My mother and I were chatting over FaceTime on Thanksgiving when she brought up an essay I posted a few months earlier on my blog Facebook page. In it, I recounted a phone conversation she and I had where she asked if it bothered me that Mel doesn’t keep a cleaner house. I told her, “I didn’t marry Mel for a clean house. I married her because she seemed like someone I could spend the rest of my life with.”
Mom responded with silence. Eventually she said, “I suppose that’s more important than a clean house.”
“Yes,” I said. “It is.”
The essay took off, and although Mom doesn’t spend all that much time on Facebook, it eventually made it into her feed, months later, and suddenly we were discussing it in a sideways sort of way.
She gave me the usual comments about how she’s proud of my success as a writer, but she isn’t in love with how I write about EVERYTHING. “I didn’t mean to be rude,” she said.
I agreed with her; she didn’t. I honestly don’t think that my mom had ill intentions, but rather, it had more do with curiosity and differences from her own childhood and years as a young mom.
Although I was in Oregon and she was in Utah, with the noise of Thanksgiving festivities in the background, it felt like it was just the two of us for a moment. She looked down at the screen, her mouth in a tight line, chin rolling with age, hair newly bleached and styled for the holiday. “I want you to know that I do appreciate Mel,” she said. “I do love her, and I love how she is to the children.”
Her statement was appreciated, albeit a little awkward, as moments like these always are. I never really know what to say, but I think what bothered me the most was that she was saying this to me, when it felt like she really ought to be saying it to Mel.
My mom and I were both quiet for a while.
“Thanks,” I said. “Would you like to speak to the kids?”
“I’d like to speak to Mel first,” she said.
I paused for a moment, not sure what to expect.
I called to Mel that my mom wanted to talk, and when she started to gather our children, I stopped her. “She just wants to talk to you,” I said.
Mel gave me a concerned look. Then she leaned in next to my ear and whispered, “Talk to me about what?”
I shrugged. I tried to remember if something like this had happened before, and I couldn’t. I could tell that Mel wasn’t exactly expecting the worst, but she was preparing for it. I don’t care how long you have been married, one-on-one moments with in-laws are always a little stressful.
Mel walked down the hall cautiously, sat down on the sofa, and picked up the iPad. I stood in our kitchen, trying to listen with half an ear. I was curious, sure. But I also didn’t want to leave Mel without a lifeline.
I heard words like “appreciate” and “love” and “I’m sorry” from my mother. Mel smiled and said, “thank you” and “don’t worry about it.”
They only spoke for a few moments, but it was an important exchange.
It’s hard to make sense of a moment like this. Should it have taken me writing about the conversation I had with my mother to get her to apologize to my wife? Did she even owe her an apology? Yes, no, maybe. I don’t know, but what I do know is that isn’t the point.
What really matters here is that what my mother said was sincere. I’ve known her, well… since birth, and I can tell when she’s lying. This isn’t to say that I fully understand my mother, because I don’t. But the fact is, she had the opportunity to go a lot of ways with this. She could have gotten offended by what I wrote, and stopped talking to us. She could have bawled me out over the phone. She could have tried to turn the whole family against Mel and I.
I mean, honestly, I know that there are people reading this right now that have seen something similar. It’s never pretty. But it happens.
Instead, my mom took a moment to reflect on what I’d written, and then take an action to help bring our family together rather than apart. It was a mature moment, and as we all know, maturity doesn’t necessarily come with age. I’m as guilty of that as anyone.
I sat down next to Mel. She and my mom were laughing now. Our three kids came down the hall, curious about what was going on. They sat next to us on the sofa and Mom told them “Happy Thanksgiving.”
And once that was all over, and the family stepped away, it was just my mom and me again.
“Thanks, Mom,” I said. “You didn’t need to do that, but it was good of you. I appreciated it.”
She smiled at me. Not a forced or awkward smile, but a sincere one.
And then we said our goodbyes, knowing that there was a lot to be thankful for that day.
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