The first time I met my now mother-in-law she caught my partner and I making out on the hammock outside of her home. I was just barely 22 years old and so embarrassed. However, that night at dinner, in the middle of a sentence, she turned to my partner and said, "I love her! You better not f*ck this up!" This was the first of many times my mother-in-law destroyed the myth that all mothers-in-law are "evil."
Maybe I started out with different expectations of the daughter-in-law/mother-in-law relationship. My own mother was best friends with my father's mother well after my parents' relationship ended. I saw the love my mother and paternal grandmother had for one another and I admired the hell out of them for hanging onto that fierce female friendship despite a nasty divorce.
I've heard the horror stories other people my age have with their mothers-in-law, but those stories are just so beyond the realm of my experience. My mother-in-law has always been kind, honest, and helpful. Before I married her son she called me "the daughter of my heart." She has a gruff-yet-endearing honesty that's one of my most favorite things about her, but after 15 years of knowing her it's only one of the many reasons I absolutely adore her. So trust me when I say that, contrary to popular belief, not all mothers-in-law are evil.
When She Brought Me Wine
How could I not love someone who brings me wine? Seriously. The week after my first child was born my mother-in-law drove eight hours from another state to bring me a bottle of wine. Well, and maybe she did it to hold her first grandchild, but I mostly remember the wine.
When She Fills Our Fridge
I guess some people might take offense to their mother-in-law visiting with bags of groceries. I, however, am not one of those people. With a family of five, groceries are an exorbitant part of our budget. No matter how short her stay, or how short her own budget, I don't think Ma has ever not filled our fridge with nutritious food. This is a huge help to us, especially since my unexpected lay off at the end of last year. I'm always so grateful for her selfless contributions to making sure we're all fed.
When She Fusses Over My Children
Of course they're her grandchildren and she should fuss over them. Still, somehow she does this in a way that's never intruding or contradictory to the parenting choices my partner and I are making. She respects us as parents and shows it. The few times we've asked her to change something in relation to our kiddos, she does it without question and without resentment.
Oh, and the clothes she's constantly getting them? Pretty sure my kids would be naked if it wasn't for Ma's wardrobe updates every six months.
When She Accepted My Transgender Child
I remember my partner being quite nervous to talk to his parents about our assigned male at birth child telling us she was actually a boy-girl. His mother's most surprising response? "I'm so happy I finally get to buy dresses!"
That is what I call unconditional love.
When She Remembered My Allergies
This may not seem like a huge deal, but after years of having to remind my own family that, "No, we can't have the family stuffing recipe with mushrooms because my throat may literally close," it was a refreshing change. I'll tell you what it felt like: respect and love.
When She Taught Me How To Ride A Horse
I know, I know, it's so sad I never rode a horse until I was in my late 20s, but it's true. Thankfully, Ma took hours out of her day to first lead me around by a horse-leash (and, yes, that's the technical term I am sure). Then she rode side-by-side with me for four miles in a deserted national forest to make sure I wasn't bucked off and left for dead.
When She Was Totally Hardcore
This woman moved to the middle of nowhere three months before winter at 10,000 feet altitude. There was nothing on this land when she made that move. It was honestly 30 acres of actual nothing. In 2006, she and my father-in-law lived in a '70s-style camper while they built a one room cabin with their own two hands.
Then, you guys, she lived off the grid for a decade. Pooping in an outhouse, showering with a pump, a bag, and a pot of gray water boiled on an outdoor stove.
If that's not some hardcore badassery, I don't know what is.
When She Survived
She survived this wildfire, ya'll.
When She Took Care Of Us
While my mother-in-law was actually a nurse before she retired, it certainly isn't expected of her be a nurse on her off time. Still, that's exactly what she did in March of this year. Halfway through the seven hour spring break road trip to the grandparents' house, three of us were vomiting nearly uncontrollably. By the time we arrived on her doorstep, through an unexpected blizzard, four of us were unrecognizable in our pathetic illness.
"Hungry?" she asked. I looked at her, almost in tears but too weak from all the vomiting. "Oh my god, no!" I replied, and practically shoved the 11 month old in her arms so I could run to the bathroom.
Without any trace of the annoyance that you'd expect from someone whose peace was just interrupted by an unknown plague, Ma cleaned up our children's vomit for two days so my partner and I could try to sleep it off. She made us chicken soup and watched endless cartoons with our three sick kids.
After the week was over she and her husband had both been laid up with our sickness, too. Never once did she blame us or wish we hadn't come. She actually thanked us for allowing her to take care of us. Who does that? My mother-in-law, that's who.
When She Chose Us, Without Hesitation
Though it continues to boggle my mind how people can even question whether or not to support their kids, it's no secret that supporting your transgender kid can cause quite the ruckus in certain families. In my case, I have several fantastic supports (including my mother and her husband, too), but I've also had some heartbreaks. Some people in my own family haven't been too kind about our support of our child's gender identity and expression. My mother-in-law has been present when I received two particularly callous and painful communications from the aforementioned family members.
Her response? A scoff and an incredulous, "I just don't understand that at all. It's their loss. They don't know what they're missing."
She is steadfast in her commitment to love and respect each and every one of us for who we are, not her idea of who we should be.
When She Mourned
It may seem strange to admire a woman for the way she mourned, but I do. A couple years ago Ma lost her own mother. As all mother/daughter relationships are complex, I'm sure there are things I can't know or understand about their relationship. However, I do know this: when I see Ma remember her mother and hear her words of commingled nostalgia, grief, and love, I see pure, honest, and unself-conscious vulnerability. In my experience that is one of the most rare and precious states of human experience. It's rarer still to witness.
So, to my incredible mother-in-law: I am so grateful you are my children's grandmother. Perhaps even more so, or at least equally, I am honored and humbled to call you my true friend.