I'm still trying to process the meeting with my new SIL, so these are just my initial thoughts and impressions. My brother, SIL, his four children, and her son arrived for Easter dinner just a few minutes before we planned to serve. The first surprise was that my SIL's son is not 3 years old, as my mother stated. He's 8 years old. The initial introductions were somewhat awkward. My brother did not immediately introduce us to his new wife; rather, I introduced myself as did my DH, and we welcomed them into our home, where we had a few hors d'oeuvres ready to serve. I offered everyone beverages. DH had to tell my SIL his name several times before she remembered it.
When everyone had a drink in hand, DH made a toast to my brother and SIL and in celebration of Easter. That was the only specific reference we made to their marriage for the duration of the afternoon.
Throughout the afternoon, much of the talk seemed to surround my brother and SIL -- not about their marriage but sort of in a "getting to know you" way, although not exactly. I felt uncomfortable because it felt as if the topics seemed to steer back around to my brother and SIL despite efforts to steer the conversation in other directions. DH had the sense that my brother was trying to cover for my SIL on some topics, such as what she does for a living. When DH asked her this question, she gave an evasive response to which my brother also made an evasive comment and changed the subject. From that we surmised the topic of her employment is off limits and dropped it. This happened several times. A routine question would be asked to get to know her, and she and my brother would look at each other, and we'd get an evasive or vague response. I noted that they seemed to make what I'd call inside jokes or inside references. They were hinting types of comments that only the two of them would fully understand, such as about my SIL's religion (which she brought up) or her employment. After making these evasive comments, they would look at each other and chuckle. It felt like a game, so it was hard to know if we should have probed in more depth about the hinting or changed the subject. We seemed to be changing the subject with some frequency.
It's hard for me to know from this experience whether they wanted us to get to know her yesterday. They seemed to be controlling the information flow pretty tightly. I don't know if she has family, where she is from, if she is employed, or any other routine things one might expect to learn when meeting someone new. I would describe the afternoon as being pleasant but awkward, if that makes sense. There was a polite superficiality to it. Everyone seemed to mind their manners during dinner.
My mother was fairly well behaved overall. I observed that she did not seem to speak directly to my SIL. This is a common behavior for her when she isn't sure whether she thinks the other person is worth knowing. She doesn't outright ignore the other person, but she doesn't go out of her way to converse with them either. I view it as a PA behavior. It has the result of making other people work harder at making conversation because she refuses to have any. One thing my mother did consistently throughout the day was bring up the fact that one of my aunts is ill. No matter where I was or what I was doing, my mother wanted to talk about it. It was not a good time to discuss the illness with other people present or when I was trying to put the final touches on the meal or serve dessert. I couldn't stop my hosting duties to have that conversation with her. Saying something along the lines of "we can discuss this later" doesn't work with her. My mother is narcissistic, so it is difficult to know whether she was expressing genuine concern (about my aunt) or if she was creating drama to shift the focus of the day to herself. She also brought up several times that one of my nieces will be celebrating a religious milestone in a few weeks. Evidently, my mother has been invited to attend this event with my brother's family, but we have not. This was the first I'd heard about this religious milestone occurring.
My brother brought some paperwork for my mother to review and sign for a major joint purchase they are making. He first mentioned the paperwork to my mother (in front of everyone) shortly after they arrived, and he made it clear that they had to discuss it so he could get my mother's signature. He brought up the paperwork several times during the afternoon. They didn't get to it until after dessert. After they discussed the paperwork with my mother, my brother and SIL were ready to leave. DH observed the same.
As they were leaving, my SIL told me that they had planned to arrive earlier, but it didn't work out that way. I will be hopeful that we may get to know her better over time and that my first impressions of her were due to the awkwardness of the situation.
Thanks again to everyone for weighing in with their thoughts on how to handle this event. The input helped me so much.