Men don’t know what to do with their mothers. Actually, they haven’t had the foggiest for a long time, but they seldom get caught, as there have always been others to diffuse the situation. The mother has been a thing to deal with, get goodies out of, and escape really fast.
Most of them don’t know there’s a way out till they meet a woman is willing to take over— sister, wife, girlfriend, or just goodwill ambassador.
So when the mother-in-law was visiting, I was quite sure who’d end up doing the work even though the husband hadn’t yet announced that he was working through the weekend.
In the five odd days she spent with us, the total time the husband (the peach of her eye, incidentally) spent with her on a one-on-one was 46 minutes. He did try to teach her the fine art of registering for a petrol loyalty program online, but was seen tearing his hair out in less than ten minutes.
I realised that the difference between mothers and mothers-in-law is the difference between a cat and a dog—while one is discreet and invisible, the other is conspicuous and visible. Every action is announced, every thought is spoken, every silence filled. It takes work. Work that the husbands don’t want to do.
Brothers are no better. While my brother lived here, he was never around, so it worked out nicely—he went to work in the am and returned in the am. Since he moved to America, his visits have been spaced out such that he had had a lot to pack in each time, so mom-time was not such a priority. In any case, in two out of five times he has visited, my mother has been in the hospital, rendered speechless by a stitched-up rib cage, millions of tubes and needles. Conversation was limited.
Also, while visiting home, the brother has an agenda to keep himself from talking. He fixes things. So if it’s not the computer’s CD ROM drive or sound card, it’s the cordless telephone or the camera or my dad’s binoculars or the DVD player or the vacuum cleaner. Perfect! Hours of not having to make conversation or have an opinion!
As for overseas phone calls with him, mom is not very good with those—she imagines a time-bomb ticking away, and the need to pack in a lot. Usually, it ended up being a babble-fest with neither party figuring out what the other was saying. Flabbergasted, he gave up. Now, when he felt the need to call her, he called me. Till I reminded him that was not cool— I couldn’t be standing in for her forever, so he would have to deal with it.
I then suggested to mom that she ask open-ended questions, like I would tell a junior colleague about an interview—“Make him talk,” I said. “Don’t ask questions that he can answer with a yes or a no. And listen.”
A few weeks later, the brother called me to complain, “What have you done to her?”
Someone’s got to do the dirty work. Pity it’s always me in my family. Make that families.