Tuesday, March 3, 2009

mamma

the cheeky daughter-in-law

My mother lives in the same town that I do. She was the catalyst for choosing this particular lovely spot in the United States for my return, not because she needed me, but because her living here made it possible for me and my family to visit, instilling the love affair with high altitude living that I knew would bloom in my children and husband (that was my plan).

Living close to my mother has been one of the greatest of returns.

My mother's husband left this morning for a trip to see his children. At noon, my husband called me and asked, have you called your mother? Well, no, actually. I'm glued to the chair working on a huge project. I'm busy. Why? You see, the Italian way of being a mother and child is totally different. Totally. While my husband is the rogue of his traditional Italian family, he is still imbued with the idea that if I don't call my mother when she is home alone, something is wrong with me. This leads to the inevitable thing that I just cannot say, just cannot admit. But in all truth, after we moved here to the United States and my husband's father suddenly passed away, I was so relieved that I wasn't there. This because I knew that my mother-in-law, a dear sweet lady who I always loved and got along with, would now be the focal point of every single breathing moment of life in our former Italian town. Not that his aging parents hadn't always been. My husband and his sisters regularly treated his elderly parents like children, checking where they were, what they ate, what they may need, how they felt. My sister-in-law, in particular, managed their medications, knew what they had for breakfast, lunch and dinner, knew if they slept well or not. It was exasperating and foreign to me. I imagined myself as somehow the cheeky daughter-in-law. With the furrowed brow and bratty expression. Even so, I cannot imagine treating either of my parents that way, much less being treated that way when I am older.

Now that my father-in-law has passed away, my sisters-in-law do nothing without their mother. She comes along on their vacations, spends weekends shuttling from one to the other, goes with one or the other grocery shopping, to the hairdresser, to the car wash, to church. My mother-in-law is a vibrant, energetic woman who is as healthy as a horse. She is actually enjoying her newly found single status, finally not catering to my father-in-law 24/7. But she is treated like a child, a baby, this woman who has lived so long and been through so much. Sometimes when my husband and his mother are on the phone, I literally have the impression that they have nothing left to talk about. He has been so constantly updated on where she has been, what she has been doing and what she ate for dinner last night, the conversation runs dead.

I loved many parts of Italian culture, but while from the outside it seems as if they treat their older generation so well, including them in every nick and cranny of life, in reality I find it mundane and patronizing. They relate to her often with exasperated sighs and eye rolling. There's an explicit sense of ball and chain. I sometimes feel that my sisters-in-law think that if their mother was left to her own devices even for a short while she might just disappear.

It's just not my idea of mamma.

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