The first time she hugged me, it was a real hug.
My mother in law’s arms completely enveloped me, pulling me in tight, and squeezing me with warmth. She already had confidence in me. She told me that he never brought girls home. I was the very first. If he loved me, he was not doing so lightly. She trusted his judgement.
Our relationship grew steadily from there. I always wanted to impress her, she seemed so steady to me. The matriarchal rock of the family who could work all day long and come home to get a beautiful (presentation always counts in delightful serving bowls) dinner on the table.
We spent three hours together in the car, in the rain, waiting for him to get done with his first admission fitness test. I was nervous to spend that much time alone with her- but we never ran out of things to say. He had decided to join the United States Marine Corps. Our lovebird hearts were eighteen years old.
When boot camp graduation rolled around, she spotted him in formation first. I could not see him. My heart fluttered with panic that I did not know which shaven-headed man was mine. I felt a flicker of jealousy that she knew which one he was. It’s only years later that I understand: you know your child anywhere.
That day she stepped back so that he could hug me first.
On the ride home, I rested my head on his foreign shoulder. We were nineteen now, and somehow he no longer felt like mine. That Christmas we tried to reacquaint ourselves. His family’s home felt as cozy as ever. Her hugs were the same: inviting and warm, assured like I was not.
We broke up in the summer. It was hot, lonely, and my heart both broke but knew I had to see if I could love anyone but him.
It was the right thing at the time, but I felt I had lost a whole tribe of people. I had lost her too. Two years passed by and the winds of change swept through our lives. We became twenty-one year olds, dated terrible people, and both had a thoughtful year of being single.
I kept a shoebox of his notes, photos and ticket stubs. A hundred whispered memories. Had I let him go too soon?
Our hearts came back together after a phone call on his first deployment. It was another hot summer but instead of heart break it was filled with phone calls at 2 a.m., and hope for the future.
I called her once we were officially back together. I felt like I owed her an apology. I needed her to know how much I missed her. I needed to know her warm hug would be waiting for me again.
It was, and under her roof we got engaged. She left champagne and chocolate in the guest bedroom for us that night. We poured glasses and toasted- bubbles of well wishes and welcoming me to the family fold.
Seven days later we eloped, with the promise of another wedding when the deployment ended. When we arrived at the courthouse she had sent him a boutonniere to pin on his suit, and a bouquet of roses and lilies for me. She knew I dreamed of a white and red wedding.
During those nine hard months of being newlyweds but never together, she answered every tearful phone call from me.
She and my father-in-law have visited us in two different states and two different countries. I have dumped my bags on the wooden floors of their home more times than I can count. Our friendship has been growing steadily over the past nine years of my marriage. Over those years I’ve still ached to impress them.
My own mother became an easy friend to me after college. A best friend- a light on my darkest days, a hope I now have with my own daughter. My mom already knew all of my ugly bits; she raised me for better or for worse. It’s true that despite my incessant perfectionist nature- gasp! – I am human after all.
My friendship with my mother-in-law became real when I finally allowed her to see me in the raw.
Our bouncing blue-eyed beauty arrived into our lives with a yelp and a full head of raven hair. I loved her with an immediate fierceness you do not understand until you become mother. The first two weeks were dreamy, and then reality sunk in. The sleepless nights were wearing me down. My milk was a failing hardship that brought me deep grief and guilt. I could not feed my daughter. I was a shadow of myself when our reinforcements arrived.
When they walked in the door, my mother-in-law hugged me. Mushy, new-mom body me. Full of hormones and dark circles, she started to repair me. They were our first visitors after baby, and she knew what to do. In her quiet way, she scrubbed dishes and vacuumed rugs. She gently forced me upstairs to shower and sleep.
She got us all into the car to watch the sunrise, and also to be in poop up to her elbows for our daughter’s first major blowout in her car seat.
She sat with me and rubbed my back at the lactation consult, and revealed how she had trouble breastfeeding too. Our foreheads together, she let me cry and let me know whatever choice I made would be okay in her book.
They were there just in time for the work-up for the next deployment. My Mr. was leaving, in the middle of my bruised breasts and broken spirit. They stayed with me.
At 2 a.m., she woke up with me. She sat with me in silence on the couch. A calm warrior carrying the strength of her own three children, and six grandchildren. She did not judge or balk when my hot tears of frustration fell again and again. She simply wrapped me up in one of her hugs and allowed the weight of new motherhood to fall balanced between us.
It was in that first month of motherhood that I stopped trying to impress her. Some days I wish it had not taken me so long. Her hugs have always told me I am worthy of her love.
I am her daughter and always will be. There is a love between us, a friendship built now over blessings and open wounds.