Wednesday, June 04, 2008


My friend A is old enough to be mother-in-law except that she is not one. Single and without any ties to her immediate family she has always been a drifter seeking friends and family among strangers. She is a very loving and generous woman and will put up with a lot from her large circle of acquaintances just so she may be part of their lives - or atleast be allowed in there. She expects to pitch in physically and materially where ever she happens to be so she is not considered an inconvenience.

The children will be lavished with many thoughtful gifts, the adults assisted in any way that they find useful - sitting the pets, throwing out the trash, eating your leftovers, cooking you a quick dinner, doing the laundry - you name it and A will do it and what's more you don't have to ask for a favor - they come pouring in fast and furious. She is attentive to the needs of everyone in her vicinity including those who are unaware of her existense.

I have know her for a few years now and don't meet that often these days as she has moved from my town. I found spending a weekend with her recently infinitely taxing and I felt ridden by guilt for feeling that way. Here she was going out of her way to make it an enjoyable vacation for all of us and all I wanted was for it to end, so I could go home and not have to be around her any more. I chided myself over and over again for being so thoughtless and prayed for patience - "This too shall pass" I kept telling myself each time I came close to snapping.

A couple of strangers we met asked A if J was her grandchild and she smiled and said "I wish she was" and I know she speaks the truth when she says that. I have always recognized the aching void in her life - she has no one to call her own, her need for family is as intense as its glaring absence. I have always shared J and myself with her, tried to give her a sense of the "family" that she craves so much. It felt like the short-cut to earning some good Karma. I have now learned the hard way that you can't cut corners while looking to score beneficient Karma.

She reminds me of the kind of mother-in-law women absolutely detest and it is not because they are evil. They want to do too much, they smother you to the point of asphyxiation with love and affection long past it is no longer welcome. Their need to give is so consuming that they fail to recognize that the recipient is no longer interested and cannot make any more room for all that she has to offer in their lives. Someone needs to tell her that less is sometimes more. They don't be drowned under the million IOUs that come in the wake of spending a weekend with her. There has to be a balanced give and take in a relationship. With A it is the absolutely tryanny of the giver who refuses to stop.

I don't want anyone to help me with my laundry or wash dishes in my kitchen. It is not only about space and privacy - I don't want to feel obligated knowing fully well I will not be able to return the favor. I feel squished like an insect under the steamroller of her giving. A is a lesson for me in desperately seeking love and being spurned over and over again. If she had been a mother-in-law she would ask what more she could do to be loved and accepted by her daughter-in-law and grandchildren.

The answer is to not do quite so much, to expect something back and to love herself a whole lot more. Maybe in an entirely different context, that is something I need to learn myself.

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