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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.

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I have homework, and I really don’t want to do it.  I think I’ll put it off as long as possible.  It’s a familiar story, but I’m not in school.  There’s no grade, no lab report, no phone call home for missing work.  I’m accountable only to myself and my therapist.

I have to confront my sister-in-law.  No, not Bianca, the one whose very pseudonym causes bits of bile to rise, as I confront the impending doom of her arrival on my block.  She’s closing later this month on a house we can see from our living room window.  Not Bianca, whose misadventures cause the whole family to jump into action to swoop in and rescue her from her from herself. 

No, this time it’s Julia, my oldest sister-in-law.  It’s not even personal.  It’s more an issue of a habit Mr. Apron’s family has, and a behavior that makes me nuts.  Whereas my family beats around the bush, and usually adopts a don’t ask, don’t tell policy of extreme secrecy, prudishness, and shame, Mr. Apron’s family discusses things openly, to a point.  While no topics are truly off limits in general, many of them are safely discussed behind the backs of others, using as many middlemen as possible.  An issue between two family members may involve everyone in the family, plus in-laws. 

When it was suggested (by a 3rd party), that Bianca and her husband ought to go to counseling, to maybe save their marriage, or to learn how to behave like adults who have a child, they sort of agreed.  Somehow, though, I became involved.  Somehow, Mr. Apron became involved.  Somehow, Julia and my parents-in-law became involved.  I imagine it went something like this:  well, they really ought to go to counseling, and we don’t have the name of a therapist.  But Mrs. Apron, she sees someone!  I know: we’ll get Mr. Apron to call her therapist to ask her to recommend the name of a counselor for Bianca and her husband.   She will in turn recommend a name.  Unless, of course, she doesn’t know what their insurance will cover.  She said to print out a list of providers (from their insurance website), and Mrs. Apron can bring that list into her therapist, who will circle names she recommends.  Oh, but because Bianca can’t/won’t do this herself, Julia is again called into action to be the internet gopher.  Because she can only do this with Bianca’s cooperation, the entire strategic operation has stalled.  In the end, only Bianca can help herself, and if she won’t, no one else can. 

Luckily, my current “issue” with Julia is minor by comparison. It’s so minor, I’d rather just let it go, sweep it under the rug, and move on with my life.  But I need to start with something small, a baby step, in hopes that it leads to bigger things.   What happened was this: I asked Julia along on my doctor’s appointment 2 weeks ago.  She provided distraction and emotional support at the infertility doctor, as Mr. Apron could not be there, and I was out of my mind with frantic anxiety.  She did her job well; I was eternally grateful she was there. 

Last weekend, she asked Mr. Apron to come with her on one of their usual de-stressing sessions.  During this session, it was revealed that Julia had overheard 3 different couples/women with various complaints about the doctor to whom I was at that moment unloading my 18-month long voyage of non-pregnancy.  One complaint was from someone who was bitching about schedule procedures.  Someone was down here from the Lehigh Valley, grumbling about not being seen promptly, and when she was finally seen, she felt that the doctor had been brusque, rushing her, not listening.  Yet another woman bemoaned the fact that her insurance had not paid for some procedures.  I could take apart these complaints, one by one, in order to relieve my cognitive dissonance.  In fact, I shall.  I had found the doctor to be understanding of not only my medical history, but also my state of mind in pursuing treatment.  I had had to wait, yes, but that’s part of the pitfall of healthcare in general.  I’d rather she give me, and the person who came before me, the time we each need, then rush us all to be on time.  As for insurance coverage, after speaking with his sister, Mr. Apron begged me to call my insurance company to make sure they covered my upcoming blood work and procedures, something we never have done before.  It’s routine blood work, it’s an ultra-sound.  I’ve been through brain surgery, for fuck’s sake, and always known that my HMO would cover medically necessary procedures as long as I had the all-important referral or pre-authorization.  We have no idea if this was the woman’s 5th failed IVF, when her insurance only covered 4.  That’s an entirely different matter than just blood work and tests.  It’s an awful lot of conjecture to sour someone on a doctor they’ve never met.

But I won’t be concerning myself with her worries.  I can make an informed decision about my own doctor.  I’ve disliked doctors before.  I’ve sought out 2nd opinions and changed doctors, and reacted when I was displeased with their professionalism or medical advice.  What is most upsetting to me is that she could not/did not tell me herself.  She says (though my husband-interpreter) that she didn’t want to dampen my mood that day.  I had appeared to like the doctor, and I was rushing off to another appointment, anyway.  So she decided to pass along her burdensome worries to her brother. 

When he came home, I could sense his sullen mood.  Sometimes, post-family session, he has just borne witness to an intensive venting session about Bianca, or is depressed about his parents’ aging, or his own sadness.  This time, it was that Julia had unloaded all her worries about telling me her own doubts about my doctor, onto my husband.  And he got to be the messenger.  Not fair to him, not fair to me, not fair of Julia.

My homework this week is to talk to Julia.  No, not a full-out confrontation as I indicated, but a conversation between two (assumed) adults who hold jobs, pay bills, and are united in joint agony over Bianca’s child-rearing techniques.  I don’t have to refute the women in the waiting room; I don’t have to defend my good vibes about the doctor.  All I have to do is thank her for her concerns, and ask that, next time, she come talk to me about it. 

My therapist planted a metaphor in my mind, a very apt description of my internal state.  I have lists, masses, multitudes of things I want to do, need to do, ought to do.  They are insignificant, they are vital, they are dreadful, they are fun.  I want to try knitting again, to take a class this time.  I want to invite the neighbors over so I can start building my social circle.  I want to socialize with some of my coworkers.  I want to try out different synagogues and find one that fits, so I can rejoin the Jewish community.  I want to make a decision about window treatments and ditch the broken blinds.  I want to travel, I want to maintain our home.  I want to try to cook new things.  I am separated from all of these “want”s by a glass wall.  I can see them, I can want for them. But I cannot reach them. 

The hope is that by talking to Julia, I can make a small crack in this glass wall, and begin to break down the barrier to the want tos, need tos, ought tos.  

Like real dreaded homework, I am procrastinating.  Two days gone by, and all I have to show is mounting dread and anxiety.  All I have are excuses why I have not called her up, or scheduled a meeting, or gone over to my in-laws’ to get it over with.  I can’t do it Thursday because I’m tutoring.  I can’t do it Sunday because she volunteers at the museum.  I can’t do it Saturday because she watches my nephew.  I can’t do it over the phone because using the phone is one of the activities I dread the most.  I envision the conversation, I script my lines, I rehearse the script.  I sense it will go something like this: 

Me: Juliacanwetalk?

J: Um.  Sure?

Me:  UmokayIreallyappreciatethatyouwenttothedoctorwithmeokay

J: <blank stare>

Me: andumandumI’mreallygratefulthatyouwereconcernedwhatothepeoplewereuhuhuh

J: yeah?

Me: yeahwhattheyweresayingaboutthetdoctorso,um,so,nexttime…

J: yeah?

Me: couldyoujustImean,ifyoucouldjust,like,tellmedirectly,I’dappreciateityeah

J:okay

Me: <running away crying>

Or worse:

Me: Juliacanwetalk?

J: Sure.  Nothing is wrong, is it?

Me: No,notreally,okay,Ireallyappreciatethatyouwenttothedoctorwithmeokay?

J: What is this really about?

Me: andumandumI’mreallygratefulthatyouwereconcernedwhatothepeoplewereuhuhuh

J: Go on. Is there a point here? 

Me: yeahwhattheyweresayingaboutthetdoctorso,um,so,nexttime

J: Who?  Oh, the women in the waiting room? Yeah, they really reamed her out.  You’re not going back there, are you?  I mean, you can’t seriously think she’s a good doctor, can you?

Me: No,Imean,yeah,Imean,IcandecideformyselfandIlikedheranduh

J: I can’t believe you’re telling me this! 

Me: Seeit’sjustthatuh couldyoujustImean,ifyoucouldjust,like,tellmedirectlynexttime,I’dappreciateityeah

J: I’m never speaking to you again!

I’d rather write a 20-page paper on the Marxist tendencies of 17th century Norwegian peasant farmers with MLA documentation.  But we don’t get to choose our homework, do we?