I grew up watching a variety of Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny, Merry Melody, and Micky Mouse cartoons and, invariably, the in-laws would be brought up. Especially in shows like The Flintstones or The Jetsons, in-laws, specifically the dreaded mother-in-law, were a maelstrom of misery, intolerance, barely disguised disdain, and overall hatred. I was fortunate that I never absorbed the television-fact that in-laws were to be held at arm’s length (especially arms that have extensions as my two and a half foot length arms will hold nothing at bay as they are rather short and very weak) and “loved from a distance,” preferably a very long distance.
My in-laws are completely the opposite in terms of the television-fact-definition. And I don’t just mean my mother-in-law/father-in-law combination. I don’t even include only the brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law. No, I mean the whole kit and caboodle…whatever that means. What is a caboodle? Time to research….
In-laws…must write about in-laws.
Because I haven’t written that much about my in-laws, just little excerpts and blurbs here and there. Now, at this moment, I am writing exclusively about my husband’s family not because I don’t love my brother’s wife (she is amazing, by the way), but because when I was brainstorming for ideas about today’s blog, I kept on thinking about my in-laws.
I am an Army brat and grew up in the USA and in Germany. I was born in England, although I have no real memories of the little town in Yorkshire where I was born as we moved six weeks after I was born. My parents’ families loved us, but finances were not enough to afford everyone to come to Germany to visit my family where we lived in a four bedroom apartment on an army base. Note, the bedrooms were not that huge.
So I didn’t grow up knowing or being close to my extended family. Am I unhappy? No. Am I crying victim? Puhleeze. I don’t have time for that nonsense. This is me relating facts without emotion, tone, voice, or mood (Geez…now I really sound like an English teacher here). This was life. We didn’t live in the same cities or even the same countries so extended family members were generally people who lived in brief references in letters that never really read because I was a kid and roller skating was much more interesting than reading long letters about family members with whom I had a distant relationship.
And then I met Pat and when we didn’t break up after a couple of weeks but made it past four months we actually went to visit one of his brothers. Pat is one of five children and the oldest of four brothers. He is also the second in the row with an older sister whom I believe I had met before I started meeting the brothers. I can’t remember. That was twenty years ago and I’m lucky to remember twenty seconds ago.
Anyhow, it’s January and Pat and I are in a dorm room visiting his next brother down and the phone rings or someone makes a phone call and, suddenly, the phone is passed to me and, lo and behold, it’s the mom. Pat’s mom. A person I have never met and heard very little about. This is the first boyfriend-mom I have ever met and I’ve only just met the next brother down and I’m shy and introverted and there are a lot of people in this room and everything’s loud and…
Crap…the phone was handed to me. Yeah, I shifted verb tenses, deal with it.
“Hello?” I politely attempt to say into the phone, convinced that my heart was about to explode through my chest much like Sigourney Weaver’s aliens.
“What’s wrong with you?”
Now, in mom-in-law’s defense, she most likely started off with some other pleasantry. However, that’s what I remember.
“What’s wrong with you?”
No, she was not being evil or malicious or caustic or horrible. She was actually being funny and warm and inviting because no one else had really been able to handle Pat and all of his glorious grumpiness (trust me, this is not an exaggeration. Pat is a huge grump. But he’s my huge grump and I love him even when he is a grump).
I really can’t remember my response. I guess that after twenty years it just doesn’t matter. Because a couple months later, I made the long trek to Pat’s parents’ house and finally met the rest of the family.
I don’t remember much of anything. I remember Pat’s father taking me on a tour of the city and every time I touched the car I was shocked because it was spring and God decided that that day was the perfect day for huge amounts of static electricity so after being shocked every time I opened the door and every time I closed the door, I developed a Pavlovian fear of the car and a loathing for the city which I’m only now getting over after having lived here for nearly seventeen years.
Regardless of weird first phone calls and torturous car doors, what I eventually was given was a family who was warm and loving and kind and compassionate. I know this sounds all sweet and sugary and you’re probably gagging by now. But, you have to understand, the only other people I was close to were my parents (who were living in Germany), my brother and his family (who were living in a totally different city) and Lori who was several hours away from me. And when Pat and I moved to his home city, I was even more isolated from Lori and my brother which made me feel even more horribly lonely.
The first couple of months of living in the Pat-city was horrible. I cried constantly for my brother and his family. They were the closest thing I had to what I knew and they were at least three hours away and phone calls weren’t free like they are now. Pat and I were actually living in his parents’ house which was fine. His family was lovely. But they weren’t my family.
Eventually, though, I shed my stupidity and grew out of my loneliness and opened up to his family. And some of my rougher edges started relaxing and losing their splinters and thorns and I saw that family is more than just name and DNA.
Family is family.
Because I wasn’t blood and I had none of their shared memories but I was still a part of them as opposed to apart from them. And when Pat’s older sister (the oldest child in the group) got married, everyone treated me not like a stranger or a wacky idiot for being in love with a legendary grump.
They treated me like family.
Now, after sixteen years of marriage, I am still very much in love with my husband….and with our family. I still don’t have the same genes or proteins strung up in the same pattern as them. But I have become a part of them so much so that Pat’s mom is my mom and I love her like I love my mom.
I’m still a bit shy when we visit with the entire Pat-family-clan. I still mess up names and don’t keep up with all the family histories and stories that are written on a daily basis. I try. I really do. But, remember, my short term memory has a statute of limitations of…how many seconds?
Doesn’t matter. Love doesn’t have a statute of limitations.