Thursday, January 28, 2010

Housebound in the Vast Northern Wasteland

FB's mother and father live in a crumbling, mid-sized city in the Vast Northern Wasteland. Their home is not inaccessible — they live minutes from a major highway — but it is remote. On a day with good weather, it takes me about 7 hours to drive there (FB does not drive).

We generally visit the VNW two or three times a year: once in the summer, for a week and a half over Christmas, and sometimes for an incidental event (wedding, funeral, etc.). FB's dad comes to visit us in the spring, but in the three years we have lived here, his mom has only visited us twice (once for a single afternoon).

She always has an excuse for not coming to see us. She doesn't travel at all between November and April (the weather might be bad), she can't find the time (she is retired), she doesn't like to drive (even if FB's dad is driving). She is 62 years old, in generally good health, without any major physical limitations, and with ample financial resources. I know that it hurts FB's feelings to have her turn down his invitations again and again, but she seems unable to perceive his disappointment.

Two days ago, one of her last surviving relatives died suddenly of a heart attack. I had only met him once (at my wedding), but he lived relatively close by. I emailed my condolences to my mother-in-law and told her that we would be happy to go with her to the funeral.

This morning, I got an email from her explaining that she couldn't possibly go the funeral because she does not travel in the winter.

On Sunday, when FB called to tell his parents our big news, I sat next to him on the couch to listen in. After he broke the news, and after his mother told him that she was very surprised to hear it, given the fact that our house is not suitable for a child, they talked about other things. One of the topics was my father-in-law's college reunion, which will take place in mid-October. I am currently a grad student at my father-in-law's alma mater, and we live a mile and a half from campus.

"Perfect!" FB said. If Snapdragon is born on time at the end of September, a mid-October visit would be perfect. They could come a little early, stay a little late, see Snapdragon in all his/her post-fetal glory, and go to the reunion as well.

"Oh, no," says FB's mother. "I'm not coming then. I don't want to go to the reunion."

Sometimes I get angry with her obstructionism, but I try to keep my anger in check because I don't know whether her behavior is a manifestation of selfishness or of mental illness. I know that she has panic attacks in situations where she finds herself in an unfamiliar situation, especially if it is noisy or crowded. She has some sort of anti-anxiety medication prescribed to her, but she is reluctant to take it. As far as I know, she does not get any regular monitoring or therapy for her anxiety.

She describes herself as a "worrier," but that term does not do justice to reality. For years, she would not allow her sons to fly on the same airplane. She broods endlessly over bad weather, carginogenic foods, and the imagined presence of radon in her home. One of my major fears about getting pregnant was that I would be inundated with articles about the latest danger that would cause my baby to be born without a nose.

But the traveling thing makes me angry. I am happy to drive to the VNW a few times every year, but that will not be enough for Snapdragon. You cannot cultivate a relationship with a child if you only see him/her on major holidays. It doesn't work like that.

Her decision not to visit us, despite having the time, money, and physical ability to do so, is hurtful, but we are adults and can get over it. But what about Snapdragon?

1 comment:

  1. I think we have the same mother-in-law. My husband's parents only visited us once in the 4 years we lived away from the Northwest and then for a day and a half. My mother-in-law also has panic attacks and endless excuses and ailments. It is hurtful to my husband and quite annoying for me. I know if we move when I finish school our baby will not see his/her grandparents unless we come back here. Pretty frustrating but I figure if they can't put in the time they must not want the relationship so they'll get out of it what they put in. I guess that's pretty pessimistic.