A visit from my mom … in law

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How about this for timing: Smartmom’s mother-in-law arrived from California just in time to catch last week’s “Valentine’s Sexcapade” column.

“I’d like to see your column in that little paper you write for,” Artsy Grandma said with just the slightest hint of condescension.

Smartmom’s stomach did a Wonder Wheel flip. She had no intention of showing her the story that detailed the post-therapy carnal exploits (such as they were!) between Hepcat and Smartmom. Airing one’s dirty sheets in a newspaper is “déclassé” enough — airing them for one’s mother-in-law is, as the French might say, “déscusting.”

Hepcat was so terrified that Artsy Grandma would see the column that he collected every newspaper in the house.

“Just taking out the recycling, mother,” he said.

Smartmom wondered if Hepcat’s new environmentalism was a result of mere prudishness or abject humiliation, so in a private moment, she asked Hepcat if he was bothered by the column’s spicy revelations (such as they were).

“Not at all,” he said in his WASP-y way of communicating his displeasure. Smartmom didn’t need a weatherman to know which way Hepcat’s wind was blowing: her column about their skin had gotten under his.

There’s always some tension when Artsy Grandma visits. Not because Artsy Grandma isn’t stellar; there’s no denying that Smartmom won the lottery in the mother-in-law department. An unusually fit and attractive 76-year-old, Artsy Grandma is kind, interesting, intelligent, artistic, independent, in-the-know, and a pleasure to be around.

But she’s still a mother-in-law.

You remember what Margaret Mead said: “Of all the peoples whom I have studied, from city dwellers to cliff dwellers, I always find that at least 50 percent would prefer to have at least one jungle between themselves and their mothers-in-law.”

Given the historic anthropolo­gical/soci­ological parameters of the mother/daughter-in-law relationship, Smartmom naturally perceives slights, backhanded compliments, and subtle putdowns at every turn.

Many of Smartmom’s friends have similar issues. Designer Mom goes into a tizzy if she has to dress for an event where her mother-in-law will be.

“She thinks I have no taste,” Designer Mom laments. “She thinks I’ll embarrass her.”

Type A Mom’s mother-in law disapproves of her full-time work and thinks Type A’s domestic skills are not up to her exacting standards.

Mrs. Kravitz’s mother-in-law gives her monkey figurines for birthdays and anniversaries just because she once said she “liked monkeys.”

“Now I just wish she’d stop,” Mrs. Kravitz said.

The problem with mother-in-laws is linked to the problem with husbands. Men worship their mothers and want their wives to be just like them — and not like them at all.

Take Hepcat (please). On his first date with Smartmom at an inexpensive Mexican restaurant on Ludlow Street, he told her: “Wait ’til you meet my mother!”

This made Smartmom nervous. She wasn’t sure she wanted to date a “mamalah,” even if he was a WASP from California. When it comes to a husband, Smartmom is a monotheist: She wants to be the sole object of his worship.

If you can’t tell, Smartmom is just a tad possessive of Hepcat’s affection — especially when Artsy Grandma is around.

Could it be because Smartmom is nothing like AG, who’s stoic, practical, handy with a tool kit, good in the garden? If Hepcat wanted a girl like his dear old mom, oy, did he marry the wrong woman! Smartmom, who grew up on the Upper West Side, doesn’t know the difference between a pair of lockjaw pliers and lockjaw.

Hepcat raves about his mother’s cooking and doesn’t think that Smartmom’s nightly chicken takeout from Coco Roco quite measures up to AG’s Tamale Pie.

Smartmom is tell-all memoir to AG’s locked diary. She’s physically demonstrative to AG’s “no-touch-zone.” And Smartmom plays social butterfly to AG’s game of solitaire.

Still, Smartmom finds herself feeling competitive with AG — and spends days before her arrival flexing every domestic muscle in hope of making her slovenly home look more like boho chic. (AG’s house is fit for a spread in Elle Decor.)

Before AG’s visits, Smartmom even attempts some self-improvement (losing the 20 extra pounds she’s been carrying around since Oh So Feisty One’s birth is hopeless, but she can still make sure that her shirts are free of food stains). The fact that AG is in better shape than Smartmom is truly exasperating. (Does it count that there’s more of Smartmom to love?)

In the end, Artsy Grandma never did see the column anyway. In fact, she didn’t even seem that interested in it. Hmm, obviously she doesn’t think very highly of Smartmom or her work.

Well, Smartmom reasoned, at least she won’t be at a loss for words at the shrink next week.

Louise Crawford, a Park Slope mom, also operates “Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn.”
Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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