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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Undecided Voters and my Mother-in-Law

This week the news cycle has been pretty one-note. Obama is ahead, and Romney is imploding. The Republicans are counting on the first debate as a major game-changer, hoping the undecided voters will tune in and break towards Romney.

Who are these undecided voters? Do they even exist, and if so, what are they like? Are they incapable of forming opinions? Or, do they have so many opinions that they can’t commit to just one? I would pontificate about this more, but I don't have the time or the patience.

My mother-in-law, Natalie, has been staying with me for the last week. I say “me” instead of “us” because my husband, Monty, is still in Ghana for two more weeks. Right now, that’s probably the safer place to be. I emailed Monty and told him that Abby had been kicked out of daycare for biting, and that his mother has swooped in to save the day.

            This was his response:

            The views and opinions expressed by Natalie Bricker are solely those of the individual, and are not the views of Montgomery Bricker, or any of his subsidiaries or affiliates.

            The use of Natalie Bricker for childcare services naturally involves the risk of hurt feelings, extreme annoyance, injury, or even death (her death, not yours). As such, Lucy Jones Bricker understands and voluntarily accepts these risks, and will not find Montgomery Bricker liable for any hurt feelings, extreme annoyance, injury or death, including and without limitation to personal, bodily, emotional or mental injury, loss of sanity, any physical or property damage, or jail time.

            Ha ha! I think my trip has just been extended by a couple more weeks…

            His attempt at lawyerly humor.

            But he’s not completely off-base.

            On Monday I came home after work to find that my kitchen had been completely reorganized.

            “You had sharp things where Abby and Noah could reach them!” Natalie scolded me. By “sharp” she meant butter knives and plastic forks. Nonetheless, she took it upon herself to change around EVERYTHING, so that I can no longer find, or reach, most of my kitchen utensils. (I’m only 5’1”, and I keep things down low so I won’t need a stool.) In addition, she went grocery shopping and bought all-natural peanut butter, dense whole wheat bread, and Kashi granola. She threw out our Skippy, oatmeal bread, whole-grain cheerios, and anything that contained preservatives or more than eight grams of sugar per serving.

            “I can’t believe you’ve been feeding my grandchildren hotdogs and fruit snacks! Don’t you know that they cause cancer?” Natalie was fixing dinner as she said this, lentil beans with cheese sauce. “It’s like mac & cheese, only with lentils instead of pasta. They’ll love it.”

            They hated it. And Natalie gave me the evil eye when I gave them milk and bananas instead.

            On Tuesday I found out that Abby had been sent to her room for most of the afternoon, on a time-out. “She’s just engaging in a power struggle,” Natalie said. “This will pass.”

            When I talked to Abby, her side of the story was a little different. “Gramma wouldn’t let me color with markers because they’re messy. But I wouldn’t make a mess! So I used the markers and when she caught me I got sent to my room.”

            I took this up with Natalie. “Don’t you think you were a little harsh?”

            Natalie squared her shoulders in defense. “I sent her to her room, that’s all. And Abby needs to learn a little discipline. If she had understood that she’s not in charge, maybe she wouldn’t have been kicked out of daycare in the first place.”

            On Wednesday morning Natalie complained about her back at breakfast. By the time I got home in the evening, she refused to bend over. “I think it’s that futon in the guest room. Women my age just can’t sleep on futons. You’ll understand, some day. But if you want me to be able to pick Noah up, I’m afraid we’re going to have to trade beds.”

            What could I do? Natalie is now sleeping in the master bedroom, and I’m on the futon in the guest room. On Thursday morning, when I walked in to shower and dress before getting the kids up and leaving for work, Natalie complained about that too.

            Thursday evening at dinner she wouldn’t stop talking about this new virus that’s making the rounds in the Congo. It’s like a combination of Ebola and Rabies, and once you get it, you’re dead in a matter of days. Abby was listening and she started to freak out.

            “Is Daddy sick?” she asked.

            “No,” I said. “Daddy is fine. He’s not going to get sick.”

            Natalie snorted. “Don’t humor her, Lucy.”

            “I’m not! Monty’s in Ghana, not the Congo. And he’s taking every precaution.”

            She shook her head and pursed her lips. “If he was taking every precaution, he would be home! Why you let him go off when he ought to be taking care of his family, instead of running around in the most dangerous part of the world…”

            “It’s hardly the most dangerous part of the world! And it’s his job. I’m not supposed to let him do his job?”

            She sighed deeply. “Let’s get real. Suppose all his efforts work, and Malaria is cured. Africa is still plagued with a million other problems, between poverty, oppression, terrorism, and ignorance. He’s not there to make a difference. He’s there because he’s incapable of sitting still for more than six months at a time. Why you put up with it is completely beyond me.”

            Abby probably didn’t understand the full meaning of what Natalie had said, but she understood the contempt, so she burst into tears. Then Noah started crying too. Natalie and I spent the rest of the meal ignoring each other and calming the kids down.

            On Friday evening I was watching television downstairs after the kids had gone to bed. I would have watched in my bedroom, but since I’ve been kicked out, that wasn’t a possibility. Natalie came down to make some tea and decided to join me.

            “What are you watching?” she asked.

            “Rachel Maddow.”

            Natalie sat down and listened to what Rachel had to say. Then it went to commercial, and Natalie said, “I don’t understand why you watch that.”

            “I think she’s clever, and funny.”

            “But she’s so one-sided,” Natalie responded.

            “Of course. That’s sort of the point.”

            “But then you don’t get both sides of the issue. How are you going to make an informed decision if you don’t get all the facts?”

            I regarded her, in her bathrobe, short gray hair combed back after a shower, and glasses on. “I’ve already made my decision.”

            “I can’t imagine how. They’re both flawed, if you ask me. Romney is a phony, and Obama has broken most of his promises. They’re more alike than they are different.”

            With that she got up, and went upstairs to bed.

            So there you have it. Turns out I have an undecided voter living under my roof, controlling my life and undermining my marriage.

            If only she was without opinions.
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