My in-laws’ visit to the States is nearing the end. Eleven more days before they depart. It has been relatively calm compared to their last visit two years ago, as Bob has listened to me and tried not to react to his mother’s constant pestering and endless complaints of various things that he has not done right in life. Trust me that it has been very hard to do and he has been restraining his tongue the best he can. I am very proud of him for being respectful to his parents even though they yell at him a lot. His mom really knows how to push his button. The two of them are still displeased that he went against their wishes to marry me, and think that even if he didn’t marry me, he’d still have these same babies with another woman. I don’t know how that’d work in their minds, but whatever. He just doesn’t fight back as much anymore. It isn’t worth it. I don’t understand most of the things they talk about in Tamil anyways.
Today I want to talk about disrespect. Bob has these relatives who live about 45 minute away. We had already visited them a couple of weeks prior, but my mother-in-law wanted to invite them over for Saturday lunch because the relative mentioned how she would love to eat this one dish made by my mother-in-law. Since my in-laws only have two weekends left, Bob told her not to invite these relatives over because entertaining someone over the weekend takes a lot of work and energy. We would still need to take them to Indian grocery store 40 minutes away, and my mother-in-law also wanted to go visit Cos.tco and a dollar store. The timing just doesn’t always work if we pack so much in as my in-laws only eat at home and won’t visit a restaurant. . Having these relatives that we had already visited over for lunch just added to the pressure of timing. But alas, she did invite them despite Bob’s opposition. On Saturday, prior to the relatives’ visit, my mother-in-law told me that these relatives were bringing their own paper plates. She explained that they had paper plates left from their son’s birthday party. Since we have babies, they didn’t want to burden us more by making us wash more dishes. Well, the true and unspoken reason was totally different. These relatives, in particular the wife, are strict Hindu Brahmin who only trust vegetarian food prepared at home. They wanted to avoid using our plates fearing that these plates have touched meat before. But I felt disrespected by this behavior. They were coming to eat the food that was prepared at our home but they didn’t have the decency to use our plates and utensils. I had never seen such behavior and was quite appalled by it. These relatives showed up with paper plates and disposable utensils. Even the mother-in-law of the wife was scolding her for bringing her own plates rather than using the host’s plates. The daughter-in-law was defending herself saying that she had learned it from her grandmother and couldn’t help it. I remained courteous throughout the whole visit but I did feel a little insulted and disrespected watching them whip out and eat off of their own paper plates.
And then, the same night, my mother-in-law asked Bob why I would call her “pathi” and my father-in-law “thatha”. Here is the back story. My in-laws had never told me how to address them. I asked Bob many times, and all he said was to not to address them. To me, this is really weird. American people call their in-laws by name, or simply mom and dad. In my culture, there is a title for every person so I’d call my mother-in-law “lai-lai” and my father-in-law “lo-yeh” if they were Chinese. But no, I don’t have a way of addressing my in-laws. When they visited two years ago, I couldn’t call them anything because I didn’t know how, but it made me feel like a very impolite person. My MIL would refer to my FIL to me as “uncle”. She still does it this time. She would say, “Let me talk to uncle”. This makes me cringe every single time because he is NOT my uncle. But I don’t say anything and just let her be. This time during their visit, I follow the babies and call them “pathi” and “thatha” like what the babies will in the future. This ability to address them makes life so much easier as I would call to their room and say “pathi or thatha, please come help.” I don’t see anything wrong with it as it’s pretty natural to follow your children and call their grandparents grandpa or grandma. I didn’t think anything of it until last night. She said to Bob, “I am not everybody’s grandma”. So she takes offense of me calling her “pathi”.
This upsets me so much. I feel very disrespected as the mother of my children. She is essentially saying that I am not part of her family. My children call them grandpa and grandma in their language but I am not welcome to call them the same. And I am not welcome to call them whatever daughters-in-law would call their father- and mother-in-law in their culture. I am left with the titles for others: auntie and uncle. They are not my auntie and uncle. I find this whole notion ridiculous and degrading. After seven years of marriage, they still seem to have a hard time accepting the fact that I am their daughter-in-law. She finds me calling her grandma offensive but she doesn’t find her relatives bringing their own plates to eat her food an offense.
I have been very easygoing with my-laws. I can overlook the mess that my mother-in-law makes in the kitchen throughout the day in the last 5 weeks, the incident when she left the stove on without realizing it, or the incident when she carelessly tried to hold both babies at the same time by pulling on Bunny’s one arm. There have been many things that required getting used to while living with my in-laws but I choose to look on the bright side. However, this time I feel so disrespected that I can’t get over it easily. The whole day yesterday I was upset and did not want to talk to my mother-in-law. I was courteous and answered questions but I didn’t make small talk. I didn’t address her and my father-in-law all day as I was at a loss as to what to call them. I find calling them uncle and auntie ridiculous, so I am better off not calling them anything if grandma and grandpa are off the table. Bob will eventually speak with her about my displeasure and asking her what exactly she would like me to call her and her husband (other than auntie and uncle). I am still having a hard time looking at her without feeling angry.
I hope that the conversation that Bob will have with my mother-in-law will resolve this issue. I hope she understands that in order to be my children’s grandparents she’ll have to make an effort to accept me as her daughter-in-law. If they want to have a relationship with my children, they will have to treat me with respect. Letting me call them with the right titles would be a good first step.