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|The Grandma Mantra|
The Grandma Mantra
A guide to keeping peace in the family
By Jeanne Mills
"I don't love her hat," I announce. The item in question is an ersatz safari number in pink and white gingham, and it's on the head of my first grandchild, Hannah, who's 5 months old.
Susan, my daughter-in-law, looks up from the baby clothes she's folding with perfect precision and fixes me with a granite stare.
"If you don't have something nice to say," she says, after what feels like a barrage of poison darts aimed at me from behind her heavy-lashed eyes, "please don't say anything. Please." Then she softens. "That's what I told my mother, too."
Well, at least it isn't just me. I feel slightly less rebuffed.
Ours hasn't been an easy relationship: I'm of the toss-the-laundry-in-rumpled-heaps school of sorting; her style is worthy of opening hour at Bendel's. In conversation, she defaults to smirky silence; I rattle on like a runaway train.
"Sorry, Susan," I murmur, and go back to playing "this little piggy" with Hannah.
To myself I say, "Idiot, you've done it again. Can't you keep your mouth shut?"
Apparently not. When she was first born, I'd admired Hannah's couturier crib, with its eyelet-edged dust ruffle and matching pillow. "How gorgeous," I exclaimed, tearing up a little remembering the bare-bones nursery Larry and I had hastily put together when we'd had David, our first son (and Susan's husband).
Susan smiled at my crib compliment. Larry pressed up against me, proffering a silent "stop sign" that I managed to ignore.
"Isn't it dangerous for a baby to sleep with a pillow?" I asked with apparent innocence. I could feel Larry slump in defeat, anticipating what would come next.
Undeterred, I went on. "I mean, when David was a baby I remember the doctor telling me not even to leave a big stuffed animal in the crib—that it could smother the baby. But I guess things are different now."
The train had run off the track. Susan turned and stalked out of the room. Larry glared at me, furious.
"Again?" he hissed, his look speaking louder than his word. In fact, he, too, had erred in the few years we'd been in-laws. The first time Susan and David invited us to dinner, we were dutifully impressed by the lavish display of crudites and cheese (later Larry commented that it would have served 10 people). The dinner was equally impressive: lamb accompanied by crisp roast potatoes and green beans.
So impressive that Larry said, "Susan, this is absolutely delicious; could I have a little more?"
Susan turned pale and disappeared into the kitchen, returning with a small plate of potatoes and a flurry of apologies. She confessed that she'd ordered the dinner from a gourmet food shop, and she was glad we were enjoying it, but she was so, so sorry, really sorry, that she hadn't ordered more. How could she have been so stupid! Did we want veggies-and-dip or some cheese maybe?