Her Name is Diana
In-laws. How strange a concept and suspiciously close to outlaws. Merriam Webster describes in-law as a relative by marriage and a word first used in 1894. That’s the same year the terms bread mold and hangover were reportedly first used in print as well.
For some reason, the denigration of in-laws really comes to play with mothers. I mean, have you heard any fatherin- law jokes? Whereas mother-in-laws are common fodder for comedy. Whether Henny Youngman one-liners like, “Just got back from a pleasure trip; I took my motherin- law to the airport,” to Doris Robert’s exquisite performance as the extremely meddlesome mother-in-law in Everybody Loves Raymond, mothers, of the in-law variety, are perpetually hackneyed targets.
This lack of respect is not just in pop culture; it can be found as far back as Roman times. The poet Juvenal wrote in the late-first or earlysecond century of many misogynistic beliefs, including one translation of a line in his famous Satires, “Give up all hope of peace so long as your mother-in-law is alive.” That’s two thousand years ago! Jeez, can we begin to let up on the mother-inlaws of the world?
Now, I know, there are some who are responsible for giving the rest a bad rap. Whether painfully disapproving like the imperious Madge Gates Wallace, who disparaged President Harry Truman as unworthy of her daughter - or downright dangerous, like the second wife of the King of Poland in 1518, Bona Sforza, who is suspected of using poison to rid herself of disappointing daughter-in-laws. Even mildly overprotective or judgmental mother-in-laws, who don’t take care to put their best foot or words forward, can cause pain and discord in a family. For them, I am saddened, for the mantle of motherhood, even as an in-law, is a power to be used with consideration and grace.
At this point, I should stop writing. Stop, because I know not of what I write. I’ve been given a mother-in-law who fits none of the descriptions above. Now, that doesn’t mean I paint her as a saint or sweetness personified. Not at all. Besides, she would blanche at such a portrayal. It’s not merely that my mother-in-law isn’t like any other mother-in-law, it’s that she’s unlike any other person, period. I met Diana almost 30 years ago. She is a woman whose identity is so singular that it’s all the name she needs. Even her children never called her mom, it was always Diana. How perfect the moniker, Diana, a Roman and Greek Goddess associated with woodland and wild animals. She is more at home in forest than in living room, just one of our major differences. Her children grew up in a household stocked with raccoons, hedgehogs, iguanas, and assorted snakes. Mind you, not as pets, but more like siblings.
I was in my 20s when we met. Oh, how adult I felt then, and, now, I see how green. Not the verdant color of summer lawns, but more like the Crayola crayon “Yellow Green,” a seemingly unexperienced hue, faint and unable to make a real mark. It was years before I found my own voice, and there she was, all vivid royal colors. Bohemian and earthy. Worldly and wise. Kind and intimidating. Long hair, rings on fingers and, as always, a pair of sensible shoes, as you never know when an impromptu outdoor quest might call. She is an author, a sculptor, and a feminist. She has built stone walls, houses, and communities. She has created and led festivals and planned and marched at protests. From my Catholic, good-girl, rule-following eyes, she was a revelation.
Diana has never taught me a thing about being a mother. No words of advice of how to clean house or raise children. What she has taught me, though, is how to be a woman. How to use my voice, my creativity, my fieriness. And along the way, she’s taken me by foot on hikes, by kayaks on rivers, and by plane to far-away places I would have never been without her. I know I am gifted to call Diana my mother-in-law. It never ceases to amaze me, because she never ceases to amaze me.
So I am left without a mother-in-law joke or quip, not wanting to tread those worn boards of mockery. Meanwhile, I recall another word first used in 1894, martini. A cocktail that perhaps should come with every family member. Let us raise our glass to them all. The ins and outlaws. To family