Right after my husband and I got married and moved into our apartment, my mother-in-law came to visit. I planned each meal carefully, cleaned the few pieces of furniture we had and made sure the cracked linoleum shone. Excited and nervous, I carefully arranged a plate of appetizers and waited for her arrival. At the sound of the doorbell, I rushed to greet her. And there she was at the doorway with a giant cooler full of food. There was dessert, side salads, paper plates, cups, napkins, some groceries staples like bread, cheese and ketchup. She'd even included fixings for sandwiches for tomorrow's lunch. My husband dragged the cooler to the kitchen and I seethed.
"What is she saying?" I hissed. "Does she think I can't take care of her or her son?"
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My husband, wisely avoided the question. "This is just what she does," he said and left it at that. Wasn't he supposed to be a grown up now? I wanted him to stand up to his mom and tell her what a good cook I was and that we didn't need her ketchup. But that didn't happen. We ate her food and kept the leftovers.
Shortly after my mother-in-law left, I was indignantly telling the story to a friend. "Can you believe it?" I all but yelled. "She brought me cookies!" My friend rolled her eyes. "Lyz, that's what people do in Iowa to show their love. Your mother-in-law sounds great." The Un-Monster-in-Law
In my defense, I didn't grow up in the Midwest. Despite my rounded vowels and love of tater tot hot dish, I lived most of my life in Texas with a mother who is decidedly Southern (from VAH-gin-YAH) and a Yankee lawyer father. The way my mother shows her love is buying me garish socks for every conceivable holiday, making sure I am wearing a slip, telling me where to get my nails done and how to properly sprinkle my linens with starch. And neither one of my grandmothers was a cook. My mom's mom showed her love to us by not smoking in the house. And my dad's mother would buy us double-stuffed Oreos. Needless to say, the idea that the cooler was packed full of gifts of love was foreign to me. 5 Things Your Mother-In-Law Won't Admit
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Since that realization five years ago, food has become the language of love that I've learned to speak with my in-laws. Whenever I visit, my mother-in-law makes me my favorite cheesy potatoes. For my birthday, she makes me delicious, complicated chocolate cakes and I've learned to be okay with not being asked to bring a dish of food to a holiday or celebration. It's not that they think I can't cook, it's just that they want to show their love. 7 Tips For Happy Holidays With Your Mother-In-Law
And it works the other way too. My husband's brothers are fundamentally different from me. They talk guns, hunting, fishing, baseball and the intricacies of making lures. I like to talk about books or tell the story I heard about an old woman hiding her scandalous photos in her safety deposit box (true story). To bridge that communication gap, I make my brother-in-laws pies. An apple pie is the universal language for, "I think fishing lures are boring, but you are awesome."