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Managing the In-Laws, Part Two: Surviving Easter

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Most of us anticipate holidays — any holiday — with some degree of joy.  Not me; I get to spend holidays with the in-bred, I mean, the in-laws.  Witness this Easter, just past.

It began not with a bang, but with a gratuitous use of gasoline.  My better half had neglected to purchase an Easter gift for his mother, a faux pas akin, to my in-laws, to forgetting to courtesy in the presence of royalty.  Through three towns we tore in search of something unique, something other than “the usual Easter flowers,” something expensive.  In my husband’s family, it’s not the thought that counts!

Upon discovering that the closest Simon mall was closed as tightly as Fort Knox, curses poured like April showers from the hubby’s mouth.  (Me, I applauded this public devotion to Jesus’ resurrection, particularly since Simon is a Jewish name.)  The cussing got viler as it became clear that gift shops in the strip malls were also closed.  In desperation, my husband bought an $11 bath set for his mom at K-Mart.  Armed with this, cough, cough, unique and expensive present, we hit the road, Jack.

Although we came from out of State, we still arrived a good hour before my husband’s two siblings, including the sister who lives in the apartment above my mother-in-law.

In case you’re wondering about this lousy and, by the way, eternal p*** poor timing, I lay the blame at my mother-in-law’s feet.  According to Freud’s theory of personal timing, she must have potty trained her daughters by waiting until they’d already soiled their nappies before plopping them on the pot.   Thus imprinted, the sense of “Hey, this can wait” followed them evermore.

And yet, my mother-in-law is notoriously and ridiculously early for each and every family event.  Down through the years, numerous funeral homes and wedding halls have closed their doors against her because business hours had yet to start.  Rained upon, sun burned, or chilled to the bone for hours as she waits with her nose against the door, it never sinks in.  Her motive is to get a good seat, you see.  If it’s a wedding, it’s an assigned seat, and if it’s a wake or a funeral, there’s nothing good about the seat.

Shake this family tree ever so gently and nuts will roll off.  And not just the nuts related by blood.

One of my brothers-in-law has a loud mouth, and that’s a gross understatement.  To him, silence is not golden.  He loves noise and is, in fact, quite gifted in creating it.  Walk into his house on any given day and you’ll find TV blasting, the computer rat-a-tatting with a video game, and the stereo playing — all at once.   It matters not that no one is watching, playing, or listening to the music.  When this brother-in-law speaks at decibels meant for the hard of hearing, the teeth rattle in my head.  For the purpose of this article, we’ll call him Ed.

Sure as God made little green apples, around the large table this past Easter, Ed decided to sit next to me.  By then, all the other seats had been claimed.  But, history has taught me something; I came prepared.  I reached into my handbag and whipped out a small white plastic vial.  “Got a headache, Karen?” Ed bellowed, assuming I was about to self-medicate.   “No,” I grinned tightly, “and I aim to avoid one.”  From the vial I pulled two soft foam earplugs and quick like a bunny, screwed them into my ear canals.  Ed fell over laughing and for good reason.  The plugs only reduce noise by 32%.  I still got 68% of Ed’s roaring.  Villagers in Africa should hire him to keep the resident lion populations at bay.

Across the table, my other brother-in-law was so soft spoken, I learned how to read lips in one easy lesson!

After the second course had been gobbled, I watched the sister-in-law who lives one flight above my mother-in-law conk out on the couch.  Let’s call her Susan.  Napping has been Susan’s modus operandi ever since I first met her; in fact, it’s more like a calling with her.

Upon graduation from high school, she remained at home for more than a year.  College was way too much work, and the thought of seeking employment was too taxing (and this was during the prosperous 80s, when jobs were rampant).  When Susan finally landed a job, it was through no fault of her own, but the auspices of her sister-in-law.  The minute Sue got pregnant, she quit her part-time job and remained unemployed for approximately twenty years, until she finagled another part time position … while her husband held down three jobs (gee, I wonder why).  But still, Susan is always pooped.

As for all family gatherings past, this Easter, she retired to the couch in the middle of the day.  She must have learned recently to sleep like a cat, for she roused herself from her stupor when she heard her daughter talking about her.

I must preface this by telling you that, last year, after an illness and surgery, my mother-in-law went through a debilitating treatment program.  She still doesn’t seem quite right to me.  Susan, living one floor above, purports to be her mother’s guardian angel.  But words are such flimsy things.   In preparation for the holiday, my mother-in-law was vacuuming her stairs and lost control of the vacuum.  The machine went tumbling down the steps with a horrible clatter that rose to the second floor.

Immediately, Susan grabbed her head and moaned pitifully.  The way my niece mimed it, she resembled the tortured soul in Edvard Munch’s painting, “The Scream.”  Instead of tearing down the stairs to see if her mother needed medical attention or at least assistance, Susan ordered her daughter to check things out.  The odd thing about this is that her daughter passes out if you happen to nick your finger in her presence (no lie).   I mumbled something about the blind leading the blind, but nobody heard it over Ed’s raucous howling.

Mother’s Day is fast approaching and with it, another in-law encounter.  Instead of the earplugs, I think I’ll pack a flask to deal with my husband’s relations.  As to its contents, here’s a hint.  It won’t contain sweet tea or lemonade!

Related Post:

Managing the In-Laws: A Survivor’s Guide

Managing the In-Laws: A Survivor’s Guide

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Surviving the In-Laws

As the title suggests, I am a survivor.  Having sustained a marriage for the past twenty-plus years, I intend to keep on surviving, and for that reason, have used a pseudonym at the end of this article.  Those of you now calling me “Chicken!” have either never inherited in-laws or are in deep denial of the slings and arrows with which they take joy in attacking your psyche, your self-esteem, your very lifestyle.   For those of you in the happy, former category, I strongly suggest that you remain there … for the rest of your life.  For those of you in the latter, consider this a form of therapy, free of charge.  Once you get done reading this, you may actually look more favorably upon those who birthed and raised your spouse.


The Shower.   Despite technology and the speed of light with which we now receive our news, some things should remain sacred.  Among them is secrecy surrounding a bride’s shower; there are so few surprises left in life.  On my special day, I found my future family-by-marriage dressed like migrant farm workers, deeply embedded in my mother-in-law’s fridge.  They were cleaning it out to throw me off the scent, as I’d uncovered evidence — quite by accident — that the shower was to be that very day.  They were doing a good job of it, until my father-in-law entered the room.  Giving me the once-over, he pronounced that I looked good for my shower!


The Wedding.   Due to some of the formal, written responses I’d received to my wedding, from my future husband’s side of the family, I should have known what I was in for.  The most preposterous of them included, “If you can arrange a lift for me (through three States), I’ll be there”, “If my back is feeling better that day, I’ll come”, and “If you invite my children, I’m coming; otherwise, forget it — I go nowhere without my children and am insulted that you would even think I might!”


Not wishing to look like every other bride on the planet, I’d been extremely selective in my choice of wedding attire and accessories.   My dress was a beautiful, elegant heavy silk tea length affair, very simple, with no veil; it was custom-made for me and I loved it.  The color was perhaps two shades removed from dead white.  As I greeted my new in-laws immediately after the ceremony, one of my groom’s great-aunts asked at the top of her lungs, in the church vestibule, why my gown was not dead white and where was my veil and did this all symbolize my lack of purity.


The Honeymoon.   What?  You thought you were going to be treated to a kiss and tell?  Fat chance!  Two out of seven days in a tropical paradise were wasted indoors on a mad shopping spree, being ripped off for crappy souvenirs made not on that isle, but in a third-world nation, that my husband insisted we bring home to his family.   As the in-laws unveiled their gifts, my mother-in-law hinted broadly that her 25th anniversary was fast approaching.  To this, my husband inquired — without a word of warning to me — as to whether she would like a party (read: another wedding, albeit 25 years later) or a trip to a nice tropical locale.  Instead of telling us to save our money, as we were newlyweds just starting out, my mother-in-law insisted upon the party (read: wedding), for which yours truly, out of her own hard-earned coffers, coughed up 5/6th of the money.


Twenty-five years later, my older sister-in-law was peeved beyond all comprehension when I told her “No dice” to her request for my husband and I to kick in major bucks for her parents’ fiftieth anniversary party.  Conveniently, she’d forgotten my contribution of $3,000 twenty-five years earlier.  I reminded her of that, and she did not speak to me again for months (oh, happy circumstance!).


Family Affairs.  Because I was deemed “the friendly one”, I was forced to sit at every affair next to the strangers in the group (i.e.: future in-laws and their relatives).  This placed me, alternately, next to the neurotic teen on psychotropic meds, the woman who relayed in painstaking detail –as I attempted to eat — her gallbladder operation, and the guy who could barely string two words together in English but for the booming proclamation, oft-repeated, “I am the greatest mason the world has ever seen!”


The Insults.  My mother-in-law has needed glasses for years and is too vain to wear them.  If the grease on her stove were blood, it would look like a war zone.  Quite by coincidence, we happened to buy the same stove at the same time.  She took one look at mine and inquired as to whether or not I actually used it.  This, after I had cooked many meals for my inherited and very extended family, all of which were praised to the heavens (and rightly so).


The day that we purchased our house, my in-laws walked through it.  It had taken my husband and I years to save up the down payment, and we were extremely proud of the house, which we both loved. My father-in-law took the cook’s tour, shooting down everything about my beautiful new house, as it did not meet his specific tastes.


Years later, my little sister-in-law later purchased a house and purposely had it done to her daddy’s specifications for, as she whispered, “Who wants to hear him?”   My father-in-law praised the decor, failing to find fault with the entryway and driveway, both of which looked like bombs had hit them.


The Injuries.    My husband and I have no children.  I stopped going to baby showers as a form of healing.  For this, I was chastised by my mother-in-law, who has three kids, and told to get over it.  Then I was told to be sure to send presents.  The “send presents” edict continued for every single party thrown by and for my husband’s six aunt and uncles, their kids, and their kids.  When I told my mother-in-law that none of these people had ever once acknowledged my birthday with a card or a phone call, I got the “get over it” lecture again.


When my beloved aunt died of ovarian cancer, she left her body to medical science in the hope that researchers might use it to help others suffering with cancer.  For this generous act, my in-laws railed that my aunt was selfish beyond belief, to “have done that to her family.”  Oh, P.S.  My husband’s grandmother, who had been in pretty good health and was not all that old, died of unknown causes.  Fifteen years later, the family still wonders why, as they refused to sanction an autopsy that might have given them some insight and healing, and may possibly have prevented an untimely death in their own family. 


I could go on forever, but I promised you a survivor’s guide.   In actuality, I can only share my own survival tactics, of which, there are but three.  I pray you find them useful.


1.       I engage in meditation-like rituals prior to any family function, even a simple dinner at Ye Olde Homestead (my in-laws’).  I envision myself in a suit of armor, or in a pyramid made of tempered steel.  The insults and inanities thus bounce off of me, and right back on them.  Boing!   I grin in their faces like a mad fool, and they wonder if I’ve sipped a bit too much wine … which is not a bad survival tactic, either.


2.       I used to argue with them to enable them to see reason, but only a fool argues with the ignorant, the myopic, and quite possibly, the in-bred.  So I’ve pretty much stopped doing this.  Since adopting this tactic, my lung function has increased tremendously and I’ve saved quite a bit on over-the-counter headache meds.


3.       I plot their murders.  If you think I’m kidding, think again.  I love this one; it’s my very favorite.  I taint their food with rat poison, conk them over the heads with bricks, and trip them down long flights of stairs only in my mind.  I’d never do it anything like this in real life.  Is it because I’m virtuous and God-fearing?  Nah.  I’d get caught, you see, and my in-laws would have their final revenge upon me as I rot in jail.   But it’s fun to play “Let’s pretend!”


If you have further suggestions as to how to maintain your sanity in the face of the in-law onslaught, suggestions that do not involve actually tossing a live electrical appliance into their bathwater as opposed to fantasizing about it, let’s hear ’em! 

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