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follow the yellow brick road


My mother-in-law came down for a visit this past weekend. She and her husband live up north and it takes about four and a half hours to drive here from there.

(A quick side note: I'm never quite sure how to refer to her husband. He's technically my step-father-in-law; my husband's actual father is alive but not really "present" in our lives, if you know what I mean (cough deadbeat dad cough). So usually I refer to my husband's step-father as my father-in-law. I know. That was a hell of a long explanation for something that probably won't be discussed again in this entry or ever. But, now you know.)

Anyway, my mother-in-law is brimming with optimism. She's 63 and the youngest of ten children. Her mother died when she was eight years old. Her father died when she was 20, I think.

She married her first husband at 18 and had my husband a couple months after her 19th birthday. So basically, she was raised by her father and siblings and she figured this parenting stuff out on her own.

I asked her recently how she learned all of this mothering stuff (without the help of therapy). She said part of it she learned from her older sister and sister-in-law and most of it came from her desire to create the environment she wished she had growing up. Wow, how self-actualized -- turning a situation around by one's own means rather than playing the victim and bitching about it. Hmm, there's a novel concept.

Going to her house is sort of like visiting the Land of Oz. While nothing is perfect and untouchable, everything is bright and airy and anything seems possible. She also brings that hopefulness with her when she visits our house. She has a way of creating a home that emanates warmth from the inside out. After one of her visits I actually feel like I can turn this ship around and sail toward the sun.

My own mother is 79 and she was never the Betty Crocker type. She was the doing-the-best-she-can type who tried to grin and bear it. She was a great salesperson, actually she still is, and she has personality plus. But I did not inherit maternal instincts from her. This bit of marital advice from her kind of sums it up: Don't get divorced. Stay and make his life miserable.

While my mother-in-law hasn't really imparted any advice, I have learned some helpful tips from her. She's a big proponent of getting the kids involved in the day-to-day chores. I also do that, but with varying degrees of success. My middle child is a great helper and wants to do everything I do. My oldest can be a bit sassy and her latest thing is telling me: "I need to conserve my energy."

My mother-in-law is also into scheduled activities. As in, stripping the beds and washing the sheets on Saturdays. Dusting every other week. Spending ten minutes each night straightening the house before going to bed. That kind of thing. So when she's here and she actually does all of that stuff in my very own home, it seems so easy. The house looks great and the kids have fun working with Nana.

But then she drives off into the horizon leaving behind tidy floors and the scent of Mr. Clean lingering in the air. That is when I look around and wonder if I can create Oz out of a Kansas City twister.

Maybe it's as simple as clicking my heels three times and repeating, "There's no place cleaner than home."


2007-01-01 at 1:31 p.m.

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