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Sunday, November 03, 2002

Trip to the Inlaws

I realize it's an absolute stereotype to complain about your inlaws, but in my case, interacting with them is like being stuck in a very bad, very predictable sitcom.

I just wish everyone could act like polite, well-behaved adults and not fall into their roles.

Here are but a few highlights from yesterday:

My wife is convinced everyone in the family loves her brother more than her. He just graduated from medical school, which I guess gives him a higher "prestige factor."

My wife looks through a set of newly developed family snapshots and complains, "Why aren't there any pictures in here of meeeeeeee?!."

There are several pictures of her brother.

"You love him morrrrrrrrre!"

Her parents ensure her that they love her JUST AS MUCH, talking the way to talk to an upset 10-year-old.

My wife pouts. The actors have assumed their roles.

I let a few minutes pass until the topic of discussion moves on to something else. Then I pretend to look at the pictures and comment to my wife with exaggerated concern, "Hey, you're right. There aren't any pictures of you in here."

She wails again that her parents love her brother more.

Later in the evening, my wife asks her father if he knows when she was born. He says, "Let's see. Your brother was born in 1973, and you're three years older, so that would make you..."

My wife wails, "See!? You think of me in terms of my brother! And I'm the oldest child!!!"

My inlaws proceed to complain that they don't see their one grandchild (my wife's brother's daughter) enough. They're convinced its mother is engaged in some kind of selfish plot to deny them contact, although they seem to visit her every other weekend.

Probably what they'd really like is to have their granddaughter within walking distance, so they could make multiple unannounced visits each day.

Then they make thinly disguised attempts to make us feel bad about not having children yet.

"You know, those cats of yours can't make funeral arrangements for you if you die," my father-in-law says. I reply that since I'm dead, I probably won't care much about what becomes of my corpse. Maybe the cats could eat it.

Our half-hour drive to a restaurant consists of indepth sessions of minding other people's business. Discussing all the lives of the residents of their small town, including who's mentally ill, who's an alcoholic, whose kids are flunking out of school, who needs to gain or lose weight, and of course the real biggie: who doesn't show them enough gratitude for all they do.

My inlaws' families have been in the same small town for generations, so they know a lot of people an exercise some influence over local civic, arts and business affairs.

A few years ago a Hollywood director bought a farm in that town--a place where he could visit occasionally and play country gentleman with a sort of a horse farm.

My inlaws made sure to drop the director's name a lot. Do you know XYZ has a farm here? He has his actors over all the time. We saw ABC at the pizza place playing pool."

I heard the same story every time I visited.

This admiration went on for about a year, until the director's wife started getting involved in local civic, business and arts affairs--and spent more money on it than anyone locally could.

Then, my inlaws decided this Hollywood director wasn't so great after all. Who did he think he was, coming in out of nowhere, throwing his money around, not showing gratitude to the people who'd been there for generations?

I mentioned they used to be proud of their association with the director, so what happened?

"I never liked them!!!" my father-in-law said.

Then there was the usualy nonsense about blacks, Jews, Baptists, Catholics, Yankees, people who don't own their own businesses, Democrats, government taxation in any form, problems finding good labor, unbelief that skilled laborers should be paid more than minimum wage...

My inlaws don't like to visit us in Cincinnati. It's not their "turf," so they become regular civilians, like the rest of us in the world.

Feel free to share your inlaw (or own family) stories with me. Mine are scarier than some, but I'm sure they're not the worst.

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