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Gifts From My Mother-in-Law

My mother-in-law and I didn’t get off to the most promising start.

When my boyfriend took me to New York to meet his family, I already had one big strike against me:  I wasn’t Jewish. 

We hadn’t told his parents we were thinking about getting married.  We certainly didn’t tell them it might even happen that summer, a year before we graduated from college.

A pretty, dark-haired woman greeted us at the door.  She didn’t look old enough to be the mother of a college student.  She seemed more like a perky teenager who blurts out the first thing that enters her head.

Here’s what popped out, just after our first hello: 

“So, do you have a problem with your weight?”

“Well, uh, yes.  I guess so.”  

What else could I say?  I’d been dieting on and off since I was eleven, with mixed results.  Nice of her to notice.

 Maybe she just wanted to bond around diet tips.  But—unlike me—this slender woman didn’t look like she needed to worry about what she ate.

It took months for the full impact of that outrageous welcome to sink in.  Did she mean to be critical?  Did she feel competitive?  Was she trying to be helpful, in an intrusive kind of way?  Or was it simply a case of poor boundaries?

Probably all of those things.

Only now, as I write this, does the other truth, the most important one, hit me:  She must have decided, in that moment, that I was already family.  Only a mother could get away with a remark like that.

And only a daughter would shrug it off—and still remember it, almost four decades later.

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To read the rest of this essay, go to Lynn Henriksen's wonderful writing guide and anthology of mother memoirs!