Last month, at the last minute my schedule at work cleared up and I decided to capitalize on the opportunity. I was going to give my kids an experience of a lifetime: travelling to the Bahamas with their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins for the ultimate family trip! The only caveat in this spontaneous journey: how hard would it be for me to get a passport for my daughter at the last possible moment?
I had exactly 48 hours before lift-off and armed with a paid ticket to Nassau, I attempted to take my daughter Zahra to get her picture taken so I could get her passport done using the urgent service. It all hinged on Zahra putting aside her impending terrible twos to smile for the camera. Well, not smile: it was a passport photo after all; more like hold herself still enough, ears showing, sitting upright but without causing a reflection and definitely not crying in the photo.
Cut to Zahra throwing herself onto the ground, dragging herself around on the floor, scream-crying, kicking things off the bottom of the store shelf and dry-heaving until she almost barfed. People walked by us either trying not to notice or giving us sidelong stares, shaking their heads.
Honestly, it might surprise you to know that I thought her outburst was cute and while she writhed, I did the only thing I could do: took a video that me and my husband could enjoy while we were in bed at night and that I could use to exact my revenge by showing at her wedding someday. It’s nice to plan ahead. Any parent knows that it takes a lot of patience and stamina to get through these moments with your kids in public spaces. I remained calm, cool and collected, reassuring her that she would be fine and to take all the time she needed to move through those big emotions. After all, this wasn’t her fault: she was afraid of strangers and she couldn’t sit still for a photo if her life depended on it. It made sense that she lost her little mind for a couple of minutes. In the end, we got the photo we needed and we could continue on with our errands.
Before you marvel at my calm during the situation. I have a confession: I have the luxury of being serene during these types of outbursts because I don’t have to deal with them on a day to day basis. I get to go to work and come home and have her run into my arms, smiling her toothy grin and giggling as I toss her up in the air and blow “raspberries” into her baby belly. But what I also see when I get home is my mother-in-law (MIL) nursing a replaced knee – her shirt stained, her hair disheveled and with bags under her eyes because she is exhausted dealing with Zahra all day long. She does this so that I can work without having to pay for child care. When I see the state she is in and remember why this is the case, I can’t help but be flooded with love for her.
Cultural norms would dictate that my MIL and I should have an adversarial relationship disguised beneath idle chit chat, fake smiles, backhanded compliments and dinner invitations out of familial duty. It’s practically a rite of passage after marriage.
When I Google “mother-in-law”, it tells me I need to know the following about her:
15 Mother-In-Law Behaviors That Deserve a Punch in the Face
14 Signs you have a Toxic Mother-in-Law and How to Deal with her
Help my mother in law is a monster!
How to deal with a difficult mother-in- law
Even science says I should be at odds with my MIL. A conclusion in a 2016 study of more than 1,200 couples published in the Journal of Evolutionary Psychological Science, stated: ‘The shared reproductive interest that is created through a grandchild among kin lineages provides new reasons for grandparents to influence and interfere in the lives of other family members, which in turn may be reflected in conflict proneness’.
But I don’t really care what culture, Google or science says. These relationships don’t need to be pre-determined and we don’t hear enough about the ones that go right. My MIL is the true hero of my story and I would not be the person I am today without her understanding, support and time. I love her with a fierceness that I never thought I would feel for a woman other than my own mom. Although she did not come on our trip, she did get a much-needed rest (I’m sure!) from helping me out with the kids. I thought of her often on the trip, whenever another outburst would erupt, marveling at how she dealt with them all day long with a grace I hope to show my own daughter-in-law someday. May Allah protect her, reward her and grant her the highest orders in Jannah.