New Mama Musings

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The House on Spokane Street

Last night my husband, all four kids and I went to my father-in-law's place -- along with the rest of my husband's extended family -- to say goodbye to my husband's childhood home. My mother-in-law passed away almost four years ago; my father-in-law is getting married again. He and his fiancee bought a condo together and new owners take occupancy of the old place today.

The house isn't much to look at: a 1960's era ranch with the requisite paneling, deep pile carpet and decorative mirrors. But there's an above-ground pool out back where my husband, his sisters and all the grandkids but Henry learned how to swim, and a huge old maple tree that shaded every summer get-together.

The house, to me, and to everyone else, too, was all about my late mother-in-law. Nothing made her happier than having her entire family, their friends and the neighborhood kids over. She had no desire to travel, read or be involved in politics. Her family was her world. Saying goodbye to the house also meant grieving the loss of my mother-in-law.

But we all grieve in different ways, and for different reasons.

I hadn't really wanted to attend last night's gathering; I went only because it was important to my husband. Because despite the wonderful, accepting, loving nature my mother-in-law showed to, well, everyone else, she was not this way to me. Even though she had been married once before, her oldest daughter was on her third marriage and her two sons-in-law had each been married previously, she did not accept my husband's divorce or my entry into the family.

Nothing I did pleased her. If I read to my stepkids, decorated their rooms, planned outings for them -- then I didn't fix Maddy's hair or cook them dinner. If I helped support her son and worked to get us out of debt -- then I shouldn't have spent $80 on a jacket for myself. If I took an interest in her old family photos, copied some and displayed them in our home -- then I hadn't chosen the right photos.

I was always uncomfortable in that house, as you can imagine. Nevertheless we spent a lot of time there. My stepkids loved the pool and the treats and the video game systems, and it was somewhere for us to go when the kids were young and we were overwhelmed with them in our small, un-airconditioned apartment.

But always I felt criticized and stifled and out of place in that house. It didn't help knowing that my husband's ex-wife was welcomed there with open arms, becoming even closer to my mother-in-law than she had been before.

When my mother-in-law died, I grieved then not because I missed her, really, but because there was now no chance of ever gaining her acceptance. It's possible I never would have, but I wonder how things might have changed with the arrival of Henry. Would she have more respect for me now as the mother of her youngest grandchild? Or would she be annoyed instead that I keep Henry so close to me rather than dropping him off for the night, the weekend or the week as the other grandkids were?

So last night, while my husband's sisters and adult niece wiped away tears and struggled to say goodbye, and everyone reminisced about the house and the mother who made it a home for them, I once again felt like an outsider. But this time Henry (who has been there only a handful of hours since his birth) was on the outside with me. And we left that house together, never looking back.


  • New Mama, I'm sorry your husband's mother never accepted you. I can't imagine how painful that must have felt. And I can't imagine anyone not liking you!

    By Anonymous S, at 8:28 PM  

  • Wow. That sounds so hard and weird on so many levels. I'm sorry for you to have to deal with that uncomfortable akwardness and lack of acceptance. It's sad that she was that way towards you.
    ...Now she's gone, the house is gone, and it's all over. Must be weird kind of. A closure of sorts after all that time.

    By Anonymous allie, at 9:04 PM  

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