Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mother's Day and a Tribute to Mothers, Part 2

Part two belongs to the other half of the mom coin for those who are married. It's the mother-in-law. Now, this title brings terror to many people who did not have the good fortune of marrying into a family that, well, liked them. Thankfully, I don't have that problem. We did have a rough start, my in-laws and me, since I'm kind of an acquired taste, I think, but now we get along like family (which means sometimes we all can't stand each other, but we love each other like crazy).

My mother-in-law, Rita, is a lot of the reason for that. Imagine, if you will, a very short woman with the most Mrs. Santa Claus face you can imagine, and give her short black hair and the most hilarious, recognizable laugh in the world. That's Rita! She has even, honestly, been compared to Mrs. Santa Claus before, and you can't help but see the resemblance.

It is nearly impossible to not like this woman (I know of one person who doesn't, and she is a whack job). Rita is sparklies and smiles and a twinkle in the eye rolled up into a little ball of shortness, put on this world solely to prove that the best things come in small packages (she's only barely five feet tall). She's also somewhat age-defying. When I first met her and my future sister-in-law, I could not tell which was the mother and which was the sister. Not because my sister in law looks old, but because Rita look so YOUNG! She's barely sprouting silver hairs, and she's past 50, it's disgusting. (They were both wearing bandanas when I first met them, so hair wasn't a distinguishing feature.

The first time I saw Rita, I was technically spying. I had been cleaning an older lady's house, and I hadn't known that a guy I was crushing on lived right across the street. And I wouldn't have known, except when my mom came to pick me up, down the street came walking that guy, Peter, and a short lady that had to be his mom. They were both wearing those tape thingies they put on you after you give blood, and when they got to the house, Pete opened the door for his mom and they went inside.

Um, cute. Not only was this guy totally okay with being seen with his mom, but he had gone with her to give blood, and was obviously polite and well-taught enough to know to open the door for her. I was all twitterpated, my mom was gushing with approval, and just over two years later, I married that guy.

Rita was always miraculously tolerant of me while Pete and I were dating. My father-in-law and I butted heads on a frequent basis, since we're both similarly strong-willed, just slightly off-kilter from one another. But Rita and I usually got along very well. She has an unparalleled enthusiasm for the little things in life, like anything sparkly or glittery, flowers in spring, the miracle of air conditioning, and finding a pair of slippers that is just right.

She finds these moments, the little ones scattered liberally through life, and she celebrates every single one of them. Things that no one else thinks about or notices, Rita sees it. She is of the opinion that God must be awfully fond of sparklies, because he put them everywhere. Yes, I live with this woman, and it is a riot.

She also tells the best joke in the world, about a bell ringer. And the joke, really, is not THAT funny. You know what is funny? The way she tells it! She gets so into telling this joke, and she starts laughing halfway through, and we are all beside ourselves because she is just so FUNNY!

And it doesn't get old, having her tell it. It gets funnier every time! I had her tell it on my wedding day, when we were standing in my backyard after the ceremony, and we have a video of me standing there, holding my bouquet and twirling my dress around my legs because it's so hot, while Rita tells this joke off-screen. She's wonderful at humoring me.

Another thing she's wonderful at is being a mom. She turned out three kids that, while they are quirky enough to pull neck and neck with my family's particular brand of weirdness, they're all awesome. Awesome people don't just happen, they take a lot of work to make sure they don't end up screwed up somewhere.

And then I jumped into her lovely work and set about messing things up as quickly as possible, but I think she likes me anyway.

I don't think anyone could ask for a better mother-in-law. She accepted me into her family, and treats me like I've always been here (I live in the same house, so she definitely has plenty of opportunity to make my life miserable if she wants). She is unfailingly supportive of the people in her life, no matter what kinds of successes or failures or whatever come to pass. She's a perfect grandma to my daughter, who is growing up in the most loving environment anyone could come up with, surrounded by people who adore her more than words can say.

Rita is right in the middle of that, being the good-humored, easy-going, loving glue that keeps it all together and functioning properly. Heading off arguments before they get going, dishing out gratitude and praise when it's deserved and even sometimes
when it's not, doing her best to keep our home a peaceful, welcoming place for those who live here or just come to visit. Despite the dog hair she utterly loathes, balling up on the hall floor.

So this is a tribute to Rita, and everything she has done and still does in the name of Mother, even to kids like me that aren't her own, that she isn't required to love. The unconditional love she shares with the people around her is something they remember her by, that and her singular, unique laugh that you can recognize even across a huge, crowded room. She's just a woman that makes you smile, even if the last thing you feel like doing is smiling.

Happy Mother's Day, Rita. And thank you for letting me be one of your kids.

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