After my well thought out summer childcare plans blew up in my face in early June and a trusted and much beloved caregiver suddenly wasn’t available, I did what any reasonable working parent would do – I buried my head in the sand, lived in denial for weeks and kept telling myself that everything would work out. Three weeks before camp was over and the kiddies would be home unattended unless I got my act together, I started to email around to all my regular, fabulous teenage sitters hoping that some of them would be available for the rest of the summer - two weeks...two long weeks.
The plan was to create a patchwork of childcare options between teen sitters and playdates. Unfortunately, everyone else was much better organized – their kids were in camp, their nannies or sitters were hired, multiple playdates weren’t an option. Most of the teen sitters had family vacations planned so they were only able to help a day here and a day there, not for the two weeks...two long weeks...that I needed.
I checked with the camp director to see if they had space in their August program and if I could extend the 4 weeks we'd originally signed up for (at the cost of just about what it costs to send a space shuttle to the International Space Station.) The director laughed, saying they booked up months ago and weren't even taking names on the waitlist. I continued going through my rolodex of sitters. I found several adult sitters who were available to watch my girls, but at $15 -18 an hour, it was going to cost me around $1,200 to $1,500 to have them watch the girls for two weeks...did I mention it was a long two weeks?
After a few sleepless nights picturing my children in a John Hughes' Home Alone movie, it occurred to me to call my mother-in-law on the off chance that she might agree, at the last minute...and I mean LAST MINUTE...to come out to Los Angeles from New York to keep my kids, her grandchildren, from living a summertime childcare nightmare. She had just come out to visit at the end of June for Nicole's graduation. She's not a fan of airports or air travel, and she'd been having health issues lately. I asked my husband if he thought it was a good idea to ask her, and all he could say was, "You can try." I asked her and the first thing she said was, "When do you need me?" Less than two weeks later my mother-in-law arrived at our house after a flight on an overcrowded red eye financed entirely by frequent flier miles. That's reason one that my mother-in-law rocks - in a time of need, she doesn't ask why, she asks when and how she can help. Always has.
I have to try not to gush about her when other women complain about their mother-in-laws. I have it lucky, I know. And I try to take note of what she's doing because she's a great role model for how I'd like to be when I hit the mother-in-law/grandma phase. Now don't get me wrong, everything isn't always perfect and we do sometimes have our disagreements. She thinks I undercook meat, whereas I think she overcooks it. She'd rather see the girls in dresses more often and I let them dress themselves - most of the time resulting in less than coordinated looks. I know she thinks I can do better with their hair and she's probably right on that one! Sometimes she speaks to me the same way she does to her own daughter, my sister-in-law. For a second I bristle, but then I realize that in a way, it's a compliment. She's treating me like she treats her own daughter, even if it makes me crazy in the same way my own mother would.
Other reasons I love my mother-in-law:
She's always game for something new – last week she ran through sprinklers in her swimsuit because it was just too darn hot! (I think that’s really cool!)
She will eat experimental food and not hold it against me if it's bad.
Rum and coke is to her as Merlot is to me.
She is always respectful of space, time and relationships.
I've been told that in her day she could drive from New York to Florida by herself and make Speed Racer look like an amateur.
We both worship coffee.
She will bite her tongue when she doesn't like something I do and yet she will also speak up when she feels it's important enough.
She is thoughtful not only to her son and grandkids, but to me as well - sending us cards, notes of encouragement, even tucking a few dollars of mad money into the girls' pockets. The last time we went to visit her, she left a hand written coupon for an ice cream cone and a manicure on my pillow :)
She can be assertive without being aggressive.
She will pick up a load of clean laundry and fold it without asking. Ditto for washing dishes. Yes, now I'm gushing...
She never complains, although I know that she is often in pain, putting others concerns ahead of her own.
She'll tell me funny stories about my husband when he was a kid even if it pisses him off.
And most importantly, I know that she would throw herself in front of a train if she had to in order to protect my children.
I'm lucky, I know. I try to remember that when my mother-in-law cuts out self-help articles from newspapers or magazines and leaves them on the table for us to read...It makes my husband crazy. Me, I’m used to it. My mother used to do the same thing.