My mother- in- law was not a sweet woman when I first met her; she made impossible demands. she was a hard woman, a tough matriarch who demanded so much from her daughters-in-law.
She is one of those you describe as self-made. She didn’t do too much schooling but you would never know because when she lost her husband when she was in her thirties; she not only successfully raised three boys by herself, she also made sure she attended adult education class to improve herself.
She used to tell my husband, who is her first son, “I am getting an education so that you boys won’t tell me how hard school is…I am in it myself.”
When I first met her, she didn’t like me but I was determined to make her not only like me but love me like the daughter she never had. More so, since my husband is the first son, I knew mama was likely to be spending more time with us than the rest of her sons, you know first born sons are many times closer to their mothers than the rest. They had been through so many tough times, the younger ones may not even know much and my husband was the one who saw their mother’s struggle, her pain, her tears…so I told myself, “Ol girl, you don enter this one finish.”
Like I said before, mama didn’t like me.
I was not good looking enough and indeed, if you see my husband, handsome is the word, fine boy no pimples, tall and dark and…the boy fine, no bi small but see me na, ugly pepper but he chose me, not so? Ehen!
Ok, so mama tried to talk her son out of marrying me, at first I suspected it was because she thought I wasn’t fine enough but it was more than that, it was because she felt I was going to come in between her and her son.
Of course she had no idea and I had no such intention. Those days, mama would come and insist on me cooking a fresh pot of soup every two days because she didn’t trust our deep freezer; insist I washed her clothes by hand because she didn’t trust our washing machine; the floor of her room be mopped daily because she hated dirt…all these were plans to frustrate me and my husband didn’t even see it…but me, I made up my mind, “Mama, na you go tire, o.”
I did all because you see, my husband was worth all of these sacrifices. He did so much for me and stooping to conquer his mum was a small price to pay, more so, he would always wink at me when mama made insane demands and many times, if he was available, he would join me in the kitchen to prepare mama’s meals.
Anyway, over the years, mama began to calm down, she came to realise I had no intention of taking her son from her especially after we began to have children…that’s when I began to notice something strange about mama.
My second child, a girl, was about two years old or maybe younger and mama was in her late 60s then. She was helping us mind the kids when she began to act “somehow”. By somehow, I mean, she would just burst into fits of laughter…and sometimes, she would just be crying…
At the beginning, I thought, she was so happy holding her grandchild and reminiscing or looking back to all she had been through…you know elderly people can be funny and all of that, so me too, I would join her in laughing without really knowing why she was laughing and tell her she shouldn’t worry that she would live to see her great grandchildren.
At other times, mama could just be watching tv, maybe even the news, not necessarily a drama on tv, nothing to warrant fits of laughter or she could even be eating…and hahahaha…That was when I began to tell my husband that all may not be well with mama o.
I became particularly worried because after mama turned 70, it grew worse and when you asked her what made her laugh or cry, she would tell you something so insignificant, something totally unrelated or not even respond.
This sudden out of nowhere laughter was getting to me.
But my husband didn’t think anything was wrong with his mother because apart from those sudden laughter or tears, mama seemed ok…yes she would sometimes forget things, which we put down to old age but she was walking, talking, doing every other thing normally.
One day, one of my husband’s doctor friend visited and heard mama laughing indoor. He had known my husband since they were young boys and he asked to go say hello to her.
As he was greeting mama, she just burst into laughter. My husband’s friend stared at her for a long time, then he asked us how long she had been like this and we told him. He asked us if we had taken her to see a doctor to examine her, we said no because we just thought this was her own old age syndrome…abi?
Mama wasn’t well after all as it turned out!
After several tests and hospital visits o, she was diagnosed with a neurological condition called one big name, Pseudobulbar Affect, a neurological condition or (PBA)…there is no reversal they said to us. They also said it was a degenerative disease of the brain, a form of dementia.
Mama is still alive, she still bursts into fits of laughter and tears, she has fast lost most of her memory and today is wheelchair bound. But at least we know what the problem is. I will tell you that I miss the woman who demanded fresh soup, hand washed clothes and a clean house and yes, she still lives with us and I won’t have it any other way.
(Series written and edited by Peju Akande and based on true stories)