Releasing the past in order to find myself

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Buzzing Around

I've been wanting to write more posts about NM and my last visit (and I will) but I've been very busy as of late.  DH and I got very sick for three weeks or so and then we've had just one thing after the other to contend with.
As it is, I've been continuing to receive craziness from NM, and even though I shouldn't be, I'm always surprised by the in roads she chooses to "get" at me.  But, that's another post.

I haven't seen my MIL since she called my husband and offered up her faux apology.  I knew at the time that she wasn't sincere and I really had no hope of things changing.  But, since it was such a completely different tactic from her, the whole situation set off my anxiety.  I was stressed about how this all would play out.

I was guessing that MIL's tactic was that, when she called, DH would say "Oh, no, you're a great mom." and that he'd get the hint that HE actually needed to change his behavior.  I  believe her subtle message was "(DH), by not doing what I want, you've made ME feel badly.  Please fix this.  Or else." She stated in her conversation with DH that her main objective was MORE time with us and I saw very little of her actually wanting to change our relationship.

To DH's credit, he told her that we needed to work on boundaries, to back off of me, and to give us some space.

About two weeks later, FIL was calling to meet up with us.  So much for space.  I could tell DH was wanting to comply.  He said he was still going to speak with his mother, but he wanted to get my input before he talked to her (thumbs up for the fact he is consulting me, thumbs down for the fact that he still hasn't actually talked to her about the issues.  However, I don't feel like these things need to be on a timeline, and so he still can talk to about it all.)  I was very sick, so I didn't have to go.  DH met them at my BIL's house.  I was very anxious, wondering what she was going to say to DH and how she would latch onto my kids.  I rationalized, though, that the kids would be seeing their cousins (whom they really wanted to see) and MIL would be allowed little inroads to them.

When DH came home, he seemed quiet.  He said that things had been fine.  MIL had not hoovered over my older son (as usually) but had played a lot with my younger son (whom she usually ignores).  This made me anxious.  Other than that, DH said that MIL was very quiet and stayed to herself a lot.  FIL only referenced me when he asked DH on the phone "who all is coming over?"  They didn't ask how I was feeling or what I was sick with, as they normally would.

In the next few days, I noticed DH having (sudden) irritability.  It took us several tense discussions and an argument for me to finally notice that EVERY TIME he goes around his parents, he comes back sullen and argumentative.  This is another post, but I do think it was good for both of us to finally see that connection.  That things between us are fine, then he goes and sees his parents, and suddenly he has "issues" with me.

This visit with his parents also started the nagging from MIL about gift ideas.  We really did try to get her something as quickly as possible (I like to be considerate) but since we are giving ideas out to 5 or six different people, it can be complicated to organize.  I know she sent several texts reminding DH to get her the list (she'd had her own ideas, but DH told her to hold off.)  Several days after the gift ideas were sent, she texted that she had gotten YS something different.  This royally pissed me off.  I know it shouldn't, but these games around gift giving get tiresome.   DH said he understood my feelings and that he was going to tell her.  But he didn't, until finally one day (when I was at my wit's end about all of this) I called him on it.  He ended up texting her.  She feigned to not understand why it was a big deal, but ended up just buying extra gifts (and the one we had suggested) for the kids.

So, all of this has happened in the three weeks since she offered to change, and DH told her to give us some space.  During this time, MIL also made contact with me on three separate occasions.  She has been reduced to "restricted" status on my FB page, which means she can only see what I make public, which is nothing aside from my cover/profile photos.    I changed my photos twice and within an hour, MIL had "liked" them.  These are the ONLY access she has to me and I felt crowded that she would immediately like them.  Especially since DH specifically told her to not offer lame flattery (not that "likes" are always flattery, but in her case, it seems to be pathetic attempts to appear interested).  She also sent to my email address (not DH's) an electronic Thanksgiving card.  FOUR DAYS LATE (it arrived Monday morning).  A couple of things about these cards: I dislike them wholly.  You have to spend minutes watching the LAMEST graphics in order to get the message.  She has never sent me (or DH) a Thanksgiving card before.  We received no phone call on Thanksgiving or text from them and had no contact with them at all (which is also odd).  She picks out real paper cards for my kids and DH, but I always get these e-cards on my birthday.  Last Mother's Day, she acknowledged me with one of these cards, but it was also several days late.  (It's an E-CARD.  How can it be late?!)  The message was generic and not addressed to anyone in particular.  

This was the FOURTH contact we'd had from her (not including the little texts) in five weeks time.  I was feeling so pressed in on and claustrophobic.  With my niece and nephews birthdays coming up, I was feeling down right panicky.  Having not actually seen MIL since the beginning of September, I was not happy about having to see her and I feared confrontation.  Or that she would come up and insist on apologizing and "making things right".  I didn't want to be forced, in front of people, to accept her apology.  I didn't want to talk about it at all.  I mean, frankly, she's never even mentioned to ME that she felt she was feeling badly about her behavior.  She's only said things to DH.  And then she ignored every thing he asked of her.

The ILs called the day before the party to NOW insist that they wanted to make a plan to arrange ANOTHER visit to drop off gifts, as the gifts they ordered hadn't arrived yet and couldn't exchange them at the party.  (I think this is a ploy by MIL too to arrange a separate "gift opening" get together, as we always have to do, every year.)  I know was positively hyperventilating at feeling so penned in.  DH said they had planned next weekend.  He did approach me before he called them back and I told him about feeling so claustrophobic and that I needed some space.  That his parents were completely ignoring our boundaries and forcing an increase in contact.  DH arranged for after Christmas to exchange gifts, although we've made no plans yet except for a date.  I figure, when that time comes, I'll decide if I want to even go.  But I didn't like all the pressure of committing to another visit, when I was so stressed about the party and visit the next day.

  I was shaking when I walked into the place, but had a plan to make myself busy with the kids during the activities.  My youngest is still small enough to need me around.  They showed up late (as usually.  I heard my BIL on the phone giving them instructions on where to go.  They had gone to a different venue.  Not coincidentally, this is the same reason they gave for showing up late to my son's party: they didn't know where it was.  But they'd been to my son's venue twice before.  It all sounded like bullshit excuses to me. ).  I think it's horrible that they are always late, but it worked out for me and bought me time to get across the large gym and hide out.  I could feel MIL's eyes watching me when she came in.  As the adults left the entry way and ventured out to the kids, I could see her inching closer and closer, maneuvering.  I finally had to move out of her line of sight, as it was making me uncomfortable, and frankly, irritated to see her face (her facial expression, a combination of glee, and squinting, and nose up in the air, drives me crazy).  Thankfully, at that moment, my youngest son peed his pants.  Not bad enough to have to leave, but bad enough I had to run home and get him clothes (I've never been so thankful for an accident.)  I bolted and was so thankful to have 30 minutes of time taken up.  When I arrived back at the party, it was almost over.  MIL was busy "helping" (taking over for my) SIL with the cupcakes and things (SIL doesn't seem to mind, as she seems to have her head up her ass most of the time.  She spent a lot of the party with some random baby strapped on her chest instead of interacting with her own kids at the party).  I made sure to hang back a bit, near my youngest, waiting for him to finish up so I could change him.

And then she made a beeline for me.  I saw her coming from across the room, in a straight, determined line for me.  Sigh.  I was hoping we could exchange some random pleasantries and be done with it.  Nope.  She was going to hunt me down.  And this is a woman who stalks me around rooms.  I have literally moved chairs to get away from her at times, and she follows me.  She has NO respect for my personal space, listens in on my conversations with others and butts in, and I always feel so trapped around her.

I ignore her as she walks up and stands next to me.  "So, are you ready?" she asks.  I know exactly what she's referring to, as we have the SAME conversation and my niece and nephew parties every year.  This time I pause.  I had decided on "medium chill" with her.  I would answer kindly and politely and with as little response as possible.  I was not interested in engaging in conversation iwth her and I was going to refuse to participate in her charade.

Luckily, I've gotten enough control over my anxiety that I could pause and take a deep breathe, "Ready for what?"

This through her and I saw her bristle and be taken aback.  "Well, uh, uh, for Christmas.  Are you all done?"

I continued to look out at the party and not turn towards her, "Pretty much."

She continues, starting in on her "interrogation" style of conversation, where she fires one question after another at you, not really listening to the responses.  "I mean, do you have your tree up?"


"Well, what about the shopping? Are you done? "  She presses on.


The old lady is persistent.  "Well, but like do you have them all wrapped under the tree?"

I mean, seriously, does she not take hints?  Or maybe stop drilling me and just engage in some easy conversation, lady?  I hate feeling attacked.  But I notice DH has come closer and is watching (he was giving explicit instructions to keep an eye on me this time and rescue me if necessary.)

"I've done some." I reply.  She continues "Well, I asked (OS) if he was excited and he said 'yes, there are 11 more day!'".  And then she cackles.  I smile and nod.  And then I decide to excuse myself and take YS to the bathroom.  I don't say goodbye, or even look at her, but just take off.  Maybe rude, but I was finished being interrogated.

When I came back, she was busy taking over and "helping" with the gift unwrapping.  It amazes me that BIL just wanders around while MIL does all of the work with this stuff, but I suppose that shows you how everything is "supposed" to work in this family.  I'm able to skirt around her and talk to another friend.  I go up to my niece and nephew and say good bye and happy birthday.  Neither child acknowledges me or even looks at me. (I love my niece and nephew, but manners are not their strong suit).  I gather the kids to go (DH and FIL had gone outside to give them our gifts for Christmas).  OS gets ahead of me, and when I go out I find MIL about to buy him sweets from a vending machine.  She knows she's been "caught" and suddenly starts blubbering asking if it's OK with me.  (She was going to give the sweets to OS and my nephew.  I don't know what she expected to give my YS - the ignored child - but I'm guessing nothing.  She KNEW we were leaving and she also knew my kids had just had a ton of sweets at the party.)  I told her no, it was not OK as we were leaving for dinner.  She got flustered (I secretly enjoyed this, although I shouldn't have) and flung the money at OS, saying he could keep the dollar.  She then realized that my YS would need a dollar and frantically searched for him, with my nephew bugging her for one too.  I left her rummaging in her purse, after having the boys say thank you and a quick good bye and left.  She hollered "have a good Christmas" and I said "you too" and made a dash for the door.

Outside, I expected her to come out to further talk, as FIL was still out saying goodbye.  Luckily, I was spared.  I tried to make sure to be kind and open and pleasant to FIL.  I do like him, despite his codependency and enmeshment and avoidance of confrontation.  And I think he likes me too.  Even though MIL clearly has issues with me, and he is paying the consequences now, he was very kind to me, making sure to say goodbye.  I think he wanted to give me a hug goodbye, but I busied myself with the car seats, because I was sort of feeling uncomfortable.  He couldn't squish down between the cars and said a hearty and kind goodbye before walking back to DH.  I think it speaks volumes that he has tried to maintain kindness and goodwill.

So, I feel SO relieved today.  I'm free of the old bat for two whole weeks!  (Now, if NM would just leave me the fuck alone, I could have a nice little holiday.)  But I do have pangs for the future.  I feel more confident, free, and hopeful than I have in a long time.  I don't feel like I'm bound to put up with her behavior forever.  I told DH what had happened and warned him that this is how I will be dealing with her for the foreseeable future: pleasant but detached.  I will walk away and leave if she presses too hard.  I'm ready to take care of myself and if she feels I'm being rude/unkind/pissed at her, so be it.  I don't care.  I'm still feeling very anxious, but I don't feel helpless anymore.  Progress, right?

So, questions:  Any suggestions on how to deal with her interrogative questions?  Any suggestions on the situation as a whole?


  1. Huge progress, Jess. You sound totally different from how you did a year ago, more confident and determined. You did great. As to how to deal with her interrogative questions, it might be an idea to try different things and see how it works. For instance, you could have replied to her question with another question; i.e. when she said: " Are you ready?" you could have said: "Are you?", or with a completely random question to change the subject entirely. Or, if you were feeling up to it, you could just simply stare at her without replying and see what she does... ;)

    1. That's a good idea, Kara. Sort of put the "weight" of the conversation back on her.
      I really didn't want to encourage any conversation at all. :P I thought by being as direct and simple as possible, maybe it would shut her down. Which it did.
      I may not be out of the woods, but I felt some shift. I don't have to respond to her questions, I don't have to be pushed into a conversation, or even to be in her presence. I really dislike that she pounces on me and doesn't offer me any chance to warm up, or maintain an actual physical boundary, or a give and take in the conversation. It's something I really want to work on.

  2. Sounds like progress to me too. I remember a speech by Dr. Banks, psychologist, he made a remark about how one man asked another, "Why do you always answer a question with a question?"
    Reply, "Why shouldn't I?"
    Turing attacks, letting 'no' be a complete sentence, changing subjects get easier with practice. I occasionally address their behavior head on but that so rarely works. It is like they can't see their own behavior as negative. They see themselves as friendly and interested. Hope you have a great holiday and enjoy the time with your DH and kids.

    1. "They see themselves as friendly and interested." This is EXACTLY how MIL views herself, that she's being considerate. It boggles my mind, as she makes people squirm under her scrutiny.
      I think, using suggestions like yours (turning attacks, etc.) are wonderful and will help me to evade her....or at least not feel so trapped by her. I'm not interested in fixing this (she'd never get it, like you said. DH has already told her to back off a bit, and she clearly doesn't get it.) but I want to feel less like a hunted animal. I'm guessing she's going to see me as cold and rude, simply because I don't take her prodding to open up and give her information and play her game.
      I hope you have a great holiday too, Ruth. I feel a bit like I'm on 'vacation' as I know I've got two relatively N free weeks ahead. :)

    2. I think Ruth's suggestions here are great. I would also add to her list: walking away (as you did in the above narrative), and using phrases like, "I prefer not to discuss that with you right now," or "let me get back to you on that" wheresoever they apply.

  3. Great progress! The conversation and money situation you handled well and were detached to respond effectively. It was interesting to see her response to 'What do you mean?' It threw her off. This is something I want to do more of. I like how you answered 'pretty much' and 'mostly' - different ways of saying 'yes'.

    My ILs use interrogation speech as well. What I believe is happening with my ILs is that they control the conversation with the questions. And the pattern seems similar to my ILs as they too ask the same question in different ways (I'm currently writing about this pattern as I was only able to 'see' this on the tape recorder). Brava for catching it in real time.

    I started to use a technique that seems to take the conversation 'out of control'. If they asked me 'are you ready for Xmas?' I answer it like you and then take the same subject global. "Pretty much as Xmas comes early to the stores every year. It is amazing that as soon as the after school stuff is out of the stores all the stuff for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Xmas are out. The stores are really on top of it every year."

    They don't come back with the next question immediately (the follow-up questions are where I got frustrated and tired). They have to regroup and it takes a while. Plus, if someone else is there, someone else jumps in with a story and then the conversation goes 'out of control'. It worked at my last visit in the summer and I'm going to use it more at Xmas. Systems and speech patterns are different so it may not be appropriate.

    Have a relaxing holiday, sending you support and thoughts of calm!

    1. I thought a lot of you during this interaction, TR, as your posts on this subject have really helped me. I think stopping her "flow" really helps me regroup and not lose control of the situation to her. Thank you for inspiration in doing this. :)
      I agree, the follow-up questions are irritating and tiresome. It gets frustrating to just be fired upon question after question. And you make a good point about taking the conversation in a new direction. The one problem I have, with my MIL, is that she makes sure she has me (or DH) alone when she starts in. (I just realized that while I was reading your reply that she made sure to catch me at the first moment I was alone. I believe she does this on purpose in order to have more control. I've often felt like she separates me -or DH - from the "herd" in order to trap us alone and fire questions at us. I remember the last time she did this to DH, I was there, but whenever I tried to jump in and change the conversation, she'd just back out quietly and wait until I was finished and then pick up right back where she'd left off with him. She's tricky, and maybe the key is to not be alone with her. :) )
      Thanks for your thoughts, TR.

    2. Also, I hope you have a good holiday and are able to hold onto your progress and strength, TR. Good luck! I anticipate hearing about how it all went.

    3. Your MiL is quite clever in that she gets you alone and sticks to her 'hidden agenda'. Wow, that is very sneaky.

      Thank you. I'm going to stick to my time boundary - fingers crossed! :)