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Profile of a Matriarch: Are you having fun yet, Mom?

by Liz Flaherty

In our family, on both sides, the matriarch gets stuck with cleaning the turkey carcass after its been ravaged by the hungry hordes. She gets to stand at the counter with greasy fingers loading bits of white meat and lots of dark meat onto a platter. While she does so, people will walk past and steal the meat, saying asinine things like, Are you having fun yet, Mom? Her nose will itch as she works and everyone will want something from the cupboard shes standing in front of. This isnt a job she cherishes, but she has to do it because its how she pays for special privileges available only to her.

Such as not having to do the dishes. My mother used to disappear into the bathroom as soon as hot water started running into the sink and we wouldnt see her again until the last dry fork had been put away. The little kids would see her on their wild runs through the house, but it was understood that she was hiding, so they didnt tell anyone where she was and no one really looked for her.

And such as being the only one who knows how to make turkey gravy so that its not only edible but doesnt look like school paste. A couple of years ago, my mother-in-law made use of call waiting by instructing my sister-in-law and me in the art at the same time. Its always such fun knowing more than other people. My gravy that year was edible and didnt look like paste, but you had to cut it out of the bowl in slices, and Lynns looked funny, so Moms knowledge remained hers alone.

And, even though the matriarch slithers the fat cylinder of cranberry sauce out of the can and encouraged everyone to just try a little, no one makes her eat it.

When anyone leaves the matriarchs house, they take the leftovers of green bean casserole, scalloped potatoes, and some kind of salad. She doesnt have to deal with pushing them out of the way in her refrigerator until theyre thrown away a week later or whenever mold sets in, whichever comes first.

The matriarch is often the grandmother, which means she gets all the kisses and hugs and giggles while the mother gets the screaming when the kids too tired to walk but doesnt want to take a nap in on the bed where all the coats are. He will, however, lie down quietly with his grandmother at least for the five minutes it take for her to fall asleep and for him to climb off the bed and go play in the toilet.

While visiting the matriarch at any other time of the year might be a responsibility I know we need to go, but everybodys so busy right now. Why cant she come here? on holidays, it becomes a pleasure. So everyone fights to do it. We went to your mothers last year its my mothers turn. And while the matriarch urges her children to give equal time to their in-laws, or says its wonderful if they want to establish their own traditions for the holidays, shes also throwing her fist into the air and shouting, Yes! when she finds out everyones coming home. (It must be added here that she reacts in the same way when everyone leaves, taking the grandchildren and the leftovers with them.)

In the grandmotherly scheme of things, theres no privilege quite like the one of having everyone together under her roof again. Its especially good if everyone lets her boss them around, the daughters and daughters-in-law moan that theyll never be able to cook as well as she does, and the sons and sons-in-law tell her she looks much too young to be a grandmother. (And I dont care if she looks like Medusa; shell like that one.)

This year, two of my kids and their families came for Easter.

My gravy was delicious I poured it out of a jar and I dont do cranberry sauce even at Thanksgiving. I got to listen to everyone say how good the food was. (If they didnt offer the information, I asked.) I spent all kinds of quality time with my grandkids. I hid in the bathroom while my daughter and daughter-in-law did the dishes and no one gave away my location.

And, in my mother-in-laws absence, I was matriarch for the day and had to clean the turkey carcass. It was a small price to pay.


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