Time and circumstances change our connection to family members.
The French have a saying: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same. I’ve always taken the viewpoint that the more things change, the more different they are, but lately I’ve been thinking the French might be onto something.
Time was when my mother-in-law was among my best friends. She was a constant support to Earl and me in the earlier days of our marriage: calling several times a week; inviting us to dinner regularly and sending us home with at least three different homemade soups and a bread pudding, over our protests. She and my father-in-law even took us on a Caribbean vacation for our fifth anniversary.
Judy would sometimes hint that she’d really like a grandchild or two, but that was the extent of the friction between us.
Then those longed-for grandchildren became a reality, and suddenly, Judy knew everything there was to know.
She scoffed at my first-time pregnancy jitters and delighted in telling me how she cared for two babies born 11 months apart, waited on her husband hand and foot and wiped down every baseboard in her house, daily.
Later, it seemed that she tried to undermine my parenting at every turn. She overfed the children goodies so that they invariably threw up in the car on the way home from her house. She told me she couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t want to be on the floor playing with my kids all day long. I developed a hot spot of resentment and dreaded spending time with my in-laws, especially in the little cottage in Québec we owned together.
Then things changed. The economy tanked just as my in-laws were getting ready to retire. My father-in-law lost both his parents within a year and a half, and Judy’s mother passed away during that time, too.
In between trying to sell her current house, build another, retire, and settle her mother-in-law’s affairs, Judy changed. She seemed more distracted, less chipper. I started to wonder if perhaps compassion would serve better than resentment.
My theory was put to the test a few weeks ago, when we all converged upon our petite maison in Québec. The weather was beautiful, and we spent much of the time outdoors – picking apples, taking the kids to the park, toasting marshmallows on the campfire.
One morning when Earl and his dad took the kids fishing, I asked Judy to go for a walk. It was like old times. We talked, not about anything in particular; just the easy conversation of people who have known each other a long time. The flames that had defined my relationship with my "other mother" for so long died down, leaving a cozy warmth in their place.
So maybe the French have it right. It took three children, several funerals and way too many years to restore a relationship that had seemed beyond repair. Did Judy change, or did I? Maybe it was a team effort, but the myriad changes of the last several years have brought us full circle, and things are the same again.
Julie Fay’s column runs alternate weekends. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or let us know what you think at email@example.com. Read more by Julie at http://juliefaysblog.blogspot.com.