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Day By Day: On how to be the best mother-in-law ever

Don’t try.

I am about to see my youngest daughter (by 15 minutes) get married. Katie and her “womb buddy,” as she likes to call her twin brother Cory, both chose to make 2013 the year to tie the knot. And after adjusting to the idea that I am no longer the most important woman in their lives, I am happy for them both, for all four of them.

Kevin and I will be married 42 years in August and no one is more surprised than us. We were only 19 and 20 when we had our hippie wedding on my parents’ farm just across the river. We have a wonderful photo of my mother-in-law Bette and my Dad Mick looking kind of skeptical. The thing is there are photos of Kevin and me looking the same way. But it has worked out.

Katie has demonstrated very good judgment in her choice of partner. Josh is kind, handsome and deeply into all things Star Trek which put him over the top for Kevin immediately. And did I mention he’s in medical school? I think I’m going to like saying “my son-in-law the doctor,” especially as my list of aches and pains grows with every passing week.

Katie is the kind of daughter I never dreamed of, primarily because I didn’t know what to dream for. I was the youngest of the three girls in our family. My older sisters were five and ten years ahead of me and I had four younger brothers. I felt like I kind of knew what to expect from Cory but Katie was more of a surprise package. She didn’t disappoint.

Right off the bat, she was independent. While Cory was kind of a cuddler, Katie would tolerate a little gushy stuff but not much. She preferred affection on her own terms which meant her dad only got his fill of holding her when she was sound asleep.

It appeared Cory would walk first. He was pulling himself up on furniture and standing, just inches away from walking. Katie was keeping close to the ground and seemed to have no interest in what was going on above her when she just up and did it one day. My schizophrenic uncle was the only person to see her first steps so we didn’t know whether to believe it or not, but sure enough it was true.

That Katie walked first doesn’t mean she hit the world running. On the contrary, our girl usually made people a little uneasy as she teetered through those early years. And because she didn’t want to hold your hand, you were relegated to just kind of walking close by with your hands at the ready to catch her if necessary, kind of like herding a cat.

Her coordination issues continued as she grew but they never stopped her from trying everything from soccer to track to volleyball and tennis. Cory loved to play tennis with Katie in college just to enjoy her very unique form. Watching Katie try so hard was difficult at times but glimpses of her character were there from the start.

I remember when she decided to try the hurdles in middle school. I couldn’t imagine it but she was adamant that she wanted to try and it my heart broke for her as she came in well behind the other runners. I could see the pain in her face but something else as well — determination. And I didn’t pull any punches telling the classmate sitting next to me in the stands who was laughing at her what I thought about her and about my brave little girl.

For a time Katie took up horseback riding. She liked the idea of being in charge of a 1,200 pound animal and she didn’t have run, catch or throw. And it didn’t hurt that her brother was afraid of the animal. Kate has finally found her niche when it comes to athletics and athletic is the only way to describe her unique dance style. Watching her is good not only for a laugh but for the soul.

Katie worked hard in school, from kindergarten right through to grad school. While Kevin and I and Cory are world class procrastinators, Katie has always been organized, disciplined and rarely ever late with an assignment. Her efforts paid off. And while writing has always been work for me, she won recognition for her writing and was published before she left high school.

College was challenging but did what it was supposed to for Katie — she changed majors several times before deciding on psychology and women’s studies and she is now on a committed road to helping others as a social worker.

She is passionate and sometimes even profane when it comes to the things she cares about — stopping domestic violence, empowering vulnerable women and girls and equality for those denied it because of gender, race or sexual orientation. Her dad, a profanity expert himself who riles quickly, seems surprised when his sweet-faced girl does the same but it makes her mother proud. It is never wrong to feel things deeply. I grew up holding back for fear of what people might think. That isn’t an issue for Kate.

And did I mention she’s funny? I remember the Halloween years ago when she came out hopping on one foot in a gymnastics leotard, announcing in a squeaky voice that she was going as Kerry Shrug, the gymnast who injured her ankle in the Olympics. She wanted to know if her dad would carry her door to door like Kerry’s coach did. She does spot-on accents and voices and can exaggerate a story for laughs that makes her mother proud.

Her marriage won’t change any of these things. I expect that with Josh by her side, she will only be more committed to the things she cares about. When I think back to the first time I saw Katie, all 2 pounds, 13 ounces of her, I couldn’t have imagined all that she has become and how deeply we love her. But lack of imagination or energy or compassion will never be a problem for her.

So I’m thinking this mother-in-law gig won’t be so bad. It might just give us both a whole new source of material.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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