My mother-in-law plans to retire this year. The feeling is bittersweet…for me. Come June, my unsolicited, non-compensated children’s fashion stylist will retire. Since my pregnancy announcement nine years ago, my mother-in-law (MIL) unofficially appointed herself my future children’s fashion stylist, an appointment I simultaneously enjoy and shamefully resent.
When my MIL found out about my pregnancy, she surprised me by taking me shopping for maternity clothing. From the first time we met, we bonded, and she has always been extremely generous. Our complementary personalities deem us friends, a rarity with many in-laws, so this new, fun activity just bonded us more.
All throughout my pregnancy, my MIL showered me with baby clothing of various sizes and neutral colors plus blankets and other necessary baby accoutrement which culminated in a baby shower. Once we confirmed on my husband’s birthday that our first child was, indeed, a girl, she flooded us with beautiful pink and purple outfits and countless adorable dresses fit for a future fashion plate. Washing the items before our baby girl arrived; I grew more delighted and excited to dress up my living doll.
Upon E’s birth, I assumed the clothing deluge would dry up. However, my MIL, without fail, arrived every other Sunday afternoon, arms laden with bags from a multitude of stores – Target, Kohl’s, Wal Mart, Old Navy, Children’s Place, etc. – no store left unturned. She courageously dug through racks, searching for the cheapest quality items like a shirt for a dollar, shopped every sale and bought reverse season clothing, i.e., spring items in fall. Having worked in a clothing factory in the past, she uncannily pegged people as a particular size and could determine a well-made item from a shabbily put together one.
Once I gave birth to J, my MIL included him in the tidal wave of clothing. Adding the other gender to the flow, the load of clothing doubled. She bought them underwear, socks, swimsuits, pants, shirts, sweaters, pajamas, dresses, holiday clothing; and fancy clothes, unintentionally modeled but never worn. When she would buy the rare clothing dud, we’d immediately relegate it to the Goodwill or clothing swap piles. “I just couldn’t resist at this price!” she marveled with twinkling eyes while I tried not to cringe, a frozen smile on my face.
Finally, I admitted the detriment of receiving the clothing. Since my MIL bought so many clothes so frequently, I couldn’t keep up with the clothing mountain. The overflowing kids’ closets and drawers, stuffed to capacity, wouldn’t stay closed. While it made life easier for another person to buy the kids’ clothing, I felt excluded from the fun of making my own choices and picking out cute outfits. She never offered the receipts or asked if we actually needed clothing which frustrated and overwhelmed me. When I realized that she may be filling a void left by her other grandchildren, casualties of an acrimonious, complicated divorce, I felt guilt sweep over me.
My husband showed his mother the overflowing drawers and asked her to “please slow down” which she promptly forgot or ignored. Privately, he suggested I go through the clothing and get rid of any stained, useless or unappealing garments.
Few clothes appeared this fall, so I didn’t pressure my MIL, thinking money was tight or she was tired of buying clothes. I geared up for it, visiting every clothing place and asking fellow moms where to shop for the best bargains for kids. I figured out what I liked, where I liked to shop, and, proud of my independence, bought winter clothing for them. After spending at least $200 on clothing, including holiday outfits, following every rule my MIL bestowed upon me, she showed up the weekend before Thanksgiving, hefting bags of clothing.
Whipping out a blue argyle sweater and corduroys, my MIL said, “Here’s J’s Christmas outfit.” She must have noticed the alarmed, disappointed look on my face because she added, “…or not…” and meekly put it down.
On New Year’s Day, we welcomed my in-laws over to exchange Christmas gifts. As seemingly endless bags of presents, fondly nicknamed the “Las Vegas Christmas Extravaganza,” entered the house, we stared while my children whooped with excitement. My MIL clearly and happily announced, “Enjoy it today because this is the last year!” I breathed a sigh of relief but also of sadness and guilt, knowing that an old era passed, and I had large shoes to fill and much clothing to buy.
This is an original post for Jersey Moms Blog by MB Sanok, a New Jersey mom.
Photo credit given to Baby Bird Productions.