One of the purposes of this blog is to take a light-hearted look at the craziness that is often my life, but I ask your indulgence as I offer a personal reflection and tribute to someone who was in many ways, the anti-BBW—my mother-in-law who made her transition on April 8.
I met her 14 years ago when I was dating her son. Before we actually met, I was introduced to her kindness. It was New Year’s 1997 and I had just spent a few days in New York with a friend from college. The then-boyfriend was in Brooklyn visiting his family, so we arranged to take the bus back to DC together. He met me at the bus station with a duffel bag and a huge shopping bag full of food that his mother had prepared for him to take back. Once we found a seat together on the bus, he pulled out a smaller bag that contained two foil-wrapped sandwiches and sodas. He proudly declared that his Mom had made sandwiches para usted y su muchacha and I thought that was the sweetest thing.
Then, as he sometimes does, the then-boyfriend revealed more than he should have about his conversation with his mother regarding me… Like most mothers, I’m sure she had certain visions about the girl her son would love, and from his account of her reaction to his descriptions of me, I fell short in two key areas. First, his family is Puerto Rican, so naturally she asked whether I was too and as you all know, I am not (not even a little bit). Second, my non-Puerto Rican BBW self neither spoke nor understood Spanish and she spoke limited English.
Thus, seeing as how I was no Jennifer Lopez, I was super intimidated and nervous going up to meet her formally the following summer.
However, the woman who embraced me with kisses at the front door and who served me coffee in her good china and who heaped my plate full of rice and beans never let on that she was even slightly disappointed. Sure, there was a language barrier and the boyfriend-husband had to do a lot of translating. But she welcomed me with open arms, and I loved her instantly.
Whenever she sent the boyfriend-husband home with enough food for a week, she portioned some for me as well. After he bought a car, she typically rode with us to various family events, and insisted that I do most of the driving since I had more years of experience behind the wheel. If we went out for the evening, she waited up for us—no matter how late. For big family dinners, she continued to treat me like an invited guest and generally kept me out of the kitchen until a few years ago, when she finally allowed me to contribute to the meal. She was greatly amused by the intricate ritual of washing collard greens (which she politely declined to eat). Shopping in anticipation of our visits meant buying a head of lettuce and a few tomatoes despite the fact that she did not regularly eat salad. She always complimented me on being so flaca even when I had gained a few extra pounds. For years, she gave us her bed and slept on a pull out sofa, until a few years ago after I discovered how utterly uncomfortable that thing was (and even then she practically refused to sleep in her own bed until we insisted that we could be just as comfortable on an air mattress). She tolerated my slowness in getting ready for every event.
I could go on... However, in addition to only mastering a little Spanglish, the only other area where I fell short was in having children. She prayed and well, it was not meant to be that she would get to be called abuela by one of my offspring. And that is probably why I think of her as the anti-BBW because her life did not revolve around a bunch of stuff connected to a career, an organization, or anything else that tends to occupy women like me—her life was all about her family and friends. Even if I could, I doubt that I could ever devote myself so fully to motherhood or friendship and be truly content. Heck, I have to mentally prepare to spend time with certain members of my family, but I have no qualm that was ever an issue for her.
Ironically, it was her illness these past 18 months or so that put the BBW in me into overdrive. There are the things in life that you can control and then there is everything else, and the illness of an elderly parent tends to fall into the latter category. It changes things, but you learn to adjust. For us, that meant more trips to New York. I will not pretend that it was not difficult at times, but I learned that there is very little in this world that matters more than what one does for family.
As we process this new reality, I know that as life goes on and we make the necessary adjustments, my life will forever be better because I knew her. We may not have had the relationship that I thought could have been possible if I had only been Puerto Rican or spoke Spanish or even lived in New York—we had an even better relationship. I could never have asked for a better mother-in-law. God bless you Marta. Adios.