It was Monday, Dec. 20, and we weren’t expecting my in-laws for another four days. But then the phone rang.
“We’re making really great time. The weather’s been terrific, and there’s hardly any traffic. We’re in a town called—” My father-in-law paused to double check. “Uh, Lakeside? Have you heard of it?”
“Lakeside?!?” I said to Sam, when he relayed the information. “But—they’re supposed to be in Santa Fe right now! What the hell?”
“They’ll be here by lunch time,” Sam said. I blinked at him in silence. I started to hyperventilate. “But I’ll tell them to come at dinner,” he said. I was getting dizzy, seeing spots and auras and tracers. I genuinely like my inlaws, but I was dreading this visit.
“What do you think? Is 4:30 OK?” I nodded, and sat down on the couch using a hand to steady myself. I asked Sam to bring me an ice pack for my head.
And so it was that my husband’s parents—along with my sister-in-law and one cute but yappy lap dog—left blizzards and black ice in their rear view mirror and began their first winter as snowbirds. It was now only the distance between East County and the College Area separating me from a two-and-a-half month visit.
No, that’s no typo; it’s my reality. A two-and-a-half-month visit! With my in-laws!
The cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Of all the peoples whom I have studied, from city dwellers to cliff dwellers, I always find that at least 50 percent would prefer to have at least one jungle between themselves and their mothers-in-law.”
Now, I don’t need a jungle between my in-laws and me. But one plane ticket is about right. I’m the Queen of the Short Visit, Master of the Three-Day Weekend. I can tolerate just about anything for 72 hours, but give me an entire season of my mother-in-law’s perfume and my furry father-in-law shirtlessly sunning himself in my back yard? Well, then. You can just consider me a wild card.
It’s worthy of mention that my husband and I haven’t lived within 1,500 miles of a parental unit for more than 20 years, a choice with which we are both very content. We visit with my mother twice a year, and she and I chat on the phone once every three or four weeks. It works for us.
My in-laws, on the other hand, would like to talk daily. And visit often. And hug and kiss and generally enjoy each other in person, all the time. This is uncomfortable territory for a girl who digs her obligation-free existence. Family dinners? What is that? It’s accurate to say I went into this whole we’re-coming-out-for-the-winter arrangement with a little bit of apprehension.
OK, so maybe that’s downplaying it. I’ve been a little bit more like a 4-year-old having a temper tantrum, complete with foot stomping and fist pounding. It’s not been graceful.
But back to their first night: Their arrival was as smooth as 17 clowns piling out of a Volkswagen Beetle right in the middle of a meditation retreat. The cosmos was disrupted with much exclaiming and fawning. There was tearful hugging. And kissing and touching and stroking of hair and multiple expressions of how exciting it was to have So! Much! Time! Together!
There was a dog-butt-sniffing frenzy and then a small territorial battle. There were the noise-making toys brought cross-country for Ruby and the excited screaming over a much-anticipated Barbie Bus.
There was the kitchen takeover and general overcrowding of our little home, already overstuffed with Christmas paraphernalia. It was pandemonium. It was sensory overload. It was everything I’d imagined it would be, and I knew I couldn’t deal for another two months. I poured myself a cocktail and stretched a thin smile across my face.
During the coming weeks, my in-laws settled into a little house they rented in South Park and Sam and I set a few boundaries—he, of course, being more tactful about it than I. When my mother-in-law happily chirped that they’d booked the house for next year, it was through clenched teeth that I said I wasn’t ready to talk about it just yet.
My mother-in-law ignored that and went about her business. She and my father-in-law began to get familiar with what they now call “our ’hood.” They introduced themselves to shop owners and neighbors; if you live or work in the area, I’ll bet money you already know Tommy and Marsha from Wisconsin.
My mother-in-law signed up for knitting workshops. My father-in-law walked the beaches. He’s pushed well beyond his fear of southern California freeway driving, and just the other day, I watched him top out at 70 mph—I didn’t know he could go over 50—while talking on his cell phone. I was so proud of him.
My sister-in-law does her thing, sometimes with us, sometimes without. But what matters is that they’re all making their own life here, and the presence of a routine has made together-time more wonderful than I’d expected.
And I’m not saying this because of their willingness to babysit, any time, for free! Dear Lord, Sweet Baby Jesus in the sky, the free babysitting is glorious! Just last Thursday, they picked Ruby up after school so I could go to the gym. When I got home, the dishes were done, the floors were swept, the laundry was folded and stacked and our windows were washed. I had to point out to my mother-in-law that she’d left a streak on one of the windows, to which she said, “Oh, fuck you!” Really, I am tremendously grateful.
My temper tantrum is over and this is my public apology for my private bad behavior. I have decided the good far outweighs the bad when it comes to living with only a 10-mile concrete jungle between my in-laws and me. I just can’t wait until they make it permanent.