Long, striated and with sharp edges

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We have a pot bound tub of mother-in-law’s tongue in our back
yard, which has toppled over in the wind. 
Strange, given the plant is so heavy that the wind has
dislodged it or maybe its upended state has more to do with the number of
fronds.  The pot has lost its centre of
gravity. 

There it sits on its side like a beached whale or a creature
otherwise out of its natural habitat. 
My husband tells me they named this plant after mother in
laws and their tongues because each leaf is long and striated with sharp edges.
Why do mother in laws get such bad press? 
Why does the term itself evoke a shudder? 
Maybe it’s the ‘in law’ quality of it that adds to a sense of
distance, a sense that mothers in law are difficult people, people to keep at a
distance, people with sharp tongues. 
Fathers in law don’t cop it in the same way.  There’s no plant called father in law’s
tongue.  Why then this generalised
expression to evoke criticism and awe? 
Mind you, my mother in law left me cold. 
The first day I met her, I was in my early twenties, not long
after I had met my husband to be.  In
those days it was still considered risqué for young people to share a bed
before marriage and my husband and I began sharing our bed from the night we
met. 
After a week, my husband to be asked me to spend a few days
camping with him in Mansfield.  His uncle
owned a farm there, and attached to the farm in some outer field there was an
unoccupied shepherd’s hut, which this uncle had said we could use instead of
tents. 
I had so enjoyed the company of this young man, my husband to
be – though I did not know this then – it seemed a reasonable proposition we go
off camping. 
My husband to be in those days lived in a share house in
Camberwell. I lived with my sister in Caulfield. 
On the day of the trip, I drove my car to my husband to be’s
house with my bag of clothes and together we collected bits and pieces from his
shared house for the three nights of living it rough. 
On the way to Mansfield, we took a detour through Croydon to
collect some pots and pans for cooking from my husband to be’s family home. 
We did not discuss beforehand the notion that I would meet my
mother in law to be for the first time and I wandered into the house,
unprepared. 
Perhaps my husband to be had hoped his mother would not be
home – an unusual expectation given she rarely moved outside of the house.
Sure enough, there she was at the kitchen sink, her favourite
place, near to the stove where she spent her days cooking biscuits and cakes,
which she piled into tins and stored in the fridge for whenever visitors came
by. 
My husband to be introduced me as a friend to his
mother.  She put out a thin hand and
offered a half smile.  She seemed to size
me up and down, perhaps pleased to see her son in the company of a young
woman.  He had been in the company of
other women before me and these relationships had not worked out. 
‘We’re going to Mansfield to camp in Uncle Joe’s hut,’ my
husband said to his mother.  He might as well have told
her we were off to rob a bank. 
The look on her face, and I knew it instantly.  Her face became that of a mother in law in
stereotype: slits for eyes, a knitted forehead and clenched chin. 
She said nothing, as she dragged out the old pots from the
back of her ovenware cupboard, but it was clear she disapproved. 
To the day she died, her disapproval continued, but it was
met with my own, given I took sides with my husband who had not had an easy
time with his mother.  This woman who
burned her son’s copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover; this woman who told her son
he would never be as good or as great a man as the parish priest; this woman
who told her son he was too difficult by half. 
No wonder then, my mother in law should disapprove of me,
too.  My husband to be and I were accomplices in crime who
lived in sin.  
Today, I am the age of my mother in law when we first
met.  I have one son in law already and
another joining the ranks next year.  Two
other potential sons in law hover on the sidelines. 
What sort of mother in law will I make? 

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