It's impossible for me to relate to mother-in-law jokes.
I met my future mother-in-law when I was eighteen. She has been kind enough never to tell me what her first impression was.
But I can imagine now with what curious combination of trepidation and fascination Shirley must have viewed me, so terribly young and raw, way too big for my britches, opinions unexamined yet stubbornly held. And totally head over heels in love with the young man she had raised.
How she must have studied me, watching to see what Michael had seen. How she must have prayed and wondered and worried.
At eighteen, I could no more comprehend her perspective than I could climb the Sears Tower using only upper arm strength. And as the relationship progressed and I became her daughter-in-law--to-be, somehow it felt disloyal to call another woman "Mom."
I was slow to open my heart. Hers was open from the second she knew I existed.
If I have one regret from our early relationship, it is that it took me so long to realize she wanted nothing more than to love me with all her heart. My cheerleader for life. The daughter she never had. I was the one other woman in the world who loved Michael as much as she did. Of course she wanted to gather me in.
I should have let her love me.
Shirley hung in there through the prickly years, because that's what love does. It is patient. It is kind. It doesn't keep a running tally of wrongs (thank God).
And gradually, I learned how happy it made her to hear me call her Mom. I learned that it wasn't a disservice to my own precious Mother, but rather a high standard of honor I could bestow upon a person so worthy of being called a mother.
A mom meets offense with instantaneous forgiveness. There are no grudges because the forgiveness is paired with a determined forgetfulness and a refusal to keep score.
Still half-child when we met, I've had two moms now for longer than I only had the one. One loved me from before I was born, the long-sought after daughter conceived and carried at great personal risk. And the other unknowingly prayed for me in a state far away, speaking words of blessing over a growing girl she'd never met.
One had a head start on teaching me, the other brought new perspectives to blend into the mix.
One had no choice but to love me. The other had a choice--and chose love.
And still chooses love. Because I'm still a silly, selfish girl in so many ways. And Shirley might cringe on the inside at some of my choices and child-rearing decisions, but she has the best mom-poker face in the world. I suspect her tongue is about bitten half off from the effort, but still.
Eager to meet me more than halfway, she and Jim have taught me what strength there can be in quietness. None of us knew what we were doing, but there was love enough to wash over the little stings and scrapes.
So, yeah, that is why I can't relate to mother-in-law jokes. Because I don't have a mom and a mother-in-law.
I have two moms.