Monday, February 6, 2017

The In-Law Name Game ~ by Leah St. James

This morning when I walked into my kitchen, half asleep and groping for my tea kettle, I passed by the calendar and noticed something that slapped the sleep from my eyes and froze me in place. IT’S FEBRUARY!

Okay, okay, I know it’s February, as in the month that comes between January and March, but I just realized it’s FEBRUARY, as in a mere five months before my baby, my younger son (Son No. 2 – in birth order only! – is how I usually refer to him) marries his high school sweetheart! 

And you know what that means. In five short months, I’ll go from being someone’s boyfriend’s mother to being someone’s MOTHER-IN-LAW.

Could be there a more maligned title/position in our culture than the mother-in-law? Anyone remember Rodney Dangerfield’s famous “Take my mother-in-law...please?

Here’s a clip from Jeff Foxworthy titled “The Mother-in-Law Joke” as if no more explanation is needed. 

I love how after the punch line he says, “It ain’t right but you laughed at it!”

Then there was the famous “MONSTER-In-Law” movie with Jane Fonda and Jennifer Lopez.


Enough said. 

It’s not bad enough that when scriptwriters want to turn on the waterworks they kill the mother. (If you haven’t noticed, trust me, it’s always the mother.) Conversely, writers can rely on a cheap laugh by making any undead mother an in-law.

Thankfully, I have a great relationship with my future daughter-in-law.  (For purposes of this blog, I’ll call her Sally.) Sally and Son No. 2 have been together since high school. So what I had to find out they were dating from a friend who saw the two of them holding hands at the town’s annual fair. That’s his fault, not hers. He was probably worried I’d start grilling her like a cheese sandwich. He was wrong. I have much more subtle means of ferreting out the information I want.

Anyway, she and I bake cookies together, go to movies together, and I even went wedding gown shopping with her and her mom. (I was so honored to be included...truly. And yes, I cried when she said yes to the dress.) I love her and honestly look at her as the daughter I never had. (How lucky am I?)

But there is one troubling aspect of my soon-to-be in-law status: My name, or title. 

Up until that point Sally had always called me “Mrs.,” despite my repeated pleas for her to “just call me Leah.” When he popped the question, however, she figured it was time to take the next step and address me by something that doesn’t make me sound like her second grade teacher. 

And “just my name” made sense.  Right? I knew she would never feel comfortable calling me “Mom” (and her mother, understandably, would be less than keen on it). 

The first time she called me “Leah” it was kind of weird, for both of us, but we knew it would become easier with time and practice. She is still calling my husband “Mr.” but I can’t worry about him now. I have bigger issues. Something happened over Christmas as we exchanged gifts across the greater family landscape. 

Sally, my future daughter-in-law, who will call me just Leah, addressed my sister as “Aunt....”
Huh. My sister is a beloved aunt but I’m just plain old no-title “Leah”? 

I understand why the aunt bit. My sister is a wonderful person—loving and kind and tons of fun. Also, I realize aunt is more of a generic title than “mother,” often reserved for close friends you want to incorporate into more of a family role.

But still...I’m the MOTHER of her future husband, for crying out loud. I introduced her to cookie baking and taught her our cherished family recipes. Can’t I get a bit of an elevation here, more than just my name, something that denotes a real family relationship? Can’t I get a freakin’ title?

After I got over the shock, I started researching alternatives to “Mom” and “Leah.” 

“Ma” felt so wrong. First of all, it’s what I (reluctantly) called my mother-in-law because that’s what my hubby called her. From him it sounded loving and right; from me it sounded like I time-traveled to the middle The Grapes of Wrath country.

“Mother” is too formal. “Mother Leah” is even worse. As one friend told me, “You sound like Mother Superior.”  “Mama Leah” sounds like a kosher pizza...and so on and so on.

Still, I was determined and started venting my dilemma to everyone who would listen, until I found it—a good alternative to “Mom” that would make me feel like I was part of Sally’s family. I got this from a friend who is German (really German...from Germany):  Mutti (pronounced mooti) is a German word for Mom or Mommy.

How perfect! I thought. I’m of German descent. Sally is part Indian (as in Asian Indian) and the word kind of sounds least the way my German friend pronounced it. 

Armed with my find, I texted my son to feel him out. “Say, would Sally like to call me Mutti instead of Leah?” I explained the roots of the word, adding that I know Sally is uncomfortable with just Leah. After about five minutes, he got back to me, so I know he was conferring with her. The response? “That’s okay, Mom. She’s fine with Leah.” 

I have to admit I was a bit hurt. But when I asked him why she calls my sister “Aunt,” my hurt disappeared. He explained that Sally doesn’t have a good relationship with her real aunts, and having an aunt she can love makes her feel better.

Hey, I can’t argue with that. I think that’s sweet and I’m happy to share my wonderful sister with her. As for me, just call me Leah.

Leah writes stories of mystery and romance, good and evil, and the power of love. She loves Facebook visitors where she often posts about her son's kitten Hercules. She blogs here on the 6th and 22nd of each month.


Margo Hoornstra said...

Ah, yes. Been there. My in-law kids have each called me mom in the past, once in a while I conversation, not as a general rule though. My newest son in law settled on what his kids call me, Grammy. What you each feel comfortable with will come naturally. Trust me. I promise!

Leah St. James said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Margo. That makes me feel better. I know a lot of women whose in-law kids call them by their "grand" names. I don't have any grands yet...that will be up to Son No. 2 and his bride! :-)

Jannine Gallant said...

I called my MIL by her first name, Sally. My husband calls my mom, Marilyn. But, my dad called my mom's mom, Mom, so maybe it's more of a generational thing. Older generations labeled the inlaws with a title more so than younger ones do. Leah's a great name (I gave it to one of my heroines!) so I'd be happy with her using your name.

Rolynn Anderson said...

Thanks for a good laugh this morning, Leah. My fav: " sounded like I time-traveled to the middle of Grapes of Wrath country." You remind me how these titles don't make much sense. My nieces and nephews call me Aunt Rolynn, but I don't say: Niece Landi. Their mother has southern roots, so she taught them to use the title...I'd just as soon they dropped "Aunt." Nicknames are endearments/special to me. Be on the lookout for a "Lee," maybe? Congrats on have a new daughter in the family!

remullins said...

I've been called "Mom" by my children's friends for so long I'm comfortable with it. So that's what I'll suggest if one of my children ever decide to get married.

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

I smiled the whole through your post. It was great. My daughter in laws call me by my name and I don't mind. My son in law calls me mom and my sons are incredibly jealous by that. Can you imagine? They come up to me and whisper in a grumbling tone, "He has no right to call you mom. You're OUR mom, not his." I mean, these guys are in their forties. Territorial much?

Leah St. James said...

I really am okay with her using my name, Jannine (although I've never LIKED Leah, but that's beside the point). It wasn't until my sister turned into "aunt" that I questioned it! :-) But seriously, I'm glad my sister can be the fun aunt to her, as well as to my kids.

Leah St. James said...

Rolynn-- That "Ma" for my MIL was so hard to force from my mouth! She told me to call her "Mom" but I couldn't. Mom was MY mom. And she never offered her first name, so I was in a quandary! I'm thrilled to be gaining a daughter. I'm the only female in our little family! Even the cat is a male!

Leah St. James said...

Wow, R.E. - that's really cool! I bet you were one of the "Kool Aid" moms...meaning the mom where half the neighborhood kids felt comfortable hanging out. When my kids were little, most of my friends were super strict with their kids, insisting on Mr. and Mrs., so "Mom" never would have stood a chance!

Leah St. James said...

Too funny, Vonnie, about your son-in-law and sons! That begs another question -- what will my son be calling his new mother-in-law?! :-)

Alison Henderson said...

Don't feel too bad, Leah. I called my beloved mother-in-law by her first name, and she remained one of my favorite people until the day she died. I still feel her presence in our lives almost daily, and she'd been gone for more than twenty years.

Diane Burton said...

My DIL alternates between Diane (in person) and Mom (in emails). I think now I'm Nana because that's what Toddler Girl calls me. My mother called her MIL, Mom or Grandma. At first, I felt awkward calling my MIL Mom, but eventually it became easier. I was a little torqued by how easily my daughter called her in-laws Mom & Dad. Jealous much? In the end, it doesn't matter. Or as my father-in-law said, "I don't care what you call me just don't call me late to dinner."

What a great relationship you have with "Sally." I couldn't ask for a better DIL, and she gets along great with my daughter. The two of them are very much alike--very strong women with very loving husbands. I am blessed.

Leah St. James said...

What a lovely tribute, Alison. I hope my son's fiancee and I will stay close like that. :-)

Leah St. James said...

Another great in-law relationship. Hollywood needs to pay attention! I had a wonderful relay with my father-in-law, like a real dad to me. :-)

Brenda Whiteside said...

So fun to read. My son and sweet daughter in law lived together for five years so she called me Brenda. Once married, there was no need to change anything.

Leah St. James said...

It's good to have some time to acclimate to those kinds of changes, Brenda!

Andrea Downing said...

My own daughter is getting married in May so, yup, I'll be a mother-in-law. He's already calling me Andi though and we're sure he's actually my son, being more similar in 'likes' to me than my daughter is. Stand by..

Leah St. James said...

I knew you'd be able to relate to this, Andi! Can't wait to hear more about your daughter's nuptials!

Alicia Dean said... made me laugh! What a fun story, and I'm so thrilled you have a special soon-to-be daughter-in-law. I have no sons or daughters in law, but it appears I'll have a son-in-law later this year. Let's just say what he calls me is the least of my worries. (He has been calling me 'Mom' which I DON'T like. I barely know him). I have a few choice words I'd like to call him. Not everyone is as lucky as you are. :/