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The Noodle Angels

By Emily Milner

“My mother wants to make us Christmas stockings,” my husband told me, that first autumn of our marriage. “For your birthday.”

I bristled. I had plans for our Christmas stockings. I wanted big flannel ones with snowmen and maybe blanket stitching. I had seen them in Target. They were cute. It felt intrusive to me to have my mother-in-law determine the Christmas stockings that we would hang up, if not forever, at least for a few years.

“I don’t want her to make stockings!” I said. “I have plans for our stockings!” I did not know what kind of stocking she would like. I shuddered at the idea of spending every Christmas resenting the fact that I had to hang up stockings that I hated just because she made them.

My husband is a very calm person. “It’s no big deal,” he said. “It will be fine. I will tell her that you’ve got other plans for the stockings.”

I was emotional. “Really? She won’t be mad?”

“That’s why she asked me first,” he said. “It will be fine.”

And it was. As far as I know, she never took offense at my not wanting a handmade stocking from her. Instead of stockings, she made me several dozen pasta angel ornaments. I laughed when I saw them, delighted by their whimsy, amazed (as a non-crafter) at all the time she took gluing and painting. I could tell she was relieved that I liked them so much. I was relieved too. I have hung them on our Christmas tree every year since. This year when we decorated our tree my daughter took one out and said “Oh I love the noodle angels!” and I agree. I love them, but every year they get a bit more bedraggled. The bow-tie pasta wings break off. The macaroni arms chip. They are darling, but fragile.

I wish that I had let my mother-in-law make the Christmas stockings. I wished it that very year, when I saw her charming velvet stocking, and realized that the one she made for me would have been similar, and beautiful, and longer-lasting than the noodle angels. I wished it at Christmas four years later, when she lay dying in the hospital. I did not trust, back then, how much I would grow to love her. And, as a newlywed discovering my own way of doing Christmas, I was territorial, not wanting to allow her into my celebration.

I look back at myself and I want to say, just let her make the stockings already! Why did that feel to me like giving in, like ceding something I owned? I don’t know, but it did. She and I were both doing the best we could in the dance of uniting two families, and I see that more clearly now than I did then. I need to have charity for my past self too, realize that I was insecure and not intentionally blind. It wasn’t about control for her, even though it felt like it to me back then. She wasn’t trying to control what I did, just contribute to it. Such a hard balance for a mother-in-law. When I closed off the stocking option, she responded with ornaments.

And they are fun. They are. But every year when I hang up our generic stockings, I mourn again the unique one that she might have made for me.

About Emily Milner

(Poetry Board) graduated from BYU in Comparative Literature, but it was long enough ago that most of what she learned has leaked out. She would like to mention other hobbies or interests, but to be honest she spends most of her free time reading (although she does enjoy attempting yoga). She used to blog at hearingvoices.wordpress.com. For now, though, Segullah is her only blogging home, and it's a good one.

25 thoughts on “The Noodle Angels”

  1. Oh, Emily.
    This cracked my heart wide open, mostly because this describes very well my early relationship with my MIL. I was so on guard, protecting my territory and declaring independence, that I closed myself off to many of the gifts and blessings she offered.

    I love all that those noodle angels represent, as well as the stockings-that-weren't. "I did not trust, back then, how much I would grow to love her." Poignant. I needed this. Thank you.

  2. Lovely, bitter-sweet thoughts. I am now the MIL….it looks so different from here, then it did back "when". I love my DIL(s)…my girls. And, I try to remember how it felt to be starting our traditions and feeling, like you mentioned, insecure, territorial, etc. I didn't do very well with my MIL, and wish I could do it over…and hope to do differently with "my girls"!

  3. I hope that I will one day feel more of the charity that I'm looking for with my MIL. Some days it's easy and some days it's just a struggle not to make a mean retort to her passive aggressive comment. But I think I do have the perspective that I don't want to do anything I would regret down the road. Hopefully that's enough to save me from anything too damaging. Over the years we have both learned to give proper space and just let some things go – or find compromises (like a small fake tree for my girls upstairs to adorn with all the crazy ornaments she sends) – but I still find myself throwing up walls around my family at even the slightest hint of intrusion. Thanks for the reminder to see things from her perspective a bit more and to realize that I won't always be so sensitive.

  4. This is so poignant to me right now. Today we are waiting on results from my MIL's CT scan to see of her cancer has spread. My relationship with her has ben so up and down these past 8 years. At times I have been able to feel true chairty for her and at other times almost everything she does and says bothers me.

    Sometimes it makes me feel like I am a horrible person. One of the problems is that I am not sure how to let her into my heart. I feel like she tries to force intimacy with me. She wants us to be so close and I find myself pulling back. Why do I do that? Now that she is probably dying I feel so guilty but there still just seems to be this wall up around my heart and I am not sure how to let that down.

  5. This describes a lot of my feelings so well. My husband has five older sisters, and it was hard to be the first sister-in-law marrying their 'baby brother'. I really struggled for a while with one of the older ones, who wasn't married at the time and still 'mothered' my husband all the time. Eight years later I do feel bad about some of the ways I was territorial and petty–nothing too bad, but it's nice now to have a much better relationship and to really be equals. This was a beautiful post.

  6. Thanks everyone, for your thoughtful replies so far. Heathermommy, I am so sorry about your MIL's cancer.
    I know this is a tender subject, and each relationship is different. And I think, most of all, it takes time. We all need to be merciful with ourselves and each other.

  7. oh Emily– this was perfect. I've been reflecting on so many of my mother's gifts this year and I've been able to see her good intentions rather than the sometimes strange present. We are all trying aren't we?

  8. A wonderful and tender post, and very good for a mother-in-law like me to read. It will help me remember that I need to respect my DIL's space and give her room to create her own traditions. (We are waaaay into our traditions, so this is a reminder I probably need!)

    As it happens, my mother-in-law made me Christmas stockings. I treasure them, just like you treasure your noodle ornaments. I think maybe the reason I didn't have territorial issues in this arena was because I happen to be the most un-crafty person alive. (Severely craft-challenged.) So, when anyone has ever made me ANYTHING, I am thrilled. (She fashioned some killer wise men for me in Relief Society, too!)

    In other ways, though, my MIL nearly drove me round the bend. Sometimes I feel bad about that, though I did try hard to always show kindness to her. Still, it was a far from perfect relationship, on my side anyway. Fortunately, it did grow through the years; and when she died, I realized how much I had grown to love her.

  9. Oh- I hope that someday when I am the mother in law I will be welcomed to make things for my grown boys and their families. This is why I struggle that I have no daughters yet- I will always be "THE MIL." I am glad you can cherish the ornaments and learn from your past.

    I LOVE the part about having charity for your past self- that is something I need to work on myself.

  10. Kinsey, in some ways I think that not having any daughters makes having daughter-in-laws easier. In my in-law family, there are three daughters, and no matter how hard I try, I will never be a true "daughter," because those girls belong to her in a way that I never will, which is hard and kind of sad for me as I don't really have a mother of my own. So if you never have daughters, just remember as kind of a silver lining that there will be DILs who you can love freely as though they were yours.

  11. I'm getting married in March, and so I've bookmarked this — it's an amazing post, Emily, and I hope it helps me to figure out how to handle this new (and full of hurt-feelings potential)relationship. I hope this isn't a hijack, but since you all seem to have been figuring this out for a while, does anyone have advice on how to handle the MIL relationship? Or perhaps things you wish you'd done differently?

  12. This was a beautiful little illustration of what so often happens early in marriage. I was all ready to be on my guard and protect "my territory" (as others have put it so well). But I never had to. I'm ashamed, now, that I ever wanted to. When I married my husband, his mother was in the beginning stages of alzheimer's, and unfortunately, in her case, she deteriorated very rapidly. I never got a chance to know her at all. So, I never hurt her feelings by my territorial stance on her youngest son, but because I never got to know her and thank her for raising such a wonderful person, I feel embarrased by my selfish and immature thoughts. I want to believe that *most* MILs and DILs are just doing the best they can to blend their new and existing families together. Great thoughts, Emily, thanks.

  13. This is beautiful. We all mourn what may have been sometimes, but the good thing is that you did love her. Love is worth so much. I truly wish you had your stockings too,they would have been amazing.

    I know I come way down the list in my MIL's life, well after all her other relatives, friends and so very far after her dog. I didn't really have much of a mother, so was hoping for a MIL that would love me like a daughter. At 44 I still feel I missed out in that department, a little mothering would not go amiss even now.

  14. I feel like Kay. I wish I had a more nurturing MIL, that she had welcomed me into her life instead of viewing me as the woman who took her son away—at least, that's how I always felt around her. I know I could have made more of an effort, as well, so the whole thing makes me sad. I don't think we're ever too old for a little mothering.

    Thank you for this post, Emily. It was lovely.

  15. Thanks Emily. So lovely, it sweeps away my harried feeling about Christmas and relationships. As I'm frantically trying to buy and ship the gifts I should have done a month ago for the family gift exchange, I lose sight of why I have these relationships. Beautiful.

    And thanks for the picture of the Noodle Angels. so whimsical, so neat! I love that she found another ready-for-Christmas gift.

  16. I had almost the exact same situation with our bedding! When we were getting married my MIL wanted really badly to make a quilt for us. Nice! I thought–that's really sweet. Then I realized she didn't want this just to be a quilt, but THE quilt for our new bed. I liked the idea of a quilt, but I didn't like the idea of my MIL deciding and creating my bedding for me. I was 28 when I got married and had waited a while to start the process of decorating and adorning my first home and I didn't really like the idea of her asserting her taste in–not just my home, but my bed!

    I too have grown to love my MIL more, but unlike you I'm glad I stuck to my guns. 🙂

  17. Zannah, my situation with my mother-in-law was pretty unusual, so I don't know that it's that helpful of a model for advice. My husband is an only child, and my MIL's health was fragile. When we had been married for two years, his parents were going through serious health-related financial problems and moved in with us.

    I consider that one of my greatest blessings, because it forced me to pray intensely that our relationship would be smooth. If I had only needed to interact with her once a week, I could have gone on indefinitely being irritated at small things. But since she lived with us, I needed to have everything go well.

    And it did. I was blessed both with greater charity and with the capacity to talk to her directly about problems or concerns I had in our relationship, and she became one of my best friends. She died a couple of years later, and I still miss her.

    So, that's my experience, but yours will be different. I think it's good in any relationship to assume the best, the best motives, rather than sinister ones. Meaning that I should not have assumed that she wanted to control my Christmas or decorate for me. Sometimes when someone irritates me I assume the worst about every little thing, and that's not fair.

    If you can get your relationship to the point where you can openly say "I need to tell you that [x] bothers me," and say it with firm love, that is a good thing too. I started teasing her when her worrying went overboard, and that helped her see my response to her worrying without getting upset, and we laughed about it.

    I don't think there's anything wrong with sticking to your guns, as Miggy said, when it's necessary. But I guess maybe pick the stuff you stick to carefully.

    I think relationships are always works in progress, too. And I think that process can be an eternal one–I remember a blog post Jennie wrote a while back about forgiving her father after he died. I think that part of eternal progression (this is Emily doctrine here, and perhaps not sound) is that, if we are to live in eternal families, we will have the time and space and clear-sightedness to heal relationships that were problematic in this life.

    That is a longer answer than you wanted, I'm sure–thanks for your patience.

    And to everyone, thank you for your thoughtful comments. I really appreciate them.

  18. Thank you, Emily. You are always so good at capturing the nuance of things–feelings, relationships, doctrines. This post is especially tender because I know how much your MIL has meant in your life.

  19. I'm going to be the MIL too, because I have no daughters. I started out a bit antsy about my MIL, mostly because my DH sung her praises so much. I hated being compared to her, even if the comparison was favorable. She does better now about boundaries and things, and we are closer than we used to be. But I'm nervous about how I may come across to a future DIL.

  20. I lost my three summers ago. The first Christmas we hung the beautiful handmade stockings she had made for our family, it was very emotional. Fortunately she made them after I'd already come to know and love her. She always called me her daughter and said that she'd decided long ago that her son's wives would never be "in-laws". I'm grateful that she sewed such heirlooms for us later on in the relationship. I had a hard time accepting her love in the beginning because I'd come from such dysfunction. But I grew to trust her and her love. I would say I felt the same way about my own mother's gifts as you did about your mil Emily. I felt for years that every gift was intrusive and had her claws of control wrapped around it. Sad huh? I had lots of time to grow before she passed, and I did just what corktree mentioned which was to try not to do or say anything I would regret after she was gone. It was a good strategy and worked well. Now that we have no mothers, I can appreciate things more deeply and am glad that they have both left something of themselves here for me and my daughters to remember them by.

  21. I love those noodle angels. I love your MIL's insight. I want to make noodle angels now. And I want to be like your MIL when I have the opportunity.


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