I spent a ton of time at my in-laws’ house over the holidays, and while sometimes this can be taxing, I do always love going there during time off from my own little family’s very busy schedule.
First off, I finally took my husband’s older brother’s advice to heart several years ago. He had told me, “You have to have really thick skin to hang out with our family. I remember this one girlfriend that I had who actually started crying and ran out of the house screaming, ‘You’re all so mean! I’m NEVER coming back here!’ We thought she was kidding until we heard her start up her car, and when we looked out the window, she was peeling out, kicking up dust behind her.” He chuckled a bit as he allowed himself a moment to relive the fond memory, then he shook his head, shrugged, and focused his eyes on me. “She just couldn’t hack it. Can you?”
I took it as a personal challenge, and I think we’ve all figured out by now that although I’m much more of a lover by nature, I can be as big of an asshole as I need to be in order to avoid being torn to shreds while hanging out with my husband's family. I actually have a pretty good time bantering with them, and if I ever do get sick of it, I just get in my car and leave because guess what? I’m an adult and I can.
I also enjoy going because my boys love it there (Kids are off-limits from the torment of the thick-skinned adults; in fact, you’ve hardly met a family of people who loves kids more) and are constantly entertained by their equally rambunctious cousins who live in an adjacent house on the farm. That leaves a ton of time for me to, after I help with whatever needs to be done around the house, enjoy a nice run on the gorgeous, flat land of the farm (another reason I like going) and then shower and sit back with a cup of coffee and a string of good books. I always pack extra, since we usually end up staying longer than we had originally planned.
The problem is, my in-laws think that things like reading and running—and generally anything that improves a person in some way, shape, or form—are a waste of time. And so I get sneered at when I indulge in these things on my leisurely visits there when I should be doing something more productive like smoking a cigarette and eating potato salad while watching a soap opera on TV.
I used to pack my laptop and little Harriet the Spy writing notebook so that I could crank out some short stories or put a little time in on one of my various novels when we visited, but that all stopped about 5 years ago when my husband walked in on me in the back bedroom. The lights were off and the entire room was dark except for the glow from the computer, reflected off of my face as I hunched over on the bed, feverishly pounding out words before I got caught.
When he walked in, I physically jumped.
“Holy shit,” he muttered. “What the hell are you doing, watching porn?”
“YES!” I said a little too quickly, trying to angle my computer screen away from him so that he couldn’t see that I was actually—GASP—writing in his parents’ house. “Some really dirty bestiality shit. Horses and pigs and turkeys and…oh, honey, I’m so ashamed.”
Somehow I managed to squeeze a couple of fake tears out of the corner of my eye, but my husband had already figured out that I was lying to him. Or maybe he was just curious about the bestiality, because he came over and peered at my computer screen.
“You are not looking at bestiality,” he laughed. “You’re just writing a story!”
My eyes got wide as I placed a trembling finger to my lips. “SHHHHHH! They’ll HEAR YOU!” I whisper-screamed.
After that incident (which we’ve since deemed Bestialitygate) my husband and I decided that it wasn’t healthy for me to bring the laptop along anymore since I was shit-my-pants scared that my ridiculous writing hobby would be found out.
I’m really not sure what will happen when I actually get a book published. I’ll probably be disowned.
“Tsk, tsk,” my mother-in-law will say to one of the other farmers’ wives. “You know she went and made her dreams come true by writing a book—“ here, a disgusted grimace as she spits sideways onto the gravel driveway—“that they said was actually good enough to publish.” She’ll shake her head sadly and look to the ground before raising her eyes to meet the other woman’s defiantly. “You know she’s only related by marriage, right?”
My husband fully supports my writing, but still, we decided that in order to avoid ridicule and conflict with his family when we visit, maybe I should stick to the lesser of the evils. So, running and reading it is.
Oh—and I do a lot of eating, too. Because damn, food’s really good there.
A couple of weeks ago, I was coming in from an awesome 6-miler in the brisk winter air. I walked past my sister-in-law, who was smoking a cigarette on the front porch. “Going kind of slow, weren’t you fatty?” she asked.
It looked like she was going to flick her ciggie right at me, so I involuntarily flinched, causing her to throw her head back and roar with laughter.
It was the first smile I’d seen grace her face all week.
I ignored her (I’ve found that sometimes it’s the best way) and pulled open the door to enter the house, where the next person I encountered was my mother-in-law. I’m pretty sure she’d been standing at the front door, all coiled up with pride at the dagger she was about to deliver, so she could catch me on my way in.
She looked at me through narrowed eyes. “Do you just run so that you can come back here and eat twice as much?” she asked. “I haven’t seen you take your face out of that pan of chicken for 2 days.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Well, make something different and maybe I’ll come up for air. In the meantime,” I said, dropping my sweatband and gloves onto the bench in the entryway and crossing the room to the fridge, “I’ll be facedown in said vat of fried chicken if you need me.”
Which is exactly where I was, until somebody made a huge pot of chicken and dumplings, which everybody knows are my absolute favorite.
See? They do love me.
Unless they just did it to shut me up, because if that was their strategy, it totally worked. I ran another 6 the next day and then spent the rest of the evening at the kitchen table snarfing dumplings straight out of the pot.
I did take a break from chewing once, when, in a moment of soft-hearted weakness, my mother-in-law pulled a bottle of wine from the fridge. “You want to have a glass with me, Shay?” she asked.
I eyed her suspiciously. Where the hell was all of this…this kindness coming from?
I didn’t have to wonder long. Because as she started to unscrew the cap (Corkscrew? Ha! Not necessary. We’re pretty fancy ‘round these parts, peeps. Our bottles of wine come from Aldi and normally cost around $1.97), I noticed that the bottle was half empty. And my mother-in-law isn’t much of a drinker, so half-empty bottles of wine aren’t just found around the house. (When I come over, I bring my own shit with me and I drink the whole bottle.)
“Wait,” I said, pausing with my arm frozen halfway to the cupboard where the wine glasses are kept. “Is that the bottle you bought, like, 3 years ago?”
I remembered the visit. My younger son had been a year old at the time, and my husband had been out of town for work for several weeks. My mother-in-law had felt like I needed a break (sometimes she can be simply awesome) and had invited me to stay for the weekend. She’d bought me wine, but I’d been too tired to drink more than a glass or two.
“Yeah,” she said, snapping me back to reality. “I’m sick of it taking up room in my fridge, so drink it or I’m throwing it away.”
I shrugged and retrieved a wine glass from the cupboard. “Okay,” I said, unsure. “But it’s so damned old and it’s been open for so long that I’m afraid…well, I might die if I drink it.”
“Then drink it quickly,” piped up my brother-in-law (the one who’s married to my husband’s younger sister) from the living room.
I felt my jaw drop into a wide grin of mad respect. That asshole mutters about ten words per year, and he’d just used four of them up on me.
I drank the wine. And I didn’t even die.
So they can all #suckit.
I’d say all in all, it was a pretty good visit.