My Mother-In-Law Made Me A Better Wife

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My Mother-In-Law Made Me A Better Wife
Contributor
Love

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?"

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. 

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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."

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 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.

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.

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 pie. An apple pie is a universal language for, "I think fishing lures are boring, but you are awesome." 

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When my husband's grandmother taught me how to make lefse, a traditional Norwegian flatbread, despite her cranking over my slow-rolling and inability to stop spanking people with the lefse stick (it's a long stick... what else am I supposed to do with it?), I knew that I was showing her how much I loved her, her family and her wonderful grandson. In turn, by teaching me she was ushering me into the family.

For my husband's family, food is the currency of love. And by learning to trade in it, I've learned to understand and accept their kindness and generosity and show them how much I care for them in return.

I've also learned to understand my husband better, too. I've learned to literally feed a part of him that speaks a language of love through hot meals and warm cookies.

Taking a lesson from his mom's playbook, I do my best to make my husband his lunch every morning, because I know for him, that sandwich is better than an "I love you."

I love my in-laws and they have taught me so much about love, patience, generosity, fishing lures, and how to make the best cheesy chicken enchilada's around. But most of all, they've taught me to understand my husband and how to be a better wife.

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Lyz Lenz's writing has appeared in the Huffington Post, The Washington Post, the Columbia Journalism Review, The New York Times, Pacific Standard, and others. She lives in Iowa with her two kids and two cats and is a columnist for the Cedar Rapids Gazette.