Friday, June 24, 2011

A Modest MOTB Proposal

Is this a picture of a Moby?
Most married women I have spoken to wouldn’t be comfortable calling their mothers-in-law, “Mom.” without having endearing reasons for the term of endearment. A quick Internet search indicates this is not so in all cultures. 
A Chinese living in Hong Kong reports her countrymen traditionally address mothers-in-law as mom or mother.  The same is true in Pakistan, though it’s more common for older women to address their husbands' mothers by the simple address. The younger Pakistan population  more commonly uses, “Auntie.”

There's actually an entire web discussion that answers the question: How do you address your mother-in-law in your own culture at

The apparent fascination with this question makes me wonder why our culture has not come up with generally accepted identifiers for the parents in-law, the way it has granted identifications for other extended family members - especially cousins. My parents' siblings' children are my first cousins. Second cousins are children of first cousins.The countdown of cousins continues to cover ensuing generations. Some of these designators are confusing -- especially when you start dealing the with "removed" cousins. But they are still terms meant to identify family relationships, not evaluate affection toward them. The most helpful "cousin calculator"  I've found online is

I especially like this website's dictionary of cousin terms. And it does occur to me that mother-in-law and father-in-law are meant to be just as helpful in designating relationships between family members by marriage, But that" in-law"  part sounds so cold, as does, I admit, the "removed" cousin distinction. But we usually don't have as immediate and regular relationships with "removed" cousins as we do with our in-laws. In-laws, afterall, share grandchildren.

So, I propose more user-friendly (with the emphasis on friendly) apellations for parent-in-laws. I wouldn't mind being referred to as Moby, a name derived from a few of the key letters in Mother of the Bride. Moby doesn't compete with the groom's connection to his Mom. Yet, it's not as steeped in legalese as mother-in-law . The Father of the Bride could be Fab. What father-in-law wouldn't mind being referred to as Fab?

Following the same nicknaming pattern, the groom's mom would be Mogy and his dad . . . . .  er. . . . oh well, back to the in-law ID drawing board. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What's in a name?

My future son-in-law calls me by my first name.
Last week I attended a friend’s retirement party. Past retirees were there. Some, who I had not seen for a while, heard about Em and Ry’s wedding for the first time. I answered the usual questions:
  When?  “First weekend in October.”

  Where? “The Barn at Wesleyan”
  Who? “A college friend. Dated after they graduated. Been engaged over two years.”
Then, sitting down to dinner, a question I didn’t expect surfaced. A colleague  I had not seen for years asked “What will he call you?”
                “Call me?” I wasn’t sure what she meant.
                “Yes, how do you want your daughter’s fiancĂ© to address you?”
                As I considered the question, other marrieds at the table began to respond. “My mother-in-law  wants to be called ‘Mom.’  I always feel funny, but she asked me to,” said one.
                “I try not to call mine anything,” said another. We  laughed . But this tablemate wasn’t trying to be funny.
All this reminded me of how I came to call my mother-in-law “Mrs. Hayden” when Larry and I wed.
Of course, it was a different time – over thirty years ago – and place, in the sphere of social graces. Some behaviors considered rude then are considered quite civil now. This includes for women – the once scandalous act of baring one’s shoulders in church, and for men – the disrespect  wearing a hat at the dinner table use to convey.
But I didn’t call my dear mother-in-law “Mrs. Hayden” because etiquette guru Emily Post instructed me to. I did it because she always referred to her mother-in-law (no longer living) as Mrs. Hayden. How could a daughter-in-law go wrong if she did what her mother-in-law did?
Getting back to my dinner table friends, I answered the question first posed to me. “When Emily and Ryan were just friends, he always called me Mrs. Hayden. But since they’re engaged, he's made a point of calling me ‘Laura.’ “
             “So he refers to you by  your first name,” my friend said.

             “Yes,” I said with caution, not sure what she was getting at.
“That’s good,” she said. For some time, she had  been making  informal observations of how young in-laws address elder in-laws.  Her highly unscientific but nevertheless intriguing finding was “When they refer to each other by name, they get along better.”
A “which came first- the chicken or the egg” conversation followed across the table. Did the first-name address lead to respect or mutual respect lead to the first-name calling? No one could say for sure. But I did say, “After I had children it got easier. I started calling my mother-in-law Meme, like the grandkids.
                “And what will your grandchildren call you?” my friend asked.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Statistically Guessing (The End)

Martin called back Thursday.
Martin of Stonehill College.
Or should I say Mahtin, the way his softened  vowels reveal his Irish heritage when he identifies himself?
Martin had become as caught up in my little "Stonehill grads marrying Stonehill grads" study as I.  And as head of College Communications and Media Relations, Martin had gotten a hold of what I couldn’t uncover - numbers. Not for all Stonehill students since the Congregation of the Holy Cross founded the college in 1948, but for some.
            “’I’ve taken a look at all the alums in Mahssahchusetts,” he said, light on his “a”s, heavy on his “t”s .  Those would be the graduates who are settled in the state the college is located. “There’s 13,389 graduates living here and 1,624 of them are married to fellow students,” reported Martin.
          “That’s over 800 alumni couples,” I said. An easy estimate. I went on to do the high math on my computer screen: 1,624 / 13,389 – to five places.
            That’s 12 %.
Twelve per cent of Stonehill College graduates living in Massachusetts are married to Stonehill graduates! 
Then, I wondered from where  the hearsay 70% emerged?
Martin let me babble a bit “Maybe it was once thought to be 17%, and the seventeen sounded so much like seventy, it became seventy,.” I said.
But Martin wasn’t into maybes. He preferred to speak with certainty. And so, with a just the facts M'am air of authority in his voice, he said all that really mattered:
 “I’m married to an alum. I highly recommend it.”



Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Statistically Guessing (Part Two)

The truth to the Stonehill College married- alums statistic has to lurk somewhere between the purported 70% of campus hearsay and the 1% verified by Em and Ry’s wedding plans  I'm determined to crack the nut of this nuptial claim. I admit this is no Stonehillgate. Nor is it the kind of myth upperclassmen retell to frighten the bejesus out of impressionable freshmen - like the story that bodies from a campus plane crash are buried under the tiles in the Holy Cross Center lobby.   My fervor comes from the residual effect of me insisting – for forty years - that my students back up their claims with data, stats, and quotes from authorities or, even better, authorities spouting the data and stats.
I had to find me a data-spouting authority

So I telephoned the office of the online source that separated the facts from the far-out fiction of the college’s plane crash story: Stonehill Media Relations. Left a message. “Hello, I’m trying to get to the root of the statistic that 70% of Stonehill alumni marry each other.” Left my number.
Martin got back to me in an hour. I repeated the query. Told him that, for years, I’ve heard Em and her friends  tap their close to three-out-of-four chance of  winding up with a Stonehill mate --  back and forth -- like a badminton birdie.
                  “Sounds like some form of an urban myth,” he said in a thick Irish brogue. The same brogue the bookstore associates had when I helped Em gather her first semester books, eight years ago. The brogue that rolls off many a Stonehill tongue.I could just imagine how the plane crash story might resonate – in a dark, candlelit dorm lounge,  with that inflection.
I digress.
                  “We get along very very well with each other,” he remarked good-naturedly . But he wasn’t about to attribute that congeniality to 7 out of 10 male alums waltzing down the ailse with  former Stonehill coeds. “I suspect it’s a consequence of the get-married-again ceremony every year at our reunion.”
                  Get married again?  This was beginning to sound stranger than the campus plane crash myth. . .or the purported drowning in what is now Alumni Hall – when it was a private residence -- which  is why, the legend goes, the college has never built a pool facility.
                  “Yes, every reunion the married couples gather in the chapel to renew their vows. Maybe 20 couples last reunion,” said Martin.  So by marry again he meant  remarry, not a "new" marry. That made more  sense.  
                  “Rather touching. One fella even started to cry,” continued Martin. “Said later, ‘I didn’t get this emotional when I did it the first time. I don’t why I’m tearing up now.’”
                  Martin seemed to doubt that a top administrator had talked up the statistic with the New Orleans volunteers at their Stonehill reception, but he did promise to get back to me in a few days with numbers. That's right - data and stats.  This PR guy is a researcher's dream.
                  In the meantime, I’ll have to ask Em and Ry to give me their spin on the eerie lore of Stonehill College.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Statistically Guessing

While Em and Ry were students at Stonehill College – 2003 to 2007 - a myth of sorts purported that over 70% of Stonehill alumni married Stonehill alumni.  The notion pervaded campus the way urban legends lurk within and out of city limits:  oft-told and unfounded.
As freshmen, Emily and her roommate thought the dubious statistic amusing, seemingly impossible, and sort of sensational in a non-sensational way. As demographic legends go, it evoked more humor than horror. I never heard it related in any other tone than jest.
Then, in 2007, Em and her roomie took part in an Alternate Spring Break, rebuilding houses in Katrina -worn New Orleans. After they returned to campus their team was invited to dine with the college brass. I am told that when one of the college’s highest of administrators sat down to sup with Em’s table of volunteers there was, at first, an awkward silence, followed by his emphatic relating of the statistic to the altruistic crew. Seriously. Eyes rolled.
Neither Em nor I thought much about the statistic until, with great irony, she and Ry’s post grad plans placed them in the unverifiable 70%. As far as their graduating class goes, a number of their college friends have wed – but, to my knowledge, none to a fellow alum, not yet anyway. So, as Stonehill College statistics go, I can verify that, concerning a recent graduating class,
  • 92% were employed within one year of graduation
  •  90% of full-time students received some form of financial aid
  •  8% joined or applied for a year-long volunteer service program

   ·     at least 1 % had plans to marry an alum
Bit of a discrepancy from the rumored 70% on the last stat – but, just for the fun of it, I’m not through with this quest for nuptial truth . . .

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Grand Niece Tessie

Isn't she lovely?
My dear niece Stacey gave birth to beautiful baby Tessie yesterday. Em and I expected Tess to arrive Monday, June 6. Stace even kept us updated on Facebook  - from the hospital. Mid-day, the Mom-to-be  posted a photo of her own feet all cozied up in a pair of silly frog-prince socks. But still no Tess.

The little lady  wasn’t quite ready to make her debut on June 6 - the anniversary of D-Day. Instead, she made the next day -- Tuesday June 7 --  her own. The day the Boston Red Sox would battle it out for first place against the Yankees .

This sweetie's name wasn't chosen willy-nilly! 

Perhaps Tessie's birthday wasn't chosen so willy-nilly either, for the Red Sox defeated the Yankees 6-4 in their quest to take the sole American League East lead , just after her arrival.

Congratulations to Stacey and Shane. And thank you Tess for making this Mommy-of-the-Bride a proud grand aunt, and the Bride-to-be  -- and her brother --  thrilled cousins (once-removed!) May your life be blessed, with a tad of those blessings spilling over to  the Red Sox. The Series'll be in full swing around the time of Em's wedding, just four months from today. 

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Mother's Intuition (Part Two)

When Em and Ry were    ” just  college friends”  who had returned to their homes for the summer, Ry, an EMT, would occasionally show up in my driveway in an ambulance – between calls. He lived 30 minutes away, but the company he worked for covered our neighborhood.  Once he visited Em in the middle of the night. My middle. Not theirs.  For college students, the night is still young at 2 AM.
No siren was involved, but I woke up to a revolving red light flashing through my bedroom window.  When I looked through the pane I could see them kibitzing, along with his shift partner.  The next morning, a few of my neighbors looked as if they were surprised to see me up and about..
Anyways. . . the following school year, Em went to Washington D.C to study. It was the stay - in - the - USA version of  a semester abroad. She surprised me when,  less than ten days after her departure, she asked to fly home for the weekend. Was she homesick? Not  quite. More likely lovesick, but too close to the malaise to figure out the symptoms. What she had figured out  was - if she flew home Friday afternoon, we could hop in the car and head to the Stonehill  campus in time to see  Ry , the backstage guy, perform his first role on the Stonehill Theatre stage.
The plane  from D.C. landed on time. As we headed northeast the Mass Pike traffic moved right along to 495S – a minor miracle at the start of a weekend.  We arrived and took our seats (no surprising  before the show!) just in time to see Ry’s debut – a success for us, offstage, and for him, on.
 As Mommy-of-his--greatest-fan, I gave Ry even stronger reviews for his extemporaneous performance after the show. He spotted me first. Looked  downright confused. Then  turned to the sound of Em’s voice as she uttered, “Surprise.” Then came the hug. I’m not sure I would have thought Em’s two-legged trip – in the air and on the Pike—would have been worth the trouble if he stopped at a hug. But he didn’t. Almost as  if the move had been rehearsed, he grabbed her around the waist, picked her up, and gave her a little spin  the way Gene Kelly might lift Judy Garland in For Me and My Gal.  Coming attractions, I thought, to the sequel of this story.