Tuesday, November 17, 2009

17 November 1955 “Why I like my Mother in Law”

I quickly mentioned yesterday, while taking a break from my little kitchen, that I was preparing a dinner for my MIL birthday. It was a success, but when I returned in the evening I had a question from a commenter about my relationship with my MIL and how she, in the future, could herself become a good MIL.

Well, as sometimes happens, in my attempt to rattle off my opinion, (which I seem to be always full of!) mingled with late night fatigue I managed to press a wrong button and all my ‘wisdom’ was for naught. It was lost to the great void of deleted or misdirected comments in the blogosphere. I wonder if there is such a place, perhaps it has become the reading for ghosts and others ‘caught between the veil’?

So, as often happens with you darling readers, you got me thinking. I had begun to consider why it is I do like my MIL so much. Even though my initial response is now the reading material of ghosts, I have thought about it more and consider it would be post-worthy.

50s mother in law It also got me thinking how much more, most likely, the MIL played in the role of the 1950’s homemaker. She was most likely more a figure to be dealt with and rather you liked or loathed her, she was a major input in your own homemaking life.

As most women ‘back then’ were homemakers, you were most likely to inherit a MIL who also had her own schedules, recipes and ideas on how to run a home and raise children. IF she were overbearing and the type who thought, ‘no one is good enough for my dear boy’ then you probably suffered through. But, even if that were the case, you most likely learned some things.

It seemed once we women dwelled in a close knit world of ancient wisdom handed down generation to generation. How to cook a chicken, what is the best way to remove a grease stain, how do you get the whitest whites? Even, how do you keep the parlor maid out of the sherry. We were a vast world of knowledge and practical skills handed down and mingled from mother and grandmother and then mixed up a bit with the MIL. Yet, we were very much a sorority of sisterhood. When you entered into the married state as a homemaker, you most likely brought with you knowledge from your mother and grandmother. Mixed in with that knowledge was of course the knowledge and know-how of their mothers and grandmothers. And, with your marriage in most cases, came the MIL. She, herself, was most likely a homemaker.

Regardless of class, as well, a woman was the maker of the home.  If she had a staff of servants under a housekeeper, she still was the ruler of the roost. She okayed meal plans, arranged dinner parties, and made sure things were done properly. So, in a way, she shared a sisterly bond with the farmers wife or the bankers wife who may have had a girl who came in once a week or simply able daughters. They all had the knowledge and ability to run the home.

Now, back to the MIL. I am lucky in my MIL in that I live her very much; love her even. I give her a kiss on the cheek upon greeting and leaving and always refer to her as ‘mum’. In some ways, I am happy for her role in my life, as my own mother, ravaged by Alzheimer's for some years now, is for all intents and purposes gone from me.

Now, my MIL is probably not a run of the mill sort, if there is such a thing. She has done, as evidenced by my lovely hubby, a great job in raising her children. But, perhaps she has not done so in any orthodox fashion. They did not grow up with the constancy of a father (my hubby’s father died when he was but 3) but she was the constant. She nurtured them in their passions. When my hubby decided to play piano, he had lessons and pianos followed up to the grand we still now own that he plays upon. His sister did dance and ballet and even followed that dream to Walnut Hill, a boarding school for the arts here in MA.

It is odd, as in many ways my hubby and his sister were given much freedom as youngsters and teens. Yet, as they grew, they were treated in a mature fashion. They ate at table, they lived in a clean and orderly house. They had respect for one another and learned the value of money through their various chores. In High School, my hubby had no curfew, yet on his own would make the decision to call his mother if he were running late. Or, as he has told me, often chose to get home early on school nights because he knew he had to be ready for class the next day. These were decisions he was making on his own at 15 when I see many people today in their 30’s unable to make such decisions.

So, somehow her mix of freedom combined with mature responsible expectations of her children caused them to be kind and considerate with an amazing work ethic. They had a stay at home mother who kept an immensely neat home and made homemade delicious meals. It seems the very act of example one of the greatest teaching elements. For example, when we were first together I was amazed at how neat and tidy my hubby was with his clothes, much like the video from the 1950’s I once showed here: Clothes removed, if still clean, hung and buttoned on hangers, dirty clothes in hampers. He even folded his underpants. Though his mother was not the type to always preach, “You must do this or that” by her very act of doing it herself, keeping a neat well decorated home, planning meals and paying bills on time, maintaining her property, caring and cherishing antiques that had belonged to ancestors, her children learned to dwell in such a pace.

That is why I know, were I to ever have a child of my own, I would have to make sure our house was never chaos. I know that may sound like someone speaking who has no child, but I know my MIL had two children underfoot and kept a clean home, well decorated with antiques that one and two year old children lived in and learned not to break or scratch or ruin but still had a joyous childhood. In fact, by their very toys being handmade or passed down antiques, they learned to care for these toys which probably held up much better than new plastic toys!

Recently, a friend of ours invited her friend to a little party at our home. She mentioned how she loved our little antique house and commented how everything was ‘just so’. How antique books and old photographs and delicate things such as great grandmother’s fan sat just so on the piano next the bust. “You must not have children”, was her comment. I thought about that and realized, my MIL home is very much like this, even more so for she has a much larger house and many more antiques. My hubby and his sister grew up in such a place and the ‘nice things’ were always out. They were what you lived with. They were not just ‘special occasions’ or a mad dash to make an appearance for company, it was HOW you lived. They ate with the actual silver it wasn’t just kept for holidays.

I know I would do the same. I would want my child to know their history and to respect the furniture and past, and it would not have to be in a stifleling  way. It isn’t about sitting in velvet sofas in constrictive clothes not being allowing to touch, it is about living in well planned rooms filled with beautiful things that you can touch, but some things need to be handled carefully. And isn’t that really a great lesson for life and relationships? We should feel comfortable and lived in our life but we should realize some things are more delicate or need more caution and tact. We shouldn’t have one way for company and a half attempt at it for our daily life. We DESERVE to live as if company is coming everyday. And, if raised in such a way, the beauty and delicacy of everyday is more apparent to us no matter where we are.

If we dwell and raise our children in a chaos of plastic throw away world of things higgledy-piggedly, what are we teaching them about things and people? Chaos and laziness are fine, but put on a ‘false face’ when company comes? A home filled with cheap plastic toys and throw away items, eating upon paper plates balanced on laps, grease on shirts, clothes piled where ever. That is a chaos that can do nothing but breed more chaos. It sounds stifling, but I know it is not. My hubby grew up happy and content in a world of clean orderly beauty and he had fun, respected his surroundings but always felt comfortable. I think this sort of life also makes one feel they can feel comfort in the world no matter what life throws at them. Simply organize the chaos, fold away your troubles and deal with each thing with a delicate hand if need be and know your place in the world is right. A lesson I cannot imagine being bad for anyone, especially children to learn.

That is not to say there is mess and spills and accidents, but I know my hubby grew up, even as  a small boy, in a bedroom that was decorated with antiques that are still in his mother’s home today. When he wanted a poster or some modern element, it was thought about and incorporated into the room. As we age, we put away those old things, but to have the security of that antique bed or that old desk that your grandfather used at university, that is a solidity worth having. Even if we do not have such antiques we can find things with a history, even if it is not our own, and share that with a child. They will learn to respect it and want to keep and cherish it in the future with their own children.

Think how in many ways it would be cheaper even than Wal-Mart to go to a yard sale or junk shop and get an old desk that is actually wooden solidly built. Redo it, paint it, stain it or even have your child help you with it. This is an adult desk and the child is but 4 or 5. If he now has this desk, solidly built, a part of his life it will have meaning. He will need to sit properly at it on the chair and use it like an adult. He will want to care for it and not scribble upon it with crayons, because it is his special thing. He will need to keep his pencils and crayons organized in a cup or try in the desk, paper put away in the drawer carefully. This one piece of furniture could teach your child so much about life. Things in their place and ordered makes a happy life and more time to do what you like as you are not always chasing your tail to keep it clean. Respect your things and others things as if they are your own. When you sit her it is to do work, rather it is hard work like learning to read, or fun work like practicing your drawing. It is a place that things get done or your dreams are dreamt, but it has a purpose and must be kept orderly as you should keep your life and thoughts.

He may take this away with him when he has his own home and children. Compare that with buying ‘cheap’ things at a chain store that fall apart. It might sound silly, but such a simple little act and decision really could affect a person. Their understanding of money, value of things, its relationship to people can start and be affected by the simple act of living in our homes and how we relate to it and those who we live with.

I think that is why so many adults today long for and pay high prices for the toys of their youth, even if they are plastic. It was the only solid tactile bit of their past that they can hold onto. When we should be recalling good times or a piece of furniture that meant something, we have to hold onto plastic totes of plastic toys that somehow represent a lost bit of our life filed away for company while we dwell in chaos everyday.

But, I digress and am getting a bit off track…

So, apart from her good job at raising up my hubby, I like my MIL. I respect her as a person and would, even if it were not due to our familial connection through marriage, enjoy being her friend.

I think I will write more tomorrow on my MIL as a person and why I respect her, so to be continued…

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