Thanks to those ubiqutous mother-in-law jokes I have been brainwashed into misgivings towards the day when, with just seven words ("I now pronounce you . . . "), I too could become a member of that large society.
And then it happened.
No, it's not that she got married. It's that another status presented itself from its modest slot where it usually lies quiet, like a sixth sense, in these modern times: the status of parents of the offspring living with another -- but more than a relationship because they have firm intentions of marrying, only not now, because it isn't practical. We, her parents accepting it, married in the '50s when engaged couples kept separate dwellings and when engagement rings were big, did not feel modern. The picture of my husband and I on their domestic grounds was murky before our eyes and paled my own mother-in-law preoccupations: We were in this together.
So we brought her her things piled high in the Volkswagon bus, her father, her 12-year-old brother and I.
Upon visiting one's child's first home there is sometimes an initation fee. Mine was braving the icy, driving wind in their densly populated, fast food area with newly purchased brown toilet seat under my arm to replace the one with the deep wide crack in it. And then there was the blazing heat in the apartment that couldn't be regulated, and my husband getting mad because our son and I didn't remember where the repair kit was kept in the Volkswagon bus (since that was where we'd find the wrench to replace the toilet seat) and going to sleep in disgust (but there was probably more to that since he was seeing his little girl move into her first home with a man -- and she was not yet married), and our 12-year-old on his back under the toilet with a hammer, chipping at the wretched toilet seat bolts so his dad would wake up happy, I wouldn't nag anymore and they'd return from shopping and say, "Hey a new brown toilet seat! Who put it on?" Well he did get it on, and they did say that, and his dad woke up happier and I got thier icebox cleaned (though should maternal acts of zeal like that be weighed in the future?).
That night we had spaghetti, salad a store coffeecake, and a bottle of champagne (after the dinner wine, of course). We listened to his plans for school -- two more years -- congratulated him on the Toyota jeep sold last summer to help their tight funds, talked about the job market for graphic artists in New York, their school schedules, the saftey of the subways versus the bus, looked at her recent art work. She said her face felt flushed from drinking, I said mine too (it burned), though our almost-son-in-law's and my husband's looked quite normal. She said she'd do the dishes and our almost-son-in-law brought out a wall hanging which they discussed where to put and I was going to say something but didn't. My husband got a kitchen knife and scraped up what looked like tar on the floor and our son tested their new alram-clock radio. We slept on foam mattresses, a cot and the hard floor, the three of them in the living room, us in the bedroom she insisted we take; and falling asleep, listening to what seemed like an involved ghost story her brother was telling them, I vaguely remembered a warning from a friend about handling sleeping arrangements for his sake.
We went to the aquarium on Coney Island and saw two white whales, a strange rockfish, magnificent coral; ate at McDonald's where they broke their vegetarian diet, and browsed through a used-furniture store. We passed Ocean Boulevard with its identical houses, huge white vases on their lawns and porches, and questioned their taste; a suburban bank where people sat against its wall in a flood of sunlight, a vast cemetary that her father said he finds interesting to walk through.
Back at the apartment we gathered our things; she showed us how she could look out the window at who rang the bell, he talked about a new lock, she made gesture of tossing the stuff crowdng the floor out the door and he said he was going to put shelves up. We said goodbye to our almost-son-in-law, who said their house was ours to return when we wanted, we wouldn't recognize it the next time, and I was grabbed by my first suspicious-mother-in-law thought of how long decoration would take. She walked us to the car.
And we felt good about it: their happiness, their being well-settled. Could we have felt better if they were married? Some day we might be able to compare. But today was today -- something the young of today keep telling us. c