My brother, whom I practically raised, is getting married. As a result, just like I got a sneak preview of parenting long before I had my own children, I am now getting an advance glimpse into The Mother-In-Law Experience.
My goal is to have no opinion about anything. (Which, as those who have read me regularly over the past four years might suspect, is not my strong-point.)
I, personally, am not a fan of big weddings. I don’t think they’re worth the time, the effort, the stress, or the expense. (For the record, I feel the same about bar mitzvahs, birthday parties, and any kind of festive showers.) But when my brother and his fiancée announced they were having a big wedding, I smiled broadly. And quietly.
Because, first and foremost, nothing they choose to do is any of my business. Secondly, if there is one thing I’ve learned from being a parent, it’s that when people (children, spouses, other parents) ask you for your opinion, what they are really asking is for you to confirm their decision. And I have no problem with that.
“Do you like our color scheme?”
“Yes, I do!”
“Do you like our menu?”
“Yes, I do!”
“Would you like to say a toast at the wedding?”
“Would you like me to?”
“Yes, we would.”
“Then yes, I will!”
Shonda Rhimes and her “Year of Yes” got nothing on me.
I thought it would be hard. Turned out, it wasn’t.
While I genuinely don’t care about the color scheme, the menu, or whether or not I’m asked to make a toast, I do care that my brother is happy. And I suspect the best way to keep my brother happy is to keep his fiancée happy.
As the wedding planning process went on, my brother has asked me, alone, what I really think about something. And I… told him I agree with his fiancée. No way am I going to be the tool he uses to win an argument with her. You want to put your foot down? Be my guest. But leave me out of it. You want to stomp? Stomp. I’ll be over here, walking on tiptoes over egg-shells.
Because my brother’s fiancée keeps a kosher home, I asked my brother about specific parameters before bringing food over. (Yes, I know basic kashrut laws, but I also know that every household has their own peculiarities.) He gave me an answer, but he didn’t sound certain himself. So I played it safe and got a kosher cake from the bakery.
In the past, I’d call him whenever I needed to ask for help with picking up one of my kids, or babysitting if I needed to go out. Now, before he says yes, I ask him to check first with his fiancée if he’s available.
He’s always told me I could drop by his place anytime, unannounced. Now that he no longer lives alone, I am never, ever dropping by his place unannounced.
“Are you afraid of her?” my brother teased.
No, I am not. What I am afraid of is losing him (and not just for the kiddie pick-ups and the free babysitting).
I intend to do everything possible to avoid that possibility.
My kids, meanwhile, are whining, “Why aren’t we the center of his attention anymore?”
I furiously shush them with the Mean Mom Glare ™. (Luckily, my 9-year-old daughter is so excited about being a flower girl and wearing a pretty dress with a Bolero jacked and high heels that she forgives them anything. My boys are less sanguine. But they’ll deal.)
And here’s another thing. I truly like the woman my brother is marrying. If we’d met under other circumstances, we’d probably be friends. And I’d probably be giving her—if asked—advice on her boyfriend.
But, uh-uh. Not this time.
I know too much. I wager I know some pros and cons of the man she’s about to marry better than she does. She may find them out in time. If so, who am I to enlighten her prematurely? And if she doesn’t… then she never needed to know.
I’m using, as my role model, my own mother-in-law.
Here is my quintessential story about her: When my middle child was 3 years old, we picked him up from nursery school together. The teacher came out carrying him. He was crying. Another child had jumped on his back at the playground, and my son hit the cement with his mouth, knocking out his front tooth and wedging shards of it in his gum.
“I’ll go now,” my mother-in-law said and promptly took off.
I didn’t give it much thought at the time. I was too busy trying to schedule an emergency appointment with a dentist, followed by an oral surgeon, while calling my husband to come home from work and stay with our baby daughter (and make sure I left them enough pumped breast-milk) while I took our son for his operation. (Also, one way or another, my older son made it home from school that day, too. It’s all kind of a blur.)
It wasn’t until later that I heard my mother-in-law telling my husband, “I knew I had to leave, because otherwise I’d start taking over, and Alina didn’t need that.”
My future sister-in-law doesn’t need it either.
(Does anybody, really?)