Our story goes back a quarter of a century. We first met shortly before I become engaged to your son, your only child. I was young, gauche, new to your country and, coming from a mild-mannered British family, totally unprepared for the onslaught of the French mother-in-law. I have to admit, I was a little intimidated.
You were always immaculately turned out and your constant chatter in a language that I hardly understood (but enough to know you were talking about me) unnerved me and played on my insecurities.
Your criticism and ridicule knew no bounds – with my lack of chic and stumbling schoolgirl French, I must have seemed like an easy target. You rolled your eyes at the waiter when I tried to order in your language in restaurants or you would look aghast at how I was dressed for a family gathering, “Ooh la la, what, no jewellery?!” You hardly deigned to touch the food I prepared. Your poor son! What could he expect from a wife coming from a country where they eat “de la merde”.
When I got pregnant you told your son that I had done it on purpose to trap him – we were already married!
My poor husband, your emotional punchbag, wearied from years of your demands for constant flattery and attention, would run himself ragged trying to keep you happy.
Then the children came along and there was no stopping you. When I got pregnant, you told your son that I had done it on purpose to try to trap him. We were already married, for God’s sake! You would titter into your hand at my nine-month pregnant belly, as if I should be ashamed, and there was no question of breastfeeding in your presence – I was sent off to another room.
Nothing was good enough for your grandchildren: the food I prepared, the sleeping routines, the discipline … And when you held out your arms to my exuberant toddler saying “Come to Maman”, did you do it to annoy me? You certainly succeeded. I felt so undermined at times that I feared that I would lose my children.
But the years have passed and I have learned to bare my teeth and bite back, and you have backed off. The children have grown up and we both take pride in what they have become. You always loved them unconditionally and I am grateful for that.
Old age has softened and diminished you and, dare I say it, you seem to appreciate and even admire me. When I was very sick with breast cancer you were hugely supportive.
I hope, in turn, that I have become good company for you with our shared interests in art and cinema. I am glad that we have become friends and that the antagonism and the competition for your son’s attention has disappeared.
One day, my boys will probably find a partner, a mother for their children. Will I treat them as you treated me? To be honest, I wouldn’t expect them to stick around if I did.