Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Swimming in Unfamiliar Waters
My wonderful husband and I have been married almost six years. The time has really flown, but I'm still no closer to fitting in or understanding my in-laws.

I've groused here before about the differences and miscommunications that have come up, most specifically between me and my mother-in-law, most recently about the Thanksgiving pie incident.

For the record, I've moved past the pie. No sense bleating on about it since we're another family holiday farther down the road and I have all new material for my complaints. Right? Here goes...

Why is it, please someone tell me, that we must all drive out to dinner in one vehicle? Here's the deal: we were all going out to supper to celebrate father-in-law's birthday. It was the big seven-oh. My mother-in-law insisted that all 8 of us could squeeze into her minivan. Now, I didn't see how, and offered to drive a second vehicle, but there was no way that was going to happen. Instead, we all had to quite literally squeeze into the minivan. Most of us were dressed up, but it mattered not. We had to take one vehicle. This meant that one unfortunate individual had to crouch on a cooler between the two seats in the middle of the cabin. Did I mention this is Wisconsin and we're all wearing bulky winter coats? So, we're crammed in there like sardines, one of us teetering precariously on a very hard seat, and we're all baking from all the body heat and from multiple layers of winter coats. It is unbearably hot and not fun.

Why couldn't we take two vehicles if multiple parties were willing to be a secondary designated driver, hmm? Surely this was not about saving the money on gas, because if that were the case we wouldn't have driven to this particular locale for the meal. No, I have a theory, but I'm going to hold back on that for now.

So, we arrive at the first stop, a bar, for pre-dinner drinks. I am not a big drinker, never really have been. It isn't that I have some moral issue with alcohol, I simply don't enjoy it much. The fun is short-lived and not worth the price you have to pay. More importantly, however, it cuts the evening very short. If I drink, it is like starting a clock counting down to my early nap. If I have a drink at 7 PM, I'll be asleep by 8:30, 9 PM at the latest. So, I usually don't drink much and it is fine because it means my husband always has a designated driver.

Anyway, at the bar, I am strongly urged by mother-in-law to have a drink. Weird, right? So, I tell my husband he can order me a drink and he makes a quiet comment to the waitress to make sure they aren't too free with the liquor in my glass. After our drink, we all go to the next stop for supper. We again all sit down and once again, I am urged by mother-in-law to have a drink. This time, however, I refuse. I've already had one, and I know my limits. She is not pleased. We have our meal and although others are ordering additional drinks, I do not. I know it doesn't please her, but I refuse.

Prior to this, just as we were arriving at the restaurant, the waitress showed us to our table. I claimed a seat, leaving room for my husband to sit next to me. I have my coat off and my butt planted in my seat. My husband is preparing to sit next to me. I have left room for the guest of honor to sit in the middle of the table, next to his wife, all of this on purpose.

Huge hue and cry! My god, you would have thought I'd tried to perform a circumcision right there in the salad bowl! My mother-in-law protests vehemently and demands, DEMANDS!, that I come down to the other end of the table and sit with the women. Like it's the sixth grade, with boys on one side of the gym and girls on the other. I am mortified! Here I am a 35-year-old woman and she is shouting at me in a relatively nice upscale restaurant as though I'm an errant 3-year-old playing with the condiments!

Sometimes I can't control my tongue, I admit it. This was one of those times. "What, I'm not allowed to sit next to my husband? What the hell?!?" I said. "Am I not in possession of the necessary equipment to sit on this end of the table?!? What?" My protests fall on deaf ears to all but my husband. I am required to change my seat and move into the seat now vacated by my father-in-law, next to my mother-in-law. My husband, because he loves me, maneuvers himself into the seat I was previously occupying, so now father-in-law is at one end of the table and no longer the center of attention. I'm kind of peeved about the whole thing, so when mother-in-law asks why I wanted to sit down there, I simply tell her "I'm used to a more balanced table, you know, boy-girl-boy-girl, with the guest of honor accessible to all guests."

"Who sits like THAT?" She asks...

And, there you go. That right there is it in a nutshell. The problem I have adapting to the culture.

Ah, but you know that isn't where the story ends.

We needs must, of course, have the after-dinner drinks.

At this point, I now NEED a drink. And, even though it is going to put me to sleep, I order one. I slurp it down fast, hoping to put the evening to bed, so to speak.

We all get back home after once again riding crammed in the minivan and it is time for more drinks. Again, to disapproval from the mother-in-law, I refuse. I was falling asleep on the ride back, so I don't need anymore alcohol. Furthermore, somebody needs to be sober, just in case, you know? Might as well be me.

The next morning, we go over to mother-in-law's house for Christmas. It is 9 am and once again, I find myself refusing a drink. "How about a Bloody Mary? Or, I can make a mimosa. It is just orange juice and champagne..." she assures me. I refuse. I know, that if I start drinking at 9 am, I won't be awake when it is time to open gifts. Furthermore, I skipped breakfast, so I'd be doing champagne on an empty stomach, a sure way to guarantee intestinal distress. You would have thought I'd pissed in her cheerios. It doesn't please her when I don't drink. I don't get it! Why do I have to drink to give her a good time?

So, a little while later, after we've opened gifts, I am entertaining my somewhat unhappy child. She wants a nap and to go home. She's not pleased with the need to delay our departure and I'm trying to keep emotions on an even keel. Mother-in-law sees me in the living room and insists that I join the party in the kitchen. Frankly, I'm not sure why. They are playing some gambling game and drinking.

You now know how little I drink, let me assure you, I gamble even less.

I don't have a problem with it, I just don't enjoy it. I enjoy getting something for my money, it is as simple as that. I don't enjoy any part of gambling, and that's that. Combining the alcohol with a game of chance does not sweeten the pot for me, it makes me certain that I don't want to be there.

By the end of the visit, I was really frustrated. Mother-in-law tells me what to drink, where to sit, what to do...just when did I become her Polly Pocket? Did I check my free will when we entered the county? What's up with this? Why does she get all weird about my not wanting a drink? What's the deal with the need for me to not be in conversation with a man? Is she secretly Amish? I don't get it.

But, everytime we visit, this is what happens. It is almost as if I'm not supposed to have a brain, or if I do, a chemical depressant is required to put me in my place. Am I not supposed to have opinions about "men's stuff?"

Am I crazy, or is she just nutty?


My theory is that she's a control freak. She wants to control how people get to a destination, where they sit, what they drink, when they pee, etc. It is the only thing I can come up with that explains this stuff. It is the only common element that I can find in our little run-ins: everything is up to her. The rest of us are merely here to do her bidding. Now, that might go down easier if you've lived with it all your life, but I'm new to this medicine. I don't like it, it's bitter and very hard to swallow.

What do you think?
posted by Phoenix | 11:26 AM


At 7:27 AM, Anonymous Christina said...

It sounds like she is intimidated by you and the only way she can assert herself is when she knows you won't make a scene during a big family event where everyone is looking. She is using your own sense of propriety against you to get you to bend to her will.

Been there.

At some point, I just quit playing the game entirely. I sent the husband with or without the grandchild/grandchildren. If they wanted a big family event, they had to come to my house and do it on my terms.

Now, after twenty years, I simply no longer care. I have paid my dues and prefer not to have them around at all.

I am ecstatic!

The next best thing to marrying an orphan...

; )

Hugs to you, dearie.

At 10:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Christina has it right when she writes "I just quit playing the game entirely." Yep, thats what I did. We spend Christmas Eve and Day with my in-laws and entire family. Wow! All I can say is I welcome the drinks on that holiday! Enjoy your life & don't sweat your outlaws. In the long run it won't make a difference. Put up a little fuss once in a while and just watch your outlaws from a prespective of movie watching. Sometimes comedy is the best. A little Woody Allen perhaps?


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