Measuring Up: Myself as a Mother-in-Law

My mother-in-law once tried to teach me how to make a pie crust.  There was no recipe.   She measured the lard using a scale.  I was both fascinated and disgusted by the huge amount of “bad stuff” that went into her flaky crusts.  She was deft, smooth and practiced.  Her pies seemed to form themselves.  Let’s just say I have never been able to come anywhere close to making even one of those crusts or tasty pies.  In fact, some of us have committed the sacrilege of using a store-bought pies for holidays.

I miss my mother-in-law. [ I still have my wonderful mother.  She knows she rocks and I will continue to tell her so]  It remember how strange it was to wonder how to win the approval of another important female figure in my life.

It continues to surprise me how much my mother-in-law had to give in the short amount of time I had with her.  She fed me, welcomed me into her home, called me her other daughter, and tried to teach me how to make the gooey sweet rolls and treats people in her life so enjoyed.

She was a nurse.  She spoke some Finnish.  She could read a medical book or pharmaceutical dictionary with ease.  She was the true “super mom” who worked full time, ran shifts as director of nursing, and assisted the running of the family farm.  She could drive a tractor and raise the best tomatoes.  She could just look at you and tell if you needed more sleep or a bit of Tylenol.  She raised six children, and she had the ability to hear her grandchildren’s voices even when she became quite deaf.  She survived the death of her much-loved husband.  She beat breast cancer for a time, despite its grueling treatments.

After my son’s wedding, I am further amazed by how she and my mother planned a wedding for my husband and me in only a few short months.  Our parents worked out the majority of the details for the two of us.  My own parents helped me cover a large portion of my educational expenses, but, as my husband and I were married and had a family before I finished my degree, it was my mother-in-law’s idea for us to live on the farm in order to save enough money to finish my degree.

We women were similar and dissimilar.  She liked sciences, I the arts.  She liked the quiet, I love loud music.  She was careful with speech (unless teasing family members), but I have a tendency to blurt out or talk over others.  She loved cooking, whereas I still struggle with having a recipe turn out.  She enjoyed hunting, I would rather take photos of wildlife.  On the other hand, we both value education, are careful with who we will call a “friend,” are dedicated to careers, and we love family traditions.

I will always be grateful for her reaction to the night I cooked chicken.  It looked like a murder scene–still bloody and mostly frozen.  She did not complain that it had to be microwaved until it was warm and rubbery enough to eat.  Since I was merely adequate in the kitchen (my sister got the “cooking gene” ) I helped out where I could with the endless cycle of clothing voyages from washer to dryer.  I could see her grateful smile when I insisted my husband put his clothing away, instead of leaving items on the stairs.  She was happy to leave much of the bathroom cleaning to me.  Even when our son was born, she was helpful, but did not try to tell me how to raise a the ever-squalling babe.

I hope I too can measure up.  I would like to be there for advice, but give it only when asked.  I am good at cleaning and organizing, but I would never do so without permission.

I feel horribly inadequate with my new European family.  I feel like I have to speak “Caveman English” to people who are highly intelligent.  They did their upmost to welcome us to their family; they fed us, entertained us, and showed off their beautiful Germany. I continue to be amazed by the princess my son has married.  She is truly beautiful, inside and out.

I hope I can some day come close to being enough for my son’s new family.  They have welcomed him into their lives, though he speaks only mediocre German.  They have fed him (he has ample appetite) and given him one of the biggest treasures–my daughter-in-law.

When we had our second child (my mother-in-law died before her birth), I have no doubt my second mom had a lot to do with the successful birth.  We waited over a decade to have child number two, and we had to go through many fertility treatments to have this success.  I can almost see her in heaven chatting with God and making the necessary heavenly medical arrangements.

I don’t want to be on a scale as my in-laws are everything I already wanted for my son.  I cannot compare.  I cannot be someone else.  I do hope I can be all that is needed in the time that I have with them.  Maybe, someday if and when I am a grandmother, I can try to learn again from my mother and mother-in-law.  I hope someday soon my new daughter will feel equally as blessed.


Failure to Communicate

I am a foreign language teacher.  I am a mother.  I am also, now, a mother-in-law.  I like to think I am adaptable, but Germany was not the experience I had planned for.

We went to Germany this summer with not even enough money to properly celebrate my son’s wedding.  My younger daughter and I had tried to learn some German phrases.  We could repeat some of the language CD, but as I speak mainly Spanish and English, I spoke terrible German with a silly Spanish accent.

My daughter-in-law’s family spoke some English and we spoke German fragments.  It made for a a frustrating and stressful time.  We discovered in Germany that using a credit card that was anything but a German credit card could be used in only scattered locations.  We were not sure how much things would cost, how much we could (or would be able to) pay for the wedding, and the wedding customs were quite different.

One such custom was to smash plates a few evenings before the wedding.  Called a Polterabend, we were both excited and confused to see merry Germans tossing crockery into the air and streets, followed by the bride and groom cleaning up the mess with brooms.  It was quite the experience to watch the passersby expressions (or those who tried to drive or pass by).  The custom was to wish good luck to the bride and groom.  The young couple had to learn to work together, protect their brooms from theft, and survive a seemingly endless process.  Metaphorically, it is very much like a marriage.  Marriage is meant to (hopefully) be forever and should not be “torn asunder” by trivialities.

Other customs to adjust to included attending a tiny church ceremony where usually groomsmen and bridesmaids did not stand up for the ceremony.   The ceremony was religious and the audience had to try to sing in both German and English.  The minister’s words were spoken and translated.  The vows were spoken in both English and German.  The young couple wanted a blend of both traditions.

At the reception, this blend was repeated with symbolic flags from both countries on the tables.  My husband and I felt quite inept at the head table since in Germany this seating consisted of the bride, groom, and their parents only.    In fact, I did not understand the importance of the table settings until I found out later that they served  and cut the cake/s prior to the main buffet meal.

Our children had never planned  a celebration before.  Our children did not have a plan nor a budget.  The theme was a blended American/German, so neither set of parents were entirely comfortable with the whole celebration; however, once the music started everyone began to relax.  The Germans did not know how to dance to all the American songs.  We Americans did not know how to sing or do the moves of the German songs.  One of the reception highlights was when a group of competitive square dancers made a sudden and fantastic appearance;  the bride and groom later joined in.

This is not to say we did not enjoy Germany.  The area was beautiful, the people kind, and although the area we stayed left us often trapped without a vehicle, we felt safe and secure in our small hotel.  I am truly grateful to have been able to celebrate with my son and his new bride.

We still try to communicate with our new in-laws.  They have become our new family.  We have since “Skyped” with them and showed them bits of our house as they have tried to share their lives and homes with us while in Germany.

It made me realize how important communication is.  We had to try to figure out what others wanted by using fragmented conversations and a lot of silly gesturing.  For example, I am pretty sure we were scolded at the hotel.   I think the lady who ran our hotel was mortified that we had hung some wet clothing in the open windows.  We tried to explain that our daughter had been quite sick on the way from the airport, so some clothing was soiled in vomit.  The next morning the hotel owner seemed offended that my still ill daughter would not eat much for the complimentary breakfast.  Before the end of our stay she understood that our appetite matched our health.  She was also thrilled that her guests  found her granddaughter’s missing  ring underneath a bed.  We eventually came to be trusted,  once better communication had been established.

I heave learned that God is much the same.  He will bring blessings in His good time, not on our time.  He tries to communicate with us, but we need to speak His ways, instead of ignoring Him and doing things our ways.

I prayed a lot on the trip.  I prayed for more sleep. I prayed the airplane would safely deliver us. I prayed for the new, young couple. I prayed the wedding and reception would go well. I prayed for my daughter’s recover. I prayed the taxi would deliver us safely to our hotel on the  jagged mountain roads.  Although my trivial needs were nothing compared to the pain and sufferings of others, God has truly blessed me with a new, wonderful people.

Maybe we just need to take more time and prayer to thank Him?

I guess God knows what He is doing after all!


As Independence Day nears, I witness more and more families gearing up for the holiday.  In years past, my family has visited the Munising area, well-known for its fun-filled Fourth of July celebrations and wonderful fireworks.

This year, although my family will be on the other side of the U.P., I am feeling extremely grateful for having a strong upbringing and great parents.  I am also grateful for our military and America’s ability to stand up for freedom.

Perfect?  Not hardly.  Our country is not perfect.  Neither of my parents would say they were perfect either.  My sister and I used to get along like my cat and dog do now.

Recently, my parents and my family did a journey together (blog on that will be later).  It made me realize that despite each person’s idiosyncracies, I have a lot to be thankful for.  Here is a list of what I have learned from my family:

1.  Being poor doesn’t make you who you are.–My dad suffered a job loss not long after building our family home.  He loved his job as an art teacher and a diving coach, but after the air force base closed at Kincheloe, such a severe decline in population in that area could no longer maintain the larger programs.  Along with help from my mother, they both made sure neither my sister nor I felt “poor” and brought our living standards back into the “middle” class range.

2.  Family should celebrate.–I have fond memories of times on the lake with my grandparents,  exciting car trips, of family reunions, of weddings, birthdays, and holidays.  Although the celebrations were never lavish, they have given me a strong sense of the need to continue to celebrate for my own children.  Some celebrations we continue today, even if it means a long drive.

3.  If it’s important, you will find a way.–My parents promoted our talents.  Even if they didn’t have the money they always found a way.  I was able to tour China with the Lions Band.  I went to summer camp at Interlochen.  Dad found a way for me to go to college (with scholarships, etc.) and although I came out with some debt,  it was manageable.  We always had the clothing we needed, we could attend the school events we needed to be at, or we could do what needed to be done, even though we lived well outside of town.

4.  God is important.–Grandpa and Grandma often took us to church.  Although both are no longer with us, I can still remember just how my grandpa sang the hymns or how grandma clutched the hymnal to her bosom.  Grandpa once even requested to have a bit of the eucharist put in his intravenous drip when he was in the hospital.  My parents also encourage us to attend church when we were young and to experience other religions as well.

5.  People are all the same, but some can be evil.–My parents instilled in us the idea that we were no better than anyone else.  I know that for many, many years we were viewed as outsiders since we did not live in town, and my parents were “outsiders” who had moved from lower Michigan to a small town.  I can remember going to school with people of different color.  I also remember that in middle school, students who finished work early were allowed to help special needs students.  It was so interesting and wonderful to see people, who although they looked like adults, loved to learn and play.  Later, again when KAF base closed, the area became much more homogenous, but we were raised to see value in all people, without prejudice.

I was kept far from most “evils,” but once my dad started to work for the local correctional facility the base turned into, I had to be exposed, to some extent, to the other type of humanity that needed to stay behind bars.  Dad used to remark that others were angry at him at work since he was rising in the ladder too fast, but that was due to a solid university background, a hard work ethic, and the need to regain lost family income.  My father was often under great stress, but even after working a job for decades that he despised, he was forced to accept that even evil people have some rights.  He had to walk a fine line between those who protected us from the inmates and the inmates themselves, all while trying to maintain a strong public opinion for corrections.

6.  Suck it up.–Sometimes you just have to do what is necessary, even though you don’t like it.  I think this is a lesson that I wish many of our youth today fully understood.  Many have been so used to choosing what to do or not to do.  Many youth demand to be entertained; they feel they do not need to do things they do not like.  I remember my mom saying that we had to do chores.  We did not like doing them, but we did them.  The work was inspected, and if things were not done well, they were re-done.  This type of work ethic/idea is something I have used every day of my life.  It is not just about being a perfectionist (I sure can be), but about doing what is necessary or doing what should be done.

Another, more simple example is when my dad bought me running shoes and told me I was joining track.  I was, as a teen shall we say, more than a bit rotund for my small stature, so getting into shape was something I needed to do (even thought all I wanted to do was read books).  I hated every single moment of gym and running, but I did need to lose weight.  I have been striving to be more healthy ever since.  My sister had to survive a divorce, and she had to completely restructure her life.  I had to “suck it up” many times through college with professors I did not like, with assignments I did not want to do, and now, as a teacher, it is hard for me to comprehend student apathy towards education.

7.  Being educated is vital.–Educated children often come from educated parents.  Neither of my parents ever forced us to study or to do our homework.  It was simply expected us.  Yes, there were some rewards for good grades, but I could just as easily be chastised for an “A-”  if it was not my best.  I learned the value and power of words from my mother who read a lot.  She had attended private school as a youth, so she seemed to know every word since she had a Latin foundation.  She would correct grammar, supply answers to crossword puzzles with ease, and her vocabulary prompted me to use the dictionary as my friend.  Dad had a master’s degree, so he expected both his children to obtain college degrees, and we both did.

My father also built our family home, so we learned to value skills that can be gained from specialized training.  I truly value the things my husband does with ease:  carpentry, welding, electrical, concrete work, operating machinery, etc.

8.  Question and volunteer.–My parents also have helped me to understand that sometimes a government doesn’t always do what it should.  We were raised that if we wanted change we had to vote for change.  Although my sister and I may not agree nor vote for the same candidate, we stay informed and educated about those we vote for.  Dad was a Lion (in Lion’s Club) and he also coached high school diving.  My sister and I still both volunteer, whether it be for a cancer relay, a fund-raiser for someone in need, for church, or for Special Olympics (my sister is absolutely passionate about Special Olympics.  I am so proud of her!).

9. Friends don’t make or break you.–I have always been jealous of some “popular” people since they seem to be always surrounded by friends.  I have some friends from high school and college that I still talk to, even though I cannot seem them often.  I understand now why my parents have some friends they reunite with after years, even though those occasions may be infrequent.

After reading books by  Matthew Kelly I now understand that a person’s worth is not based upon the quantity of those who “hang out” with you.  Consider how at the end, even Jesus was mostly alone or had been abandoned.  Yes, sometimes friends hurt us.  But, true friends do not take advantage.  True friends don’t show up only for the parties.  True friends don’t talk behind our backs.  True friends don’t use you to get a job or throw you to the side when a better “friend” or a better opportunity happens by. Friends may hurt you, but if they are true friends, it won’t be about simple forgiveness, it will be more so about love and how you can be a friend to the other through sacrifice.  You also know true friends when they have something good happen and you are (instead of being jealous) truly happy for them.

10. Freedom isn’t free.–I learned this from my son.  No, he isn’t the on the front lines, thank God, but it really hits home when a mother has to sent her son away (not just away to school) for 5-6 years.  He cannot just get on a plane and come home for a holiday or whenever he wants.  To get leave, he must fill out paperwork and obtain permission.  Even now, the military will require him to be a continent away from his new wife.  Our soldiers give far more for American than any of us would ever be willing to give.  I sure hope we appreciate their time, their talents, and the lives they have all sacrificed.