Conducting an interview with an English-speaking woman at an elevation of 10,000 meters may not sound like a challenging affair. Still, there’s the issue of trying to record a conversation with the background droning from the engines. And her husband regularly offering his two cents as I pose a few questions. But, it;s that Kiwi accent that makes her sometimes difficult to understand and keeps reminding me that “We’re not in Kansas anymore!”
I share with Ellie my quest to find sage advice about how to be a great MIL/DIL and figure that at her stage of life, she might be a great source. Her three sons and their wives had all been married quite a while. Along the way, boundaries had needed to be negotiated. She volunteers a bit of her story – the comfortable and the not-so-comfortable – and I come away with three points worth mentioning.
“I’ve sailed in a few times, if you like, and, you know, treated them like you’d see it as a daughter, sort of. And I did find that …” She paused reflectively. “Well, they’re all my sons and so I’d ask about their business and that sort of thing.” She chuckled a bit self-consciously. “And sometimes I got a bit of an icy silence. So, I don’t know how to explain it, but there is that little line, if you like … that, uh, (here comes point #1) “they’re not your daughters and sometimes, it’s not your business.”
I think a bit about that as I look out the window. Flying down the west coasts of both the North & South Islands allows us the perfect vantage point for viewing the geographical features of this breath-takingly beautiful country. One certainly needs to be enamored with vowels to live in Aotearoa which means “land of the long, white cloud” in Maori.
“So, how do you get along with your DILs nowadays?”
“Mine aren’t too bad, actually. (“.. aren’t too bad”..? … as if most of them are?) One of them loves shopping. So, she does the shopping for me … me being blind and that.” Ellie had a degenerative vision problem and was given special attention by the flight crew upon boarding the aircraft. Sounds like she is getting special attention from her DILs, also!
Another DIL lives close by and takes Ellie’s husband to the doctor or hospital, when needed, and waits around for him to be treated.
The third DIL “loves landscaping and gardening, and that, and she knows that I do, too. And so she keeps sending up little photos of things she’s seen. And she saves up the crossword puzzles for my husband.” He leans over at this point to show how many he has. “She saves these for me! Every day!” His wide grin broadcasts the pleasure that comes from being on the receiving end of thoughtfulness – knowing that you’re someone special to someone who’s not “obliged” to love you.
“I think it’s wonderful” Ellie explains “when they’re not actually your daughters, you know, and they do this. …. They’ve been very good.”
Point #2: Everyone likes a bit of special attention and small kindnesses make a big impact from people who matter to you.
“So, Ellie, do you call your DILs or do you call your sons when you want to touch base and catch up on things?” I’ve been asking this question regularly. I want to know. In this day of instant and constant communication, who calls whom in the MIL/DIL relationship?
“I actually call my sons.” There you go – Point #3.
Sometimes she speaks with her DILs when the occasional holiday or special celebration warrants speakerphone usage. Or Skype.
Call your sons, not your DILs? That seems to be the overwhelming practice of the MILs I’ve interviewed. Right. So, that takes some pressure off me. DILs, in general, are probably not expecting phone calls from their MILs. Good. Not being a natural extrovert nor knowing my DILs well enough to just call and chat, I’m happy with this confirmation.
“Look at those mountains!”
Our conversation is interrupted by this exclamation from the seat behind us. We gaze out the tiny airplane windows at “the Southern Alps” and the chime sounds signaling that we would soon be landing. End of flight. End of interview. End of relationship? Will I ever see Ellie again? Not likely as we live on opposite sides of the world and she looks to be in her 70’s (or 80’s? How can one guess?) Ellie does, however, leave me with a gift – her story.
And now I’ve shared it with you.