What Would You Like?

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Caesar, chef, spinach, chopped, taco, spring…..salad! I love some good greens as a side or as the meal itself. How about a store-bought garlic roll requiring just a couple minutes in the microwave? You must pick one salad and one brand of rolls. Do you want to eat those two foods over & over & over?

My mother-in-law shops at Wal-Mart where my husband and I choose not to do any business. Not long after she moved in, about as soon as she felt comfortable driving to the closest Wal-Mart, (This was the first place she really wanted to reach solo.) she brought home a few, varied, individually packaged salads as well as some garlic dinner rolls in a foil bag. Unaware that Karen had purchased the salads, I was pleasantly surprised to find them in our fridge. She has her own refrigerator downstairs and, so, keeps things there. I told my husband I enjoyed having a salad for lunch. He explained his mom had brought those home and he didn’t know why she put them upstairs. He must’ve mentioned that I ate and enjoyed the salad. Likewise, after having the rolls with a dinner my husband made, we commented that they were good and thanked her for providing them.

Oh my gawd. The woman obviously took note that the first salad I’d eaten was a caesar salad because she buys them every time she goes to Wal-Mart for anything, caesar salads and packages of the garlic rolls. Personally, I try not to eat caesar’s often because the dressing is high in fat. Additionally, I limit the amount of bread in my diet, including dinners. How to politely request she stop bringing these home???

Why does she purchase these, and only these, foods every f*cking time she comes back from that megastore? What do you think? Why do you think she’s doing this? Feel free to let me know in the comments.

My take? This reminds me of the period of time when my sister-in-law was dying of ALS. Early days, she was able to eat and continued to handle intake by mouth for a fairly long time. When my father-in-law failed from ALS, he lost his ability to swallow quickly. Yes, as rare as it is, ALS is genetic in my husband’s family. Anyhoo, and I will get back to salads and rolls, my mother-in-law lived a couple hours north of her daughter. Her effort to “do her part” was coming down every other Saturday, though they were retired and could’ve come weekdays and/or more frequently, to sit on the couch after bringing Steph some food she enjoyed. That was it. She didn’t offer to help or provide respite for the other 24/7 caregivers, including my husband’s stepmother. She sat on the sofa for about three hours, she and her husband talking, talking, talking about people and things, mostly of no import, and then they would go home.

My mother-in-law said she couldn’t leave her husband home alone, but she could’ve. They couldn’t stay more than a few hours because of the pets at home, which had been Steph’s, and they couldn’t drive in the dark. There was absolutely no effort to care physically for her daughter, come on a weekday to run errands or pick up necessaryy equipment/items, or stay the night to allow those regular caregivers a night off. She decided what showing a mother’s love in these circumstances looked like and that was final. Whenever the opportunity presented itself, she reported that she brought food. This routine was followed, being altered only when chewing was no longer possible.

Then, my sister-in-law could not eat. My mother-in-law expressed to me she didn’t know what to do what to do for her. She discussed the foods she’d brought, the history of Steph having mentioned these, where she and her husband went to pick them up, and how much my sister-in-law loved it, all of this to show she did go out of her way, literally. Given that no food could be offered any longer, I explained that she couldn’t show her love that way anymore. She immediately responded by saying something like, “Yeah, but she really loved those fish & chips,” or burrito, or whatever. As I tried to nudge her away, she clung to how well she’d done bringing delicious treats.

Finally, I interrupted and told her in no uncertain terms, she needed to move on, that she could not express her love of my SIL by providing food purchased at a fast food joint any longer. I encouraged her to help care for her daughter. She said, “Yeah, but I don’t know how and I don’t want to get in the way.” To which, I explained she could massage Steph’s feet or lotion her hands. My SIL loved having fingers run through her hair with nails lightly raked across her scalp. I felt like these activities weren’t invasive, so as not to be uncomfortable for my MIL (as though that was important). And again she spoke of bringing food and how much joy that had provided. It was painful to see her resistance to suggestions of how to care for her only daughter and, worse, seeming to avoid touching my SIL other than a kiss hello and one for goodbye. What are your thoughts about why she didn’t?

My MIL couldn’t imagine ways to show love to her dying daughter that my SIL would appreciate. I don’t think she gave it a thought. Even when I provided examples, the only perspective through which she cared to view my SIL’s illness and approaching death was her own. She cannot or will not stretch outside her well-defined, solidly-walled box.

Returning to the present, of course, we’d thanked her for those very first contributions and politely appreciated how good they were. That was it. It felt good to her. She was contributing and everybody knew it. She’s locked in. There is no need to look for other ways to contribute, not even other foods that might be enjoyed. She found the routine that’s easy and makes her feel good, and stopped there. Why is this?

Over the years, I’ve discovered my mother-in-law is quite concrete. She doesn’t use her imagination or try to do things outside her comfort zone. As an example, with her three grandkids living at a distance, for birthdays and holidays over decades MIL has sent cards with cash, explaining it would be difficult for her to shop, wrap, and send gifts. Our sons did look forward to her cards, for sure, but I knew she was avoiding having to ask or think about what they might enjoy at each stage in growing up, make the effort to shop and, additionally, she didn’t like wrapping and sending things. Probably, she’s never even considered the delight unwrapping a gift would have given her grandchildren when they were young, outweighing the minor inconvenience on her part.

A few days ago, my niece gave birth to twin boys. I told MIL I’d had so much fun shopping for baby boy items online, having sent them directly to my niece. She said, “Oh, I don’t shop online and if I shopped here at a store I’d go nuts, but then I’d have to wrap and send them. I sent a card with cash so they can buy what they want.” This is my dead sister-in-law’s only child and she’s got a baby registry at a nationwide store.

Years ago when she was here for my son’s high school graduation, I watched her play checkers against her engineer husband and it was very revealing. I may even have been the one who suggested they play. This was the first time in her life she’d played checkers. She had trouble following how one can move on the board, experienced frustration very quickly when she had difficulty, and was a sore loser. She doesn’t play games, ever, and I’m sure she won’t play checkers again.

Thus, we find ourselves in a touchy situation. How do we communicate to her that we don’t want her to keep bringing home caesar salads and garlic rolls. My husband liked the rolls first time around, but they are getting really old even for him; we still have two packages we haven’t used. Maybe I sound unappreciative to you and I am now. I appreciated her specific contributions early on, but I didn’t imagine that thanking her would result in these same items coming home every time she stops at her big box store of choice. Does she imagine we would want to eat these same foods repeatedly? No, she doesn’t imagine and it works for her. Should we not say anything? Let salads and rolls pile up? Keep eating them so she feels good? Oh, the hurt feelings she will most likely suffer at the suggestion we don’t want to keep eating these same things every few days. What would you say, or would you?

My German MIL lives with us now. Forever. We could handle this relatively petty situation by ignoring it, if she was just here for a few months; but shouldn’t we deal with these uncomfortable encounters rather than just acting to avoid them? Her concrete, self-centered thinking is going nowhere. And neither is my frustration with it. This is illustrative of how she will be handling any number of circumstances over the next many years. Any recommendations on how to handle thorny, every day topics are greatly appreciated. And on we go….

Published by Sara Z

Writing is one of my passions. Most blog entries are relatively short articles regarding a wide variety of topics. I'm a middle-aged wife and mother of two adult sons. I've been a teacher, counselor, medical transcriptionist, student teacher supervisor, substitute teacher and retail clerk. Staying home now due to fibromyalgia. Seeking purpose.

2 thoughts on “What Would You Like?

  1. Oh Sara, what a disaster. I’m sorry you’re dealing with her on top of everything else in your life.
    I’m not a very tactful person myself, and probably would suggest next time she brings the salad and bread, to put them in her own fridge, because you are no longer able to enjoy them. Tell her the doctor told you you can’t have the salad dressing and rolls, or whatever you think will make her least offended. Maybe you could ask her to bring a different salad to try once, because you heard the other salad at Walmart are great too, and since you don’t shop there yourself… I don’t know…
    She’s obviously self centered.
    She reminds me of my own (Mexican) MIL. Although she would never give cash but rather cheap, plastic, dollar store toys for my kids. 🙄
    I feel for you. 🫂

    Liked by 1 person

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