Since it's Mother's Day in the UK this Sunday, I thought I'd share with you some wonderful stories about my mother-in-law, Alison.
I've heard so many horror stories of overbearing, disapproving, high-maintenance, and downright dreadful mother-in-laws, so I know that I'm incredibly lucky to have Alison as my mine, because she is the sheer opposite of all these things: she is wonderful.
And if you ever met her, you'd think so too.
Aside from swapping handwritten letters, cards, texts, and emails carefully typed out on respective iPads (Alison is so much better at this than I am - she has more patience!), I'm grateful to have such a close relationship with Alison.
During a weekend visit to our flat last year, I begged her to stay for longer on Sunday and managed to convince her to take a (particularly challenging!) Vinyasa flow yoga class with me before having lunch and a quick browse at Primark prior to catching her train back to Leicester. I jumped up and down with excitement when she agreed, and John looked at us like we were crazy.
So to celebrate this UK Mother's Day, I'd like to share with you some of the nicest, loveliest things that Alison has done for me in the past nine years that I've known her:
She's thoughtful and considerate. The first time I ever visited Alison's house, I noticed all the thoughtful little things she did for me, even though we'd only met once before. For instance, she couldn't remember if I was vegetarian or not, so she made a vegetarian lasagne just in case - along with a huge pork roast. She didn't make any assumptions about our sleeping arrangements, so she made up the bed in the spare room for me, along with John's bed in his old bedroom.
She's taken care of me after my operations. Twice. There's nothing worse than being away from your family when you're sick. So when I was first advised that I needed an operation in the UK, I was scared and felt really anxious. Because John was away for work and couldn't come to the hospital with me, Alison took a train down and stayed with me right up to the minute I was wheeled into the operating room. Afterwards, she came into my room and wordlessly sat down in the corner with a book while I recovered from the anesthesia. I don't know how many hours had passed, but she was just there: present. Comforting. She then took care of me at our flat for a week - making sure I took my pain medication at the right times and doing all the shopping, cooking, and cleaning while I rested. Two years later, she did it all again, without any complaint.
She's seen me through some of my most difficult times - and stuck by me. One of my worst moments ever - both physically and emotionally - was when I had a terrible chest infection while I was studying for my Master's degree at the University of York. It had just been a hard year in general: I was broke, John was working in Paris, I hated my course, I had no friends, and I missed my family. As a result, I lost a lot of weight and wasn't eating very well. Alison came up to visit me one evening and we went to a lecture together. I was so sick, I had to leave the lecture mid-way to have a coughing fit - only to realize I had stepped into a stairwell with no exit! When she walked me back to my dorm later and I got into bed, she tucked me in, placed two folded £20 notes on my desk, and quietly slipped out. I didn't find the notes until the next day and my eyes pricked with tears, as I was so touched by her gesture.
She said she'd always be my friend, no matter what. One of the most powerful things that Alison has ever said to me was during that same visit to York. We were chatting over a cup of tea and I mentioned how difficult it was with John in Paris, and the fact that we hadn't been able to see each other very often. And I'll never forget this: she looked me in the eye and said, "No matter what happens with you and John, I'll always be your friend." I still get choked up thinking about it. That meant so much to me.
She asked Sir David Attenborough to send us a handwritten note for our wedding, and he did (!!!). At UK weddings, it's traditional to read aloud cards from guests who couldn't make it to the reception. During our Seattle wedding reception, this duty fell to Alison, who was the only representative of John's family attending. After reading out some lovely sentiments from John's extended family members, she handed me a crisp, cream envelope to open and read aloud to our guests. I stood, open-mouthed, as I realized that the letter was from Sir David Attenborough himself, sending us his best wishes! (There's a funny back story to this: years ago, when we were students at Oxford, I wrote David Attenborough a piece of fan mail, asking him to write us back. And he did! He wrote us the nicest, kindest letter ever. AND THEN JOHN LOST IT. We still have the envelope.)
She treats me no differently to the way she treats her own children. I think that Alison has always been acutely aware of how much I miss my family and how difficult it is for me to be away from my own mother, with whom I have a very close relationship. As a result, she has never treated me any differently than the way she treats John or Tom. And what I've appreciated the most is that she checks in on me periodically, to see how I'm doing - you know, as a person, as an individual, rather than simply as part of a couple.
I'm not sure I could ever be as nice, as kind, as generous, as thoughtful to my future son-in-law or daughter-in-law as Alison has been to me. But I know that I am just so grateful to know her, to have her in my life, and most of all, to call her my friend.
Dear Alison, I honor you, on this Mother's Day. Thank you for being a wonderful mother-in-law to me.
And thank you for being a wonderful friend.