“Mothers-in-law and dead fish share one very important quality,” my husband Rick’s mother says every time she comes to stay with us. “They both start to stink after five days.”

Most mother-in-law tales I’ve heard would make me tend to agree. But my mother-in-law has enough self-awareness that she is totally the exception to the rule. She’s also essentially the equivalent of photos of George Clooney and whoever is his girlfriend du jour — surprisingly fascinating and warmly welcome. She’ll stay with us for seven days at a pop, and never once have I wanted to ship her out to sea to swim with the aforementioned fishes. If she came bearing the actual George Clooney (sans girlfriend), I’d happily extend the visit to 10 days.

It helps that she gives Rick and me endless hall passes when she comes to town. Like on Sunday when she let us go on a three-hour hike in the morning and then a dinner-and-movie date later that evening — and we returned home to our laundry folded, the dishes washed and half of our daughters in bed. It was the offer to cook supper for the next evening that made us willing to forgive the fact that the other half was not only not in bed nor in pajamas, but expecting that we all stay up to watch a movie and that the movie was not a movie at all but three continuous episodes of “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,” totaling 72 painful minutes.

We would have just settled for not being disturbed with a phone call when a crying child couldn’t be consoled while we were out, but she already gifted us that a few years ago when Rick and I went away for the night for the first time since our older daughter, Petunia, was born, enjoying a blissful 15 hours without once needing to wipe someone else’s butt.

It was blissful, that is, until Rick decided to call around 8 the next morning to check on how the night went only to learn that, apparently, it didn’t. For the first time in her whole life Petunia spent every last minute bawling because she saved her first double-ear infection for the one time I had ever left her side.

My mother-in-law, bless her heart, didn’t want to spoil our time away, so she spent every one of those minutes on the floor alongside Petunia trying to find a position where she would stop howling in agony, if not go to sleep.

There are countless things that made me fall in love with Rick, and one of them must have been his mom. I was quite sure of that the first time she served me a bowl of seafood gumbo with hot, crusty French bread on the side. But to be fair, I seem to have a thing for moms. Like my own (OK, especially my own), for instance.

Last week, my mom met my daughters and me in Denver for a few days and acted like it was no big deal when my younger daughter, Peony, 1, woke up in the hotel room at 4 in the morning and then again at 6. I’m used to walking around like a less attractive zombie (yes, there are degrees of zombie-ugly) due to an inhumane lack of sleep, but my mom just used it as an excuse to get some extra cuddling time in with Peony. My mom was also kind enough not to mention how I was inconsiderately breathing strep-throat germs all over the place, even if she did let me know that I snored more loudly than the sound of an airplane.

We spent our time in Denver touring butterfly exhibits and aquariums, with both of my girls overjoyed to have my full attention, but even more so that of their grandma. It didn’t hurt that grandma also ignored my inhumane only-one-ice-cream-cone-per-day rule.

You’d think I moved 2,000 miles away from the only home I’d ever known to get away from my mom. After all, most people I know who moved away from home did it to get away from home — or what was inside their home anyway. But it’s because of my mom that I didn’t want to move away, as she has been the most profound beacon of love, adoration and support for my whole life.

If it weren’t for daily phone calls, e-mails and occasional video chats — not to mention frequent cross-country flights and that she still lets me cuddle in bed with her despite the fact that my 40th birthday is rapidly approaching — I’d ship myself back permanently to where my mom is and make her let me sleep next to her bed on the floor in a sleeping bag just so I could be close to her. I’d even buy her a sound machine to drown out my snoring. On second thought, I’m her daughter; my snores should sound charming to her.

Thankfully I’m fortunate enough to have a mother-in-law and mom who come and visit (and let me come stay with them), reminding me that I’m home whenever I am where they are.

 

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