There are many brilliant moments in the movie ‘Meet the Parents’ but my favourite happens on the first morning of hapless Gaylord Focker’s stay with his prospective in – laws. Exhausted from his stressful journey the day before, he awakens after a long lie-in only to discover that his girlfriend has already got up and left the bedroom.
When he finally appears downstairs, still groggy, dishevelled and incongruous in a pair of his father in law’s pyjamas (the airline lost his luggage), it’s painfully clear that the entire family have been up for hours. Furthermore, they have washed, dressed and breakfasted. Their day is in full swing.
In the cinema, I roared with laughter. I could completely relate to Gaylord’s mortification, because the EXACT same thing happened to me the first time my husband (then boyfriend), took me to Leicestershire to meet his folks.
It may have been almost fourteen years ago but I can still vividly remember waking up after an unbelievably refreshing, gloriously deep night’s sleep in what is one of the most comfortable beds known to man. For a second I stretched out, drinking in the peace and quiet of the countryside. The only sound the soothing one of a wood pigeon cooing…….
And then I remembered where I was, at which point, calm was replaced by a huge shot of adrenaline. Panicked, I sat bolt upright, desperate to locate a clock so I could work out the extent of my lounging crimes.
There wasn’t one in the room however, so I leapt out of bed and got dressed in about thirty seconds flat. Growing increasingly embarrassed and horrified, I ventured downstairs and though I’d failed to find out the time I just knew it was late. I only had to look out the window to see that the sun wasn’t just up; it was up and had clearly been casually shining for ages.
Downstairs I peered round the kitchen door with trepidation and was greeted by the sight of Nina, my mother in law, calmly going about her business, at which point it took me precisely 0.5 seconds to realise she was preparing LUNCH. The table was clearly laid for it. There were wine glasses out and everything and although I’d already surmised that my boyfriend’s parents liked a tipple they didn’t seem the type to start knocking it back first thing. Worse still, at one end Nina had kept out a solitary breakfast bowl, a selection of cereals, and a spoon. Breakfast things which seemed to scream to me ‘So not only is this hussy having penetrative sex with my eldest son, she’s also a lazy, slothful layabout. What the hell is she doing? Is she still growing or something?’
Charlie, my boyfriend, chose this moment to appear from the garden. ‘Ah afternoon honey, you’ve had a good sleep even by your standards.’
I gave him the most withering look I could muster and later, just as Gaylord did in the film with his partner, berated him for not having woken me.
It was painful at the time, yet years later Nina and I have laughed heartily about it. In fact, when I recalled my horror over the whole thing, I was amazed to discover she could barely remember anything about it. You see it hadn’t stuck in her mind particularly, because as far as she was concerned it genuinely wasn’t a big deal.
However, the same certainly couldn’t be said for one Carolyn Bourne who I don’t think will be having many fond reminiscing sessions with her future daughter in law anytime soon. In case you missed the story in yesterday’s papers, it goes like this. Freddie took his fiancée Heidi for a visit to his parents, after which Heidi received, via email, a dressing down from her boyfriend’s stepmother. A dressing down so mealy mouthed that she’s done more to give mother in laws a bad name than Bernard Manning did during his entire career.
Not only did Carolyn berate Heidi for her general lack of manners, she also went on to list the various crimes she thought Heidi had committed. One of the accusations levelled at her was this ‘When in another’s house, you do not lie in bed until late morning in households that rise early – you fall in line with house norms.’
Other gems included ‘I understand your parents are unable to contribute very much towards the cost of your wedding. (There is nothing wrong with that except that convention is such that one might presume they would have saved over the years for their daughters’ marriages.)’
Now, never having met Heidi, I have no idea whether or not she really is as objectionable, rude, ungracious and uncouth as Carolyn claims she is. What I do know however is that had I received such a horrible, bitchy e mail myself, I probably would have shared it with my friends too (which is how it has come to be circulated all over the internet.)
I hate bad manners with a passion, and yet as far as I can make out, surely the worst offender here is Carolyn herself? For no matter how Heidi may or may not have behaved, she was a guest in her house and is also the woman Freddie has chosen to spend the rest of his life with. So, whatever she thought internally, would it not have been more courteous to have kept her thoughts to herself, or at least to have addressed them in a less aggressive manner?
She also said ‘When you are a guest in another’s house, you do not declare what you will and will not eat’ and ‘You do not start before everyone else.’
Reading Carolyn’s badly judged diatribe I immediately thought again of my own sweet-natured mother in law who I am very close to and appreciate enormously, for I do have some friends who find the relationship a tricky one to navigate. Nina and I speak regularly on the phone. We enjoy chatting and she loves to be filled in on what the children have been up to. She is an adoring grandmother and has never been anything other than lovely, kind and welcoming to me.
Having said that, maybe when we first met I wasn’t her ideal candidate for her son? Then again, her ideal candidate would have been Princess Diana so she probably realised she was going to have to meet him halfway. However, if she did have any reservations, she never would have shown them because she simply has too much grace. Instead she has allowed us to get to know each other over time, never judging, never telling me how things should be done, and if anything thanking me for making her son happy.
Not only did Carolyn Bourne’s rather snobby attack on Heidi make me appreciate Nina all the more, it made my think of my own son, who also happens to be called Freddie. He’s only four and a long way off from falling in love (at least with things that aren’t Asterix, chocolate or viking related) but I hope that when he does, whomever it is with, that I will learn from the example Nina has set me. I shall welcome them with open arms, try and respect his choice and if she (or he, who knows?) sleeps in for a disproportionate amount of time I shall assume it’s because the stress of meeting me for the first time has taken it out of them.
Also, if they help themselves to food or ask for more, frankly I shall be delighted because, call me old fashioned, but in our house we quite like our guests to feel comfortable, at home and to fill their boots.