Monday, January 5, 2009

Country Roads, Take Me Home

Sorry for the blog silence. I’ve been holed up in a house w/ 7 kids, 6 adults, one dog and a hermit crab for the past 6 days. I’m kind of glad I couldn’t blog at my in-laws, because I would have come off as a raving lunatic, or at least more of one than usual. I needed to get back home and get a little perspective before filling you in on my week. See how happy I look in my own kitchen?

Trips to the in-laws always seem to go like this: I work myself into a lather packing for the household. Laundry, pack, schlep, laundry, pack, schlep. When we get there, my first strategy is to hide out in a back bedroom reading books 24-7. This is not to protect myself from them, but to protect them from the raging b-rat I become every time I’m there.

I find myself cringing at everything anyone does. I play a little game in my head called “That’s where Tom got that annoying habit.” I feel rebellious. If they are talking politics, I feel like yelling, “I voted for Obama!” If they extol the virtues of health food, I rip open a bag of chocolate and strap on my feed bag.

Underneath my rolling eyes, moaning and groaning, I think what I’m doing is trying to punish them for not being my family of origin. As if to embrace them fully and their way of doing things will somehow negate my experience of “family.”

The thing is, ever since my mom died, twenty years ago, my family hasn’t exactly been all sunshine and roses, so why am I comparing, and judging, and punishing these kind, lovely people who have never been anything but good to me? But still.

By day 2, I feel the need to flee. Unfortunately, I’m 7 hours from home and have never bothered to plot an escape route. The idyllic country setting begins to feel more like a curse than a blessing. I have no idea how to get to a main road. Perhaps if there were a Target nearby, I could indulge in a little retail therapy to make it through. No dice. Snowfall doesn’t help either. Low thermostat? Annoying. Boring local newspaper? Ugh. Tennis magazines? No thanks.

By day 3, I’m lethargic, as if overtaken by carbon monoxide. Everything is in slow mo. I sleep as late as possible, ignoring the chipper “Well, look who is up!” by other members of the household. I keep my Christmas pj’s on as much as possible. The kids are having a blast with their cousins, and Tom is loving catching up with his parents and siblings.

By day 4 Tom is offering me a one-way plane ticket home and out of his hair. The nerve. I rally. Our anniversary is pretty good. We go to a nice dinner and a movie. That night, I roll over in my twin bed uttering a “Night Ricky,” to his “Night Lucy.” Romantic in an old fashioned kind of way.

Day 5 really picks up. I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I start to socialize. I drink wine. I’m not sure why I didn’t think of this earlier. I ring in the New Year with a smile on my face, even though my night is spent in yet a different house with 10 kids, 6 adults, and I’m on an air mattress mere inches away from a cage containing a dead guinea pig. The people we stayed with were pet sitting for the holidays. Someone had a much worse vacation than I did.

On Day 6 I start to think about whom Jake will marry. Will he bring home a girl so witchy and judgmental that I’ll have to walk on eggshells around her? Will I have to apologize for my mere existence? Will the way I breathe bother her? Will she play the “A-ha!” game inside her head? Will she fail to recognize what a fabulous person I am?

Chastened, I spend my last few hours there being the daughter-in-law I should have been since the beginning. To my in-laws—I’m sorry for what I’ve put you through for the last decade and a half, even though most of it just played out in my mind.

To Tom, I’m glad you come from such a dear family, with kind parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews. I know I’ve said this to many guys in the past, but I think this is the first time I’ve said it to you. And I mean 96% of it: “I’m sorry. It’s not you, it’s me.”


Kate Coveny Hood said...

Anna - I love you. You never cease to amaze me with your ability to mix hilarity with poignancy.

Shana said...

I had a very similar reaction to my precious and lovely mother-in-law, who is gone now, when my own mother died. I REFUSED to accept anything in the way of motherly affection from her as she tried to help me deal with my grief. I was in my early thirties, nine months pregnant, and basically stomping my foot and screaming YOU'RE NOT MY REAL MOM like the 9-year-old child in some Julia Roberts blended family movie.

I got over it. But jeez.

Gretchen said...

OMG is it okay that I'm totally laughing? NOt at you, but the guinea pig really got me. This whole trip sounds like a cross between Bridget Jones' Diary and Christmas Vacation. Glad to hear you're back and back into the swing of things.

Mags said...

I act the same way when I'm at my in-laws. My inlaws aren't nice, though.

Fantastic Forrest said...

I see you're a fellow Shana/Zen-follower! So I figured you must be cool. I was right. Great piece. What I really want to know is where did you and your daughter get those great shirts? I heart snow days too! And it goes without saying my kids do....

Unknown said...

Too funny....I love my in-laws. In the beginning I kept waiting for the honeymoon period of love and patience and gifts and sweetness to wear off and the "real" family to show up (like mine) but 10 years later they are still awesome and I LOVE them and wonder how I got so lucky. Maybe because I had such a shitty family life growing up? It took me a while to fully embrace them, and realize that families that are nice and loving do exist and aren't just pretending. Once I did that, I really was able to become part of the family. :)

Anna Whiston-Donaldson said...

The T-shirts are Old Navy. I shrunk mine over the holidays, so you may be seeing it for the one and only time. :(

Ryan Ashley Scott said...

Glad to know there are people out there who have in-laws that can be tolerable at times. Or maybe you all are just nicer than me? Funny, funny post.