Wednesday, April 11, 2007

How Was My Easter? IN-LAWS! ‘Nuff Said.

Well, probably not, or I wouldn’t be writing a blog entry about it! I should also, for flavor, introduce the cast of characters – my family was there, of course, which included hubs, Spawn, Bunny, Doodle, and me. Hubs has Issues with his siblings. His entire family has problems with clocks – one time they showed up 4 hours late for a housewarming. What makes that particularly relevant is that it was ours. Spawn had to go to work in the afternoon, so we all agreed that we would make sure to leave in time.

My mother-in-law, widowed last year, her husband of almost 60 years having died of CJD, was there, of course. I admire the way she is bouncing back, at 82 years of age, from such a tremendous loss. She’s involved with her remaining friends and has survived with aplomb (or perhaps senility) the passing of a dear friend in the interim. She stays active in her community and is working on learning to fend for herself. She has moved out of the family homestead – a 50 year old tract home in the south suburbs and into a small townhouse which was specifically designed for older people who may be having mobility issues – wheelchair wide doorways, grip bars in strategic locations, easy access all around. She and I had a difficult few years, but since her mild stroke at her 50th anniversary party, and my subsequent bulldozing of pretty much everyone to get her to the hospital, we’ve found a new appreciation and accord for and with one another. She’s pretty deaf and sometimes forgets her hearing aids, and she’s kind of a mumbler.

Then there was my brother-in-law, a confirmed bachelor, aged 50-ish, who is, in my opinion, so completely unable to comfortably relate to others on a one-to-one basis that he invites everyone to everything – every family gathering has to be a party, so that he can plan to be a perfect host rather than learning about other people and letting them learn about him. His late father also described him as being one of those people on a perpetual quest to jam 10 lbs of sand into a 5 lb bag on a regular basis because he plans to do way more than is ever actually possible or sensible. He’s also kind of manipulative, and I generally find him shallow and annoying. I am not alone in those feelings.

Also present were my sister-in-law and her new husband, who happens to be her third husband. I like the new husband – he’s in his early sixties, a medical professional, easy-going, mellow, interesting to talk to, and he has a wide-range of interests. He’s also very wealthy, which explains to a considerable extent why my sister-in-law married him. She’s a 55 year old drama queen, a diva, who has run her own life into the ditch so many times that none of her immediate family will discuss her past because it’s too embarrassing. She has one son, who was not there, who’s in his early thirties, and they have issues that would make Dr. Phil run for his Prozac stash in a big Texas hurry. Just picture growing up in the shadow of your single mother’s perpetual, self-absorbed emotion storm, and I’ll leave your imagination to fill in the blanks there. I try very hard to stay in the moment when I’m in her company. I am sometimes successful. Ahem.

And then there was the only other person my brother-in-law could rope into joining us at the last moment for Easter lunch, my ex-Aunt-in-law-sorta. She used to be married to a distant cousin of my mother-in-law, divorced him 20 years ago, and we haven’t stopped hearing about it since. She’s also a diva, although a more objective one than my sister-in-law, if that’s possible, and she gets notions. Being a stone-cold diva, her most significant notion is that we are all fascinated to pieces over whatever is going on with her. The good part of her diva-hood is that if we are not in favor with her (i.e. we haven’t been slobbering all over ourselves to pay her the attention she feels she deserves), she cold shoulders us and doesn’t waste much of our time blathering ceaselessly into our ears. I actually think she’s kind of funny, and sometimes she means to be. She can be very charming if you have something she wants. She was 45 minutes late, and her entry involved a lot of waving scarves and a deep-throated, “OH, don’t EVEN ASK! Oh!”

Anyway, we headed off to meet at an Olive Garden close to mother-in-law, hubs in an evil mood because he really wasn’t looking forward to being part of the audience for his brother’s party demeanor and the inevitable simultaneous two-diva emote-off. I was busy strategizing.

I realized that over the many years of our marriage, I’ve let his family drive events, partially out of respect for his parents, and partially from wanting to be a people-pleaser to some extent. With Spawn, my own offspring, needing to leave by a very specific time, I also realized I couldn’t allow that to happen this time. Since they are notorious dawdlers with no respect for other people’s time, I was going to have to trust my own generally reliable clock and just take charge of getting things moving along. The first order of business would be making sure we were seated and ordering right on time, regardless of whether the rest of them were there or not.

So, I did. I got us seated, and, wonder of wonders, the rest of them showed up within a few minutes (except for Auntie Diva), and I had already ordered a couple of hors d’oeuvres for the table. I made sure to tell my mother-in-law that we had to leave at a specific time, why we had to leave and to get her agreement that that was perfectly OK. Amazing how well that worked out in the end. When Auntie Diva didn’t show, didn’t answer her cell or home phones, my sister-in-law started her worry routine, and I put a big, deliberately obtuse foot on it to stamp it out and said, “She’s probably on her way, and it’s against the law to talk on a cell phone when you’re driving in this state. We need to order because we need to be gone by 3 o’clock, and I’m sure the staff will make certain to serve Auntie Diva promptly when she does arrive.” Sister-in-law began to pout until mother-in-law said, very pleasantly, “Of course, that makes perfect sense.” Victory!

And, in general, things went pretty swimmingly as long as I stayed on top of making things move right along time-wise. There were a few moments of excessive quirkiness, though. As the restaurant filled up, we had to yell louder and louder at my mother-in-law, and she got mumblier and mumblier. Eventually, this resulted in a lot of people with perfectly good hearing yelling, “WHAT?” at the deaf lady. It’s a good thing I enjoy irony.

Then there was the moment when my sister-in-law’s divahood overcame my pledge to be obliviously swell at all times. We’d been talking about Spawn’s tastefully masculine earrings and how that didn’t bother me, that I just tell the kids no facial piercings or tattoos while they’re living at home, and I’m not paying for any of that anyway. The sis-in-law decided to share one her Great Moments in Parenting with us. (Breathe deeply; you’ll be glad you did.) She regaled us with the time her grown son, who hasn’t lived with her since he was 15 years old, returned from serving in the military during the current war and came to visit her. He was wearing a tank top and had a tattoo of a yin-yang symbol on his upper arm, which caused her to, in her own words, “burst into tears. I was just weeping and weeping.”

My mouth hung open in shock, and I stupidly asked, ”Why?” She replied, “Because he’s my BABY!” That flipped all my social behavior meters into overload, they shorted out, and the next thing out of my mouth was, “Oh my God, it’s not like he’s Jewish and can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery now!” The look of utter and complete shock on HER face, that I would think she was making a mountain out of a molehill and that I was thinking about HIM rather than her emotions, was probably worth whatever price I’ll wind up having to pay. My mother-in-law chuckled at my wit, my husband snorted into his salad, and my daughter nearly choked on an olive.

My social behavior meters hadn’t charged back up yet, so I made it worse by blurting out, “I wouldn’t care about that, I’d just be glad to see him.” Heads bobbed in agreement, and then I finally realized what I was doing and rammed a truckload of lettuce into my own face to shut myself up. Fortunately, the conversation moved on to dentistry, and sis-in-law could take that opportunity to save up her flusterment at my hands until she gets the chance to trash talk me behind my back.

I’m about half embarrassed and half glad that I said it. She provides a lot of her interpretations of Great Moments in Parenting which make me want to either puke at her self-absorption or just leave the room before I puke, and that winds up with me venting later, which hubs doesn’t need either since he is usually there, too. At least this time, I haven’t needed to vent, having gotten it all out on the spot.

Aside from that, things were OK until it came time to pay the bill. The dithering began. “I want to pay at least part of it,” insisted my mother-in-law. “I think we should all pay for our own groups,” said my husband. My brother-in-law offered, “Why don’t I just see what each person’s...” before he was interrupted by Auntie Diva barking out, “What? Are we paying? I only got here a little while ago!” As they argued, I grabbed the bill folder, shoved my credit card into it, and returned it to the waitress, who scampered off to run it through the machine.

My husband looked at me with his eyebrows raised. “We can just let the others send us checks or whatever,” I said, “it’s 20 minutes before 3, which leaves us just enough time to pay, make a pit stop, and get back on the road.” He nodded and then proceeded to yell that explanation at his mother, who agreed and smiled at me. The rest of them were still dithering, except for my new brother-in-law, who, in a very gentlemanly fashion, quietly got some cash out of his wallet and on his way to the bathroom, slipped it to hubs. He was quite generous, and I think he was glad that for once someone else picked up the tab before his new wife could get theatrically extravagant with his money.

On the trip home, my husband was in a much better mood. He glanced over at me and whispered, “Jewish cemetery?” and grinned. If I could have slammed my head onto the dashboard, I would have. I just said, “Oops” and smiled back. He patted my hand and smiled some more.

So, I suppose all in all, it really worked out much better than our usual gatherings with his clan. They weren’t late and we weren’t either; dithering and dawdling was reduced to a minimum, my mother-in-law and I were in perfect amity about the need to keep on schedule and paying the bill sensibly and quickly, and, of all of them, she’s the only one I really give a hangnail about (except for my kids, and they were VERY happy about not being late and hanging around with loud family beyond their endurance level). It makes me think that maybe joining them for other gatherings might not be so bad from here on out, as long as I stand firm on our needs as a family unit. And I hope sis-in-law will keep her Great Moments in Parenting to herself from now on, too.

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