All things considered, I’ve pretty much lucked out when it comes to parents-in-law. I’ve survived two sets of them and I’m still somewhat coherent. And I haven’t caused either set to keel over and beg to be euthanized. Yet. So, it’s all good.
I’m not in the habit of collecting parents-in-law on a routine basis. Actually, I don’t collect anything on a routine basis except my own pee specimens when I have a bladder infection. At one point in my life I did collect Mary Moo Moos but I think that was during the phase when I wore my pants rolled up with combat boots so I can’t be held accountable for my actions while under the influence of bad fashion.
I don’t amass in-laws willy nilly. In fact, I never intended to score a second set and provide my kids with extra grandparents and more birthday presents but as luck would have it, my first husband had a mid-life crisis in his twenties and wound up with a motorcycle and I wound up with a brand new husband and a totally different place to go on Thanksgiving.
I simply adore my former parents-in-law. I wish I had a recent photo to share with you but whenever I see them, which isn’t often enough, I never have my camera with me. I’d show you an older photo but all my photos from that time in my life have been cropped into diamonds and hearts and circles and glued into scrapbooks and had stickers sneezed all over them. I refer to that period as WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING AND WHY DIDN’T ANYONE STOP ME?
Mike and Rocky have always been very laid back, easy going people. How they ever put up with the likes of my own anal-retentive, obsessive-compulsive, anxiety-ridden, stressed-out self is beyond me, but they did. Although to be fair, I wasn’t as bad then as I am now. I think motherhood and stretch marks and Nate’s snoring and 4,784 bladder infections and the likes of Bernice and her kin drove me to my present state, which is two miles east of the commonwealth of Nervous Breakdown.
Mike is a quiet, teddy bear of a man who happens to be a Ford connoisseur and who lives in their garage, a building which, over the years, has morphed from a traditional two bay garage to a decidedly non-traditional, two story behemoth with more bays than there are cars in the world. There, he spends 28 hours a day restoring anything that is old and decrepit. My bladder and I are due for an appointment next month. I just hope I fit on the lift.
During the six years I was married to Dave, I spoke to his mom, Rocky, almost every single day. She was one of my best friends and we’d hang out together and eat Twinkies. We could talk about anything, from who was sleeping with whom to do my thighs look fat in these shoes to calling her up the second I lost my mucus plug and screaming WHAT IN HOLY HELL JUST DROPPED OUT OF ME? Rocky, a mother of boys, was overjoyed to have someone with whom to do girly things that didn’t involve grease, grime or power tools. And I was overjoyed to be treated like a daughter without the requisite Why haven’t you called me and for Christ’s sake, what the hell did you do to your hair? And when I’d have a fight with my mother, I’d call Rocky and she’d talk me off the ledge and out of giving myself up for adoption. And she was the first one I called the night Dave declared that he’d rather ride motorcycles than me. Part of the reason why my divorce was so utterly devastating was its collateral damage. Things were going to change and I had a pathological aversion to change. I was going to lose people, as in plural, as in family … something as vital to my life as the air I breathed. I felt that loss as sharply as if someone had taken a razor to my body and carved out my lungs.
After watching me slowly and methodically dig myself into a pit of despair and almost bury myself alive, Rocky dragged me out kicking and screaming and encouraged me to move on with my life, or at least take a shower and change my clothes. I knew she was holding out for a reconciliation with Dave but she cared enough about me to reassure me, with total sincerity, that wherever it led, my life was worth living and they’d love me no matter where I wound up or with whom, even if he drove a Toyota. You just don’t find that kind of emotional support and unconditional love every day.
My new life led me to a certain volleyball game and thereafter an email from a tall, dark, handsome IT guy named Nate who did not drive a Toyota. When I mentioned this development to Rocky, I think she instinctively knew before I did that my life was once again going to undergo a profound change. And even though she knew it meant letting go of any hope for a reconciliation with Dave, I believe she was genuinely happy for me.
And years later, when I had Helena, she was thrilled. To this day, as far as Mike and Rocky are concerned, Helena is just as much their grandchild as Zoe. This gives me the warm fuzzies, just like homemade macaroni and cheese.
When I married Nate, I acquired my second set of in-laws, known as Sue and Bill. Sue’s on the left, just to clarify. They’ve been married over forty years and are starting to resemble each other, don’t you think? I can’t wait for this to happen with Nate and me. I might wind up tall! With no hips! Or Nate might end up a bloated astigmatic. Who really knows?
I think Bill and Sue were a little worried about their recently divorced son marrying a divorcée with a child, but to their credit, they did not try to dissuade him by having him kidnapped and brainwashed into thinking I was bacteria. At least, I don’t think they did. I can’t vouch for his sisters though.
Just kidding! I hope.
I could not have asked for a nicer set of grandparents for my kids. From day one, they showed Zoe love and affection and the wonder than is oobleck, a strange concoction of cornstarch and water that is a liquid solid.
I know. I don’t get it either. Regardless, Sue had been a director of a preschool for years and knew that oobleck the way to the heart of any curious, five year old girl, especially one whose mother had no idea what to do with cornstarch except to keep it buried in the pantry next to the baking soda, another enigma of sorts.
Bill and Sue treated Zoe as if she had sprung from Nate’s loins for which I have always been grateful. And when Nate’s loins did spring a leak and Helena appeared on the scene, they were overjoyed that their son had given them two granddaughters, albeit by entirely different means.
Much like my former in-laws, my current in-laws are laid back and easy going. And just like with Mike and Rocky, I have never heard Bill or Sue raise their voices in anger, to each other or anyone else. Nate tells me they yelled a lot when he and his sisters were kids but I’m not buying it. And even so, you need only to experience a group of Chamberlains play Catch Phrase or Apples to Apples or anything just once to realize that any yelling back then was probably deserved and necessary for sanity. And sometimes, it still is.
Bill didn’t even snap at me when I spent an afternoon with him after his bypass surgery and made him walk around the house three times, per doctor’s orders. He probably wanted to throw something at me but luckily the massive incision in his chest wall prevented him from extending his arms.
Bill and Sue simply and quietly enjoy life. Time is always measured in “ishes” and where you gather is never as important as how often you gather and any occasion, be it a birthday, Arbor Day or passing your eye exam at the DMV, is worthy of a gathering. And most importantly, they are of the belief that if God had meant for houses to be clean and orderly, He wouldn’t have invented grandchildren.
How such calm, flexible people managed to raise someone who is, in essence, the male equivalent of me but with an aptitude for snoring and power tools is a mystery to us all and when Bill sees Nate’s handiwork in a renovated basement or monster deck or a remodeled master bath, I think he’s hard pressed not to tackle him and swab his mouth for a DNA sample. And when Sue searched high and low for Helena’s messy, chocolate-smeared face in the middle of her first birthday party, only to find it in the bathtub, contorted with rage and being scrubbed clean by a soaking wet Nate, I bet it caused her pause. As did the time she caught Nate giving Helena a sermon about the virtues of walking upstairs to put away one toy before grabbing a second one out of the toy box. She was two. Helena, not Sue. I have no idea how old Sue was at the time but it was nowhere near two.
Even now, when Sue watches Nate grab every scrap of wrapping paper before it falls to the ground or catches him scooping up non-existence crumbs off the counter, I bet she wonders if there was a mix-up at the hospital.
Sue has two daughters of her own and the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law dynamic is different this time around but I enjoy her company and know if I needed her, she’d be there. And I’d like to think that she thinks the same of me.
Divorce sucks, there’s no question about it.
But I’ve been lucky.
And more importantly, so have my kids.