The Church Lady

Back when I worked in radio in Raleigh, there was a big wig called Phil (intentionally leaving out the last name…even though I’m still bitter…but I’m a grown up now, right?) who had a reputation in the industry for being a bit of a tyrant. I suppose nowadays we’d call him a bully, inappropriate, demeaning, sexist or fired. But back then, he was just a guy who could come in and be amazing and change the direction of a media group. When he showed, he was just the nicest guy – big smile, super encouraging – really creating this atmosphere of wanting to work for him. But, those who’d been under his tutelage before walked around him with a side eye, pulling us ‘rookies’ aside to warn us. Wait until you do something he doesn’t like…wait until you make a mistake…don’t ever disagree with him…wait until you get Philled…

Philled? Really? It had a name? But this guy was great – super knowledgeable! We all nodded and smiled thinking yeah, great, but that’s never going to happen to me. Until it started happening. I wasn’t the first, but I sat close enough to his office to hear the screaming. I’d sit there trying not to listen while wondering what idiotic thing the recipient had done. Until it was my turn. I actually can’t even remember the specifics – something about too many commercial breaks in the morning show. Mind you, I didn’t make that decision – someone else came down to visit me at the bottom of the totem pole, demanding I squeeze in another thirty second Crossroads Ford commercial. That’s how it worked. I had no say. Which is why I was shocked to find myself standing alone in his offer getting my hair blown back from his rage. Where was that sales manager that insisted on the change? Where was he? I stood there, jaw clenched with determination not to cry, listening to my value as seen by Phil (I was worth less than what they made on the vending machine in the break room) – eventually excused, making a right out of his office into the arms of a waiting co-worker who whispered, “Welp, you’ve been Philled.”

What a dick, right? This blog has nothing to do with him.

This has to do with the now second person in my life who has the same affliction – leading you into a sense of phew, I’m really nailing this! until she decides you’re not, in fact, nailing anything. At which point you are blasted for a predetermined amount of time back into your previous state of Do I actually have any shot of getting my kids out of here alive? And what about my husband? Is he also going to make it? Another person whose name not only represents who she is but when paired with an ‘ed’ at the end, represents what she does. I suppose she’d say the same of me – Oh, she’d say to Zack, you got Jylled? What happened? Did you have to clean your room?

Side note: At this moment in his reading, my husband just figured out where this blog is actually going and is likely actively soiling his underwear. This is especially terrible because he is also lying next to me in bed. Which means I’m now lying next to him with my laugh-count-o-meter at the ready which I should really replace with my oops-he-shit-his-pants-o-meter. Also, perhaps I should have packed a quick overnight bag in case of emergency.

I’m just over it. I just don’t care if I choose my words carefully as I’ve learned that, in this case, it does not matter. What’s that saying? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder? No, that’s not the one. Fool me once? Maybe. Assumptions are the root of all evil? Closer. If I write the sky is blue that definitely means I hate my kids and am a terrible mother who doesn’t even love them like I actually carried them for nine months after deciding, with my beloved husband, to make them? Yeah, that’s the one. It’s been eight years since I came into Rich’s life, seven for the kids. We’ve been married just over five years – during which time we’ve been to hell and back figuring all things that come with second marriages and later in life marriages and surprise, you’re a full time mom now marriages. And throughout most of that process, my MIL – she was no where to be found. Just kidding, she was actually standing outside our windows, straining to peek through our curtains, notebook in hand, jotting down any mistakes I was making. And it was all mistakes. Every single blessed thing. I know this because last night, for (by my guess), the seventy-hundred and fifth time, we got Jeannied. And I say that in total solidarity with my husband – because typically I take the brunt of the storm – but last night was special because we were finally treated as a true ‘we.’ That being said, I’m only going to speak my story. It’s hardly fair of me to speak Rich’s – other than to say this guy is the best husband I could ever imagine and definitely in the top three fathers (it’s a rotation based on my current mood towards my own father, my brother, and, of course, Rich.

Have you ever stepped into a boxing ring six rounds late? Strolling through life thinking most of it was fine – or, in my case, that all the everyday stuff was fine and that the only real issue you were dealing with was that minor one where your mother had taken suddenly ill seven weeks prior and still sat in a rehab center four hours away trying to find her voice and ability to use utensils? You know like that? But then you find out in a surprise plot twist that, while all of that was preoccupying you, your MIL was actually continuing her mental documentation of your shortcomings? I think I missed a few chapters. I’d love to share those chapters with you, but they were written without me – or at least without the proper research about who I am. On this episode of Grandma-Geddon, we thought we were getting together to discuss another round of interpreting social media posts to the lowest common kindness denominator and relaying that fabricated interpretation to one or both of my children. I really only had one question queued up – which was – what is the benefit of stirring a pot that isn’t even near the stove? Instead, I got no answer to the that question, no apology (Rich got one – which was odd, since it had nothing to do with him), and another list of my wrongdoings, going back nearly a decade. Because nothing says how are you handling this tragedy with your mother like well, ever since you showed up, my son has become a person I don’t even know.

Dramatic? Party of one? Your table is ready.

I do feel like writing about this somehow proves her right. Especially the declaration, in reference to this very diary, that everything I write is all about ‘woe is me,’ ‘poor Jyl,’ ‘nothing’s my fault,’ and ‘Jyl’s overflowing bucket of grief.’ Please accept my apologies. I did NOT know you didn’t want to hear about my bucket of grief. I suppose the idea that many of us live in the same mental space, with aging parents and near adult children, that we might share some commonalities was selfish on my part. Quick question though – when I’m blogging should I be writing about things I’m dealing with/working through/observing/find amusing or is that not how it works? #askingforafriend.

Side note two: That bucket of grief blog? That was actually a pretty rough one in that it directly described some of the things I am going through with my mother’s yet-to-be-diagnosed condition. Throwing it in my face as an exercise in ‘poor Jyl’ is a pretty low move. But, I get it, you don’t want to know how I’m doing.

Did I say I’m over it? Mostly. Other than the bouts of sadness for my husband born directly from his mother telling him he’s basically a terrible father and son (again, husband, thumbs up). Or the feeling of shock/pity that someone would spend this much of her time building walls between the people she claims to love (in fairness, her team loves walls). Or the curiosity of why creating a world for our children in which weekly installments of why their parents aren’t parenting right seems beneficial to anyone (but her). Maybe I’m not quite over it. But I really want to be. What I am over is avoiding this blog topic, thus leaving out a very significant piece of my life – the piece where I could have had a huge cheerleader of a MIL but instead got one who still seems really upset that she didn’t get to move in with Rich in my stead.

Freud? Party of one? Your table is ready.

I am developing coping mechanisms. Now, for instance, when I see her approach, I will picture Dana Carvey, circa SNL 1986, in The Church Lady bits. This woman who is so revered at her church that she has taken license to subterfuge the lives of those around her. This is my life. Except after we go in circles about why someone did this or someone else said that, instead of a direct gaze into the camera and an It must have been Saaaaaaaatan….. we get a gaze Rich gets a gaze that clearly says it all started when…and a drift off to silence paired with a side glance to wherever I’m sitting with my popcorn and wine. Wait!, I think, ME? Is it ME? Memo received.

To be fair, yes, both Rich and I have changed since it all started. Of course we have. That’s how people work. You experience something. You grow from it. You get better for next time. You evolve each and everyday into a better version of yourself. I tell both kids that the beauty of tomorrow is that you get to try again. The beauty of tomorrow is that you get to be better than today. It doesn’t matter if today was the best day ever – see if you can top it tomorrow. It doesn’t matter if you sh*t the bed today, tomorrow you can just try to get out of it first. And when you repeat that mental practice over the course of time, you will find out new things about yourself and about your relationships and, well, about your boundaries. So, yes, we’ve changed. And we’re instilling those same ideals and lessons into our kids at an age when they are still fairly malleable. Some of those lessons aren’t awesome – like, hey, yeah, so all those material things you must have? Get a job, save your money, earn it. Some of the lessons are – man, you’ really turned that around, way to step up and be a better person.

We are better people. All of us. I am a better person. I am better for being here, for having these kids, for having this husband. It’s been hard and trying and difficult and evoked a desire to just quit – but with each obstacle we turn another corner. We just turn it very carefully, with a peek first to make sure The Church Lady isn’t standing there waiting with her notebook at the ready. We are better people. Better for the laughter and love and memories and adventures. Better for the successes and words of encouragement and hugs and room to grow.

I just wish she’d written some of that stuff down as well.

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