned her room. Insisting that if she was leaving, the Jar-Jar poster was leaving too – one way or another. That type of thing.
I crawled into bed and slept the sleep of the just. But something evil happened to me that night. I don’t know if I inhaled some foul and virulent Spores (that would explain my morning breath) or whether some filthy deviants from Planet X snuck in and messed with my dreaming mind (no doubt stopping for a moment to admire my sleep wear and note wistfully how hot Earth chicks are). I don’t know. All I do know is that I woke up Changed. And not for the better.
I raised my children to express themselves. For example, Dave, my Boy Scout, has his room decked out with animal skulls great and small. While he views these as exercises in natural science, his little brother sees them as nightmare fodder. But they have worked out a nice compromise. Dave doesn’t complain about the Pokeman stuff and Andy tries to pretend the skulls are not there.
We redecorated the girls room with virginal white walls, a cozy window seat stuffed with lace and chintz and over-blown rose prints. We refinished their little girl French Provincial furniture and decorated their walls with Constance Barkley Lewis garden fairy prints, bought cute home-made looking quilts and put down my grandmother’s antique throw rugs. When I say "we" I mean me. I decorated their room. And it was cute, cute, cute.
They proceeded to cover the walls with pictures of trilobites and fossilized ferns and fertility goddesses snipped from Scientific American, photographs of ladies with 12 inches worth of neck rings and luncheon plates in their bottom lips and cartoons of mathematical formulae. Which they thought were funny. Ah. Hee-hee. Cute, honey. . . ? Oh. And a huge close-up of Jar-Jar Binks. I think I mentioned that. And I never said a word. Their space, their decision. That’s what doors are for. As long as nobody had dishes or food in their room, I never criticized.
But now Tootie has an apartment. And everything is different. I went over there the other day. Her jacket was draped across a dining room chair. I saw it and something happened to me. Normally, when I find jackets, shoes, guitars, skateboards, or backpacks in my living room, dining room or kitchen, I holler. "If you want this (whatever it is) you’d better come and get it." Two or three minutes later I holler, "I am not joking, come and get it." Two or three minutes more of being ignored I shriek, "You are not the Queen (or King, depending) of Sheba and I am not the Dog Woman of Mars. Come get your stuff!"
I don’t know where I came up with the Dog Woman of Mars business, but they know what I mean. Two or three minutes later I simply open the front door and throw the offending effluvium into the front yard. Which might explain why I am not more popular with the neighbors than I am. But this was different. This was not my dining room. Not my house.
I watched in horror as my arm stretched out, beyond my control. I saw my hand, viewed it with detachment – how brown, how veiny, what awful nails – saw it reach out and grasp the jacket. My legs moved woodenly, controlled by something outside me, to the closet. Fighting an internal fight and losing, I watched my traitor hands hang that jacket in the hall closet. AAAAA!!!
"Mom? Did you just hang up my jacket? Mom? Are you O.K.?"
All those years of being angry with my mother-in-law for re-arranging my kitchen cabinets, for folding my laundry, for suggesting I dust. All those years I resented her, and bowed up when she lifted my jacket from the back of the rocking chair and asked if there was an empty hanger anywhere in this house. I blamed her. Thought her meddling. Thought her critical. And now I come to find out that she was not in control of herself. That she suffered from some unconquerable instinct to arrange and tidy and dust, and that I had been infected with the same viral horror. Oh, Tootie. I am sorry. But, I cannot help it. You will know someday.
Don’t you think this chair would look better over here? Do you ever water these plants? Who raised you? Wolves?