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When they sat on a clean baby blanket, covering the couch, my therapist told me one day I’d be putting out the blanket for them.  When we came home one night to find our babysitters  sitting on their book jackets and tote bags pressed flat, I rolled my eyes, and Mr. Apron confronted the absurdity of it all.  We’d replaced the cushion covers, and no dog had ever sat on that surface.

So knock it off, he told his parents.

Later, we’d return to my father-in-law sitting on a dining room chair pulled a few feet from the television, using the kids’ Fisher Price activity station as a coffee table.  That I could excuse, as we have a tiny TV, he wanted the sound low so as not to wake the babies, and he needed to see the action of The Game.

But the night we came home to find both of my in laws seated in plastic patio chairs in the middle of our living room was the epitome of the lengths to which my in laws have gone to avoid any “contamination” of dog-related materials on their person or their home.

“We have bad backs,” they said. But then followed up with, “We waited until you’d left to take the chairs out of the trunk, because we knew you’d get mad.”

Mad about their “bad backs”?  Hardly.

Mad that they treat our home, our clothing, our very children like infectious waste?  That’s more our speed.

At their home, our coats must be laid across a wrought iron banister, not placed in the coat closet.

After they leave our house, they go home and shower and change.

They refused to let us wash clothing at their house when our laundry room blew a fuse.  Not clothing – cloth diapers.  White pieces of microfiber and PUL that touch our babies’ bottoms.  The dog doesn’t wear diapers. And washing machines are for cleaning things.

I could understand that the vacuum my mother-in-law used to clean out my husband’s first apartment couldn’t be taken back to her home.  We got a free vacuum cleaner out of the deal.  But this?  Ridiculous.  Especially considering that, a few months earlier, my father-in-law had washed a load of our baby laundry in his home for us when our old washer died.  Back before he considered all the contaminants that might have been clinging to my daughter’s dresses and my son’s polo shirts.  Never mind the baby socks!

I had to go to a neighbor’s house and ask to use her machine so my children could have clean diapers for another few days.   Thankfully no one in her house is allergic to dogs, peanuts, or logic.

Now I realize none of it is based in reason, but my in-laws are guided by intense anxiety.  My sister-in-law, a 45-year-old woman with no real severe health issues, lives at home with her parents.  Yes, she has a condo of her own, but a snowstorm 3 years ago plus a mouse problem sent her packing, and she has once again moved into her childhood home.  Where her alleged allergies dictate everything that comes into the home.  While in the beginning of my relationship with my future husband, I took her at her word that she was actually allergic to dogs, I now doubt the intensity as well as the veracity of her allergy.  My own husband had allergy tests recently that revealed that he, too, is allergic to dogs.  And he takes a small pill every morning to combat the fact that he’s allergic to most things that grow outdoors, and we have a dog.

We were dog-free for a number of months, after our previous mutt passed away, and toyed briefly with the idea of staying dog-free. Maybe she’d come in our home.   Maybe she’d interact more with (e.g., hold) our children.  We hosted the kids’ first birthday party in our home (as opposed to a dog-free “neutral zone”) as a way to call her bluff.  And she came.  Then, a few months later, we adopted a basset hound, a “low-shed”, short-hair dog who is an absolute delight, and the perfect hound for our family.

“Why didn’t you get a dog that doesn’t shed this time?” my sister-in-law asked.

“This breed didn’t come in that style,” I answered.

Later, we realized the ego-centrism of her question, and my husband revised our collective response.

“Because it wasn’t for you.”

Between the laundry, the couch cushions, the fact that our kids don’t know her when they look at photographs, as well as her myriad other health “issues”, it’s clear to me that she’s literally chosen her veil of sickness/allergy over her relationship with my children.

Initially, my therapist said that it wasn’t personal, that there was no commentary on my housekeeping skills woven into the fibers of the couch cover.

I’m torn, of course, because it is personal.  It’s a reflection of their disdain for our chosen animal companion, their choice to subscribe to the lifestyle of Extreme Allergic Reaction, and their preference for anxiety over family.  I don’t want to lose our local, free babysitting services, along with the family connections.  I don’t want my children to know the fuming rage I have towards those patio chairs and what they represent.

But I can’t make them feel comfortable in our home, can’t make them understand the lunacy of their proceedings, can’t make them realize it’s all manufactured bullshit.

So we accept their limitations, we accept them into our home, and help them unload their fucking patio chairs.  We roll out the allergy red carpet.  Am I putting a blanket on the couch for them, as my therapist predicted?

Not yet, but I’m this close to putting a “decontamination in progress” sign on the front door and supplying them with hazmat suits as a gesture of my good will and understanding.

Either that, or lighting a bag of dog hair on fire on their front step.

When it comes down to the reality, it’s not just my sister-in-law who’s sick.  They’re all feeding into the illness.  Before I asked my neighbor if I could wash our laundry at her house, my husband approached his other sister, one who lives less than 50 yds away, to see if she could help us out. Mr. Apron made the mistake of explaining why his parents had refused our request.

She, too, refused, siding with my parents-in-law, citing the obvious about her sister, “She’s sick.”

Yes, she is, we agreed, but not in the way you think.