Sunday, July 12, 2009

In-law Initiation

The mother-in-law horror stories I've heard over the years are enough to scare the living daylights out of any single girl. But I have been known to plunge headlong into situations without giving much thought to what I'm setting myself up against. It's not that I'm a risk-taker; I'm just totally clueless most of the time, letting childish caprice get the better of me.

I got married anyway.

Now--- after over 14 years of marriage, 3 kids and weekends, like clockwork, with the in-laws arriving sometime in the morning and leaving a few hours before midnight--- I look back at the horror stories and feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude at my luck.

I adore Mom (-in-law). I met her when I was just 23--- an angry, impulsive, insecure young woman who could barely walk upright unless buttressed by my false and forced conviction that I was better than everyone else. Mom is plump and waddles when she walks, but with an incongruous grace. She wears huge glasses perched on her perky, tomato-shaped nose, covering almost half of her face. Back then, she wore her hair in a gigantic black and white afro, but with bigger curls. She was doomed to looking like a clown whenever I drew caricatures of her, but that hairstyle has so much character and I think it suits her perfectly. There is a perpetual grin on her face, lifting her round cheeks and adding more lines around her eyes, which glimmered with vigilance and keen interest. She does not wear jewelry, except for her wedding ring and a gold matinee length chain around her neck, weighed down by a religious medallion roughly about the size of a Ritz cracker. I think she's better off unadorned because of her propensity for pantsuits in bright colors and loud print. She likes expensive shoes and bags, and wears them with as much confidence as her McDonald's wristwatch. She is such a character and I was intrigued from that first meeting.

Mom is child-like: in awe of the most mundane things, which is why she can be so inquisitive. She loves to hear about what I did, where I went and what I talked about with whom. Although she has the attention span of a 5-year old, it is not deliberate and she makes up for it with her uncanny knack for remembering in detail the parts of our conversations with which she was absorbed.

Mom has a habit of telling people how to do things, which annoys my father-in-law to no end, as he is the perennial victim. She's not being intentionally difficult or domineering. I know this because when I speak up and tell her I'm used to doing some things in a particular manner, she gets wide-eyed with interest and asks me to teach her my system. I guess at a certain age and armed with the badge of seniority, we're all guilty of becoming unknowingly bossy, proselytizing that our way is better just because we've been doing it longer. Mom is not a bully; she will tell me how to cook ampalaya but next thing I know she's cooking it my way.

Her quirks did not initially inflame me with warmth and affection. Even to this day, some of her habits still annoy me though I now recognize her motivations. I still get terribly impatient with her tendency to ramble, her story never quite reaching its crux. Often, when she loses her train of thought, I have to fill in the blanks and play charades with her just to get the point of her story, for my closure.

Recently, I discovered that this exercise honed my listening skills and made me pretty good at guesswork. In my book club's last discussion, we had a game where G, the moderator, would run down a list of ingredients for a specific dish that she had in mind, and we were supposed to guess what it was (like Name That Tune). By the fourth ingredient, I was flailing my arms wildly to be called upon to answer, along with 3 others. G finally called on me, after the others had guessed incorrectly.

I won the prize--- an autographed cookbook by Nancy Reyes-Lumen--- because only I had intense training at guessing games: from my funny, adorable, endearing mother-in-law.


Frederika Villacarlos said...

Ajie, thanks for posting this. I will let me kids read this so they can see a side of their lola that I, unfortunately, have not (can not?) describe as lovingly as you have. She too is lucky to have you for an in-law. Thanks! ~Peach

almaf said...

i say you have that midas touch in you. anything/anyone you write about becomes more than just "ordinary".

why don't you add those blogs you have in multiply on this page so your followers can read those too?

Peter S. said...

Hi Ajie! Did you come up with those drawings! You're so talented! I can't even draw stick figures properly.

Ferdieb said...

where are the ads?

mental wayfarer said...

Peter: Yes, I did those. Thanks for the compliment. You just made my day.:)
Ferdie: Wala pa. I think may "probationary period" or something. I'm not even sure how it works, but i thought i'd give it a try anyway. Heheh.

Miss F said...

I really love the portrait you made of your mom-in-law, through words and drawing. You wrote it so realistically, without judgment or sentimentality. and that's why it's beautiful.

mental wayfarer said...

Thanks, Miss F.:) See you on the 25th...?