Friday, December 16, 2011

This post is no joke

If you're one of my multitudes dozens handful of regular readers, you've probably noticed that I haven't posted much in this blog in the past month. Part of it is because, yes, I got out of the habit and yes, it's hard to get back into the habit once you stop exercising. (That rule applies to both physical and mental exercise, wouldn't you know it.) I got out of the habit because of a family situation: my mother-in-law passed away last month after a long illness. And it just seemed so hard to get back into the habit, to write something light and amusing, when we were all still missing her.

As a bridge back to blogging, and just because I loved her so and want to share it, I'm posting here the words I spoke at her memorial, simple and unadorned:

They say that you can’t pick your family. You’re born, and you’re stuck with them. Well, that’s not exactly true. When you decide to get married, you choose your spouse, and you choose the family that comes along with them. But there you can be stuck, too—at least, that’s what all the “in-law” jokes would tell you. Mothers-in-law, especially, can be a problem. Overbearing, interfering, critical ... those are all the stereotypes.

Well, anyone who ever met my mother-in-law knows she never conformed to any stereotype. When I married TSU and became her daughter-in-law, I discovered a woman who was generous and kind, with a sometimes-wicked wit. Although there are several stories I could tell to illustrate her thoughtful nature, there’s one in particular that stands out.

After Boy was born, we had a little mixup in scheduling. TSU had accepted a new job, but when he picked a start date he hadn’t put any wiggle room into his schedule. I guess he figured that a baby’s delivery date was like a FedEx delivery date, but Boy decided to be born a week late. So TSU began his job two days after we came home from the hospital. I was faced with dealing with a new baby, only a few days after having a C-section.

Of course my own mother took time off from work to stay with us, but she was teaching and only had a limited number of days off. It happened that my mother-in-law's winter break fell right after Boy's birth, and she used it to come help me out. Now understand, she was teaching high school. I have teachers on both sides of my family and I know what kind of hard work goes into it. But where many math or English teachers have two sections of the same class, and only have to prepare lesson plans for three or maybe four different classes, my mother-in-law taught languages. She had different levels of German class, and Latin class, and she might have even been teaching French or classes at the middle school that year. Some of her classes were split—German 3 and 4—so she could have five or even six different class preps every day. I’m sure she had many other things she could have done with her precious free time.

But she came and helped me. And boy did I ever need it. I was an only child, and when I was growing up I was never that interested in handling babies. I had no idea what I was doing. My mother-in-law, I knew, was the oldest of four children, so she’d been around babies her whole life. She had four kids of her own, and they all managed to grow up into productive members of society. Even better, they were all BOYS. I knew nothing about little boys—I didn’t know much about little girls, either, but at least I had been one once. So who knows what my mother-in-law was thinking as she watched this total novice try to deal with this little alien creature, I mean, her precious grandchild.

I don’t know what she was thinking, but this is what she did: she took care of us. She did little chores. She brought me food. She changed a diaper or two. And she never said, “You should do it this way.” Instead, she told me stories of how she had coped with being a mom. She shared her experiences and gave me valuable advice without making me feel like an idiot. She was thoughtful and generous, and during those early days she made me feel like she always did: like I was a welcome member of her team ... and, by the way, that it was nice to have another girl on the team for a change.

My mother-in-law (on left) and my mother, on a family trip we all took to Denmark.
So you do get to choose your family, and sometimes you get incredibly lucky when you make your choice. I feel extraordinarily privileged to have been part of her family, and I will miss her dearly.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Photo of the Week--12/12/11

All those funky little "details" I like to find in architecture? Sometimes nature likes to remind me that She came up with them first. I got this shot in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in a lovely park that was only a block from our hotel. The tree was too huge to get in one shot—at least, not without crossing the street and putting the city back in the frame.  But I really took the shot to get the interesting vein-like appearance of this tree's roots; the pretty little dilute tortie was a bonus.