98. Forever Grateful

98. Forever Grateful

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters

Forever Grateful

Simply having children does not make mothers.

~John A. Shedd

My mother-in-law, Nancy, has an around-the-clock care-giver. My husband and I jokingly refer to her as “St. Carolina” because she patiently caters, thanklessly, to Nancy’s every demanding whim. The only problem is that Carolina speaks in broken English with a strong Polish accent. Occasionally, it is difficult to understand her. And her mispronunciation of one word in particular is especially amusing.

The most recent conversation I overheard went something like this: My mother-in-law said, “Carolina! Get in here, NOW! I want my fried chicken, and it better be crispy or I’m sending it back!”

Carolina bolted out of the kitchen, carefully balancing the chicken, fries, and soda on a platter, and placed it gently on the table beside Nancy’s recliner.

“Here you go, crispy chicken, just right. I bring cupcake when finished. I adjust pillow—for more comfortable.” Fluffing Nancy’s pillow, Carolina innocently added, “Need anything else, Miss Nasty?”

I couldn’t help it; I broke out laughing and immediately stifled my laugh with a fake cough. Fortunately, Nancy’s hearing is poor, so she missed what Carolina had said. Nancy immediately started barking another order, “Go open that window another inch, no more, no less!” Then she rudely waved Carolina off, saying, “And get out of here when you’re finished!”

As Carolina rushed to open the window, she glanced at me. Our eyes met, and I whispered, “Thank you!” for all she does for this woman. She nodded and gave me a little smile.

My mother-in-law is in fine health, though she has acted feeble and helpless during her entire life. She eats junk foods high in trans fats, never exercises, and lives in her recliner. She hates everyone—all nationalities, all “fat” people—and she even refers to her only daughter, Peg, as “Pig.”

She never cooked for her two kids and never attended their school activities—plays, parent/teacher conferences, not even their high school graduations. Soon after we were married, her son and I were invited to her home for Christmas dinner. We accepted and graciously thanked her, but three weeks before the holiday, she called and canceled, stating she’d have a headache that day. After thirty-three years, my husband and I have still never eaten a meal at her home.

When my husband was diagnosed with cancer and needed ongoing topical chemotherapy treatments, we gently broke the news to his mother, thinking she’d be upset and worried about her only son. Instead, her reaction was, “Oh, phew! I thought you were going to tell me I had cancer.”

She has some grandchildren who live nearby, but they don’t know their grandmother. They were never welcome in her home. That is, until one day when she decided, “I want to fire my stupid caregiver, that Mexican. No, wait, I already fired her. I mean the Polish one, Carolina. I shouldn’t have to pay her!” She added, “And I want that grandson of mine—what’s-his-name, you know, the big fat one—to resign from his job and take care of me for free.”

I rarely speak to my friends about my mother-in-law. If they knew what she was really like, how mean-spirited and abusive she was to my husband when he was growing up, they wouldn’t believe it.

Still, I don’t lose sight of the positives. Because of my husband’s upbringing, he thinks I’m an ideal wife, and I’m not going to correct him. He’s so appreciative of the smallest things I do that it naturally makes me want to do even more for him. Nothing’s taken for granted. He certainly wasn’t spoiled. He was never handed anything in life—no money, no emotional support, no guidance, and most of all, no love. So anything I do, the simplest things—a hug, a warm meal, a safe haven—mean everything to him. And that kind of mutual love and appreciation inevitably grows.

Miraculously, in spite of the cruel indifference of his mother, my husband was able to develop into a man filled with kindness, deep compassion, and a genuine appreciation of love. And for that, even in the midst of Miss Nasty’s ugliest moments, I am forever grateful.

~Anna Michaelsan

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