What’s it like when your 27-year-old son announces he’s involved with a woman who’s 44?
Do you worry about his sanity? Do you picture the girlfriend as an aging Jezebel with a secret past? A divorced reject from the dating scene who can’t hook someone her own age? Is she some kind of weirdo?
Now imagine getting this news when you are only 48 your own self.
That’s how it was for Judy, the woman who has become my mother-in-law. She remembers that her first thoughts were not about me. They were — naturally — about her son. Ohmigod, what have I done to him? Is he looking for a mother figure? Ohmigod, I ruined my son.
She and Ed — my future father-in-law — headed for Carl’s Jr. in Tucson, where they go to drink Diet Cokes and figure out how to live with life’s hard questions. Ed calmed her fears. He told her that Michael’s choice would be a fine one, and besides, there was nothing to be done about it. It wasn’t anything you did as a mother to make him want to marry an older woman, he told her. He advised her to have faith in their son.
And that, bless her heart, is what Judy did. I approached our first meeting with more anxiety about her reaction than any Jezebel ever had. But she opened her arms and her heart, welcoming me warmly.
For my part, having a mother-in-law so close to my age occasionally has unexpected consequences. Judy and I share memories and music and the culture of growing up in the 50s and 60s. We laugh a lot, like sisters. In the early days of my marriage to Michael, it felt a little kinky to be sleeping with the son of my new friend. Wait... she’s my friend, but she’s also the mother of my husband. For Judy, it’s the same: I don’t feel like you’re a daughter-in-law, she tells me.
If there’s any trick to this business of being friends as well as in-laws, it’s in not letting numbers crowd out the affection. The numbers are real: Judy and I are 4½ years apart. But so is the gratitude I feel for her friendship.
Here is the main thing we share: I thank her for raising the man I so dearly love. And she thanks me for loving him so dearly.