I wrote this two years ago, and it’s one of my favorites so I decided to republish it on this blog.
I loved her from the first time I met her. Observing her from across the restaurant table where we were seated, it was obvious where Ryan had gotten his looks. The dark hair, the youthful appearance, the eyes…it’s not every day you see eyes like that, large, gorgeous, dark, down-turned, incandescent. And when she laughed they were full of mischief, especially if she was laughing at herself for an attempted joke, or if Ryan was making fun of her, two things that happen quite frequently I was later to discover.
That first day I spent with her it struck me how different she was from most adults I knew. She was light-hearted, almost girlish, in the best possible way. She had a great sense of humor mostly because she unintentionally did things that made everyone laugh. She had a bright and animated personality, and she was at peace, a quality rarely seen these days and one that instantly made me want what she had.
Before the end of the year, I had followed Ryan and his family on a move across country from Michigan, leaving everything and everyone I knew and loved behind. When I arrived in Montana, it was to an apartment almost fully furnished. She had brought over everything from chairs to towels to a mat for my kitchen floor and then promptly invited me to spend most of my time at her house. Generosity: it is another of her best qualities, and one that has over time left a deep mark on me. She loves to give of what she has to others and to welcome others into her life, which is what she did for me from the moment I set foot on this soil. From the very beginning, even before Ryan and I were engaged, I was family, a part of everything from family discussions to pictures for the grandparents to Christmas traditions. This concept of living life closely together was foreign to me at first as growing up my family kept to themselves, but she has taught me that family is not something to be hoarded, but instead shared. Love doesn’t stretch, it grows.
Recently, my family came to visit from Michigan. It was the first time most of them had been out here for a real visit in the seven years I have lived here, and among all the lovely and very expected things that happen during a visit with family, something very unexpected also occurred.
I realized that I had changed.
This was a result of finally being around the people I had missed for so long, and being reminded of all the ways we did things, all the quirks, big and small, that made my family what it was, but some of which I was surprised to discover, I now did differently. It was a result of getting my whole family together, both sides under one roof, and realizing that this time around, my husband’s family were the ones with all the stories. They entertained my family with all our best memories, from how I secretly ate chocolate ice cream for breakfast to what happened the night we brought August home from the hospital. And as I sat on the couch and listened, I saw clearly how all the moments spent together had added up to years, years spent with people who had shaped me and anchored me here.
But more than all that, the realization came about as a result of watching my parents interact with our kids for the first time ever. It felt like I was in a time capsule as it brought back so many memories from my childhood. And even as I smiled and soaked up every second, I saw each gesture with tears in my eyes as though they were the souvenirs of another life, familiar and cherished, yet so different from who I have become. The realization hit me like a slow but sure awakening that I have as much of my mother-in-law in me now as I do my own mom.
And why shouldn’t I? She is the woman who has been there for my entire journey as wife and mother. She was present for the birth of all three of our children, she was my guiding light as I fought my way through the murky waters of discipline clouded by my past to find peace and confidence in my parenting, and she has been there through all the challenges Ryan and I have faced: the six moves in six years, unemployment twice for eight months each time and both times while I was pregnant, and Ryan’s broken leg.
For every important moment and all those in between she has been there. When our little girl had a fever of 103 and I was scared, it was she that took over and showed me how to cool her safely with a lukewarm bath. When we found out for the second time in three years that we were losing our apartment, it was her calm that anchored me. I have spent half of my married life living in her home and probably another fourth of it visiting. Our two older children have spent more of their lives in her home than elsewhere and one of them was born while we lived there. She has seen me when I am scared, sad, mad (not many people have seen that one), and she is one of a handful of people who knows all my deepest, darkest secrets, and she still loves me.
And although she probably thinks I don’t listen to a word she says, the truth is that she is the woman I have looked to and admired for the past eight years; her positivity, her peace, her confidence, her assertiveness, her emotional stability, her faith, her eye for detail, her generosity, her love of life, her ambition, are all things that have rubbed off on me. And those are just the big things. I also happen to fold my towels in thirds, wipe off my appliances before I put them away, put pajamas on my kids at night, make popcorn with butter and coconut oil for an evening snack, prefer to start my day with a clean kitchen – so many dozens of little things she has taught me, intentionally or unintentionally, that all come together to form my personality. If someone didn’t know any better they might just say I am like her.
And if there is one thing I want it is for her to know. I want her to know that I love her. I love her for who she is, strengths and weakness and all of her quirks. Like how she wants to have a garden but doesn’t like gardening so she buys potted flowers with every intention of transplanting them and then leaves them in the pots till they die. Or how she doesn’t like raisins, not because they taste bad, but because they remind her of bugs. Or how she is so deathly afraid of spiders that she asked me to photocopy pages of her college biology textbook with the pictures of the spiders covered up. Or how she loves books so much that she can’t wait till she’s finished one to start the next, and consequently never has fewer than six going at a time. Or how she sings her heart out to God on stage Sunday mornings as if no-one is watching. I think that is when she is most beautiful.
But most of all I want her to know that it is she more than anyone else who has modeled for me the woman I needed to become. Many of her strengths have been areas of weakness for me, and I fully believe she is an angel sent by God to help me grow. She has shown me how to be at peace, how to keep a clean house, how to enjoy life, how to have healthy relationships, how to be a strong woman, how to be a good wife and a patient and relaxed mother. I hear her in my voice when I talk to my kids and joke with my husband, I see her expressions on my face when I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I feel her in my heart as I remember the things she has taught me while I go about my day.
She may not have raised me but she has become to me, in every sense of the word, Mom.
*The picture at the top is of her with Audrey, William, and my nephew Zayden