Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: In-Law(s) (05/08/08)
TITLE: Diaper Pins and Puppies
By Beth Muehlhausen
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“Oh … she’s done it AGAIN!”
Grandma Minnie, my husband’s mother, knew exactly how to drive me nuts. Every time I left the kids with her she’d find some “error” in my mothering techniques based on her own outdated ones.
“Just look at this! She’s still on that diaper pin jag!”
I spoke to no one in particular, and yet the puppies on the nursery wallpaper - with their eager eyes, dangling pink tongues, and alert ears - seemed to agree implicitly.
“I REFUSE to do things HER WAY! This is 1950 – and I WILL be a modern mother!”
As I pulled off my baby’s plastic pants and planned to exchange Minnie’s tiny safety pins with my own larger ones, I could almost hear her thick, Hungarian accent bombarding me with all those comments about big … or rather “beeeg” … pins.
“Deees eees veh-lee impore-tunt, Betty. Dose grrr-ate beeeg pins … day could steeek da baby way deeep, no? Better to use da leeetle short pins.”
In my mind’s eye I visualized Minnie’s stocky frame draped in a tent-like, flowery housedress. I saw her bushy eyebrows perched above storm-cloudy eyes; her tight lips pinched to conserve breath. Although I knew she meant well, her words always seemed to pepper me like bullets.
“You … you leesen to me, now. Dose beeeg pins, day do not beeelong on da leeetle baby! Hear me? I does not want to seee dem a-gain!”
Once again I unfastened Minnie’s tiny pins - already bent and ready to pop open from holding the corners of such thick cloth diapers - and complained to the perky dogs on the wall. “You know, these stupid little pins are more likely to fail and stick the baby than my big, strong ones.”
Ha! I imagined the clustering throngs of enthusiastic puppies wagging their tails, and for a split second we celebrated our agreement in unison.
It was true that I didn’t know how to manage my relationship with Minnie. I realized her love ran deep and her motives were pure – and yet I felt like such a failure when scrutinized by her standards. Minnie’s big but stubborn heart controlled me with a kind of militant insistence.
Perhaps the only way to survive, I reasoned, was to apply my mother’s recommendation: “kill her with kindness!”
The following week I drove to Minnie’s house, pulled up to the curb, and sighed out loud. It was “now or never.” With the baby in one arm and a freshly baked apple pie in the other, I approached the door with a broad smile smeared across my face.
“Ah, eeet eees you … come in, come in!”
I placed the pie full of tantalizing cinnamon aromatherapy in Minnie’s hands. “This is for you, Grandma … to thank you for babysitting for me.”
Minnie’s face softened; even her usually-tight lips curled in a childish grin. “Ah, well, deees eees nice; how nice!”
I proceeded without hesitation to present my agenda. “I hope you enjoy the pie Grandma – and you can feel free to critique it and let me know your own apple pie secrets!”
Minnie’s eyes visibly brightened.
“I also want to ask you a favor; my doctor has asked me to use this new kind of diaper pins with extra-large, extra-strong, locking heads that will not open accidentally. Here, I brought you some extras you can keep at your house! So now we won’t ever have to worry about the baby getting stuck accidentally.”
Minnie stood still as a stone, her housedress billowing in a soft breeze floating through the screen door. She clasped the pie with white knuckles - almost as if she expected it might try to escape - and stared me down, eyeball-to-eyeball.
“Deee DOC-TOR … heee say-es deees?”
“Yes, Minnie, isn’t it wonderful? No worries; these pin heads lock!”
She seemed hesitant, but only for a second or two. Her stiff body relaxed, and she set the pie on the dining room table while exclaiming, “Ah, deees eees wonderful, my dear! Da baby eees safe … deees eees good. Verrry good! Let’s have a piece of pie before you leave, no? Do you have time for a piece of pie weeeth the old Meee-neee?”
I smiled to myself, thinking of the encouraging puppies back home on the nursery wall. They would be proud of me and agree: love conquers all, even a headstrong mother-in-law stuck on outdated diaper pins.
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