IN-LAWS: relatives by marriage

I love to tell crazy family stories.  I get a kick out of the dysfunction that is present in all families.  My family received a larger dose of dysfunction than most so I like to think I have a slight edge on amusing story material –

Like the time I went on a 21-run to the liquor store and the lady behind the counter recognized the last name on my driver’s license.  She asked if I knew JM.  Yes, I do.  He’s my father.  “Oh, my goodness!  You’re K!  Your dad and I dated years ago.  I remember seeing pictures of you as a baby!  So nice to meet you!  Hey, could I have your dad’s number?  I still have your grandfather’s gun and would like to return it to him.”  Now, running into one of dad’s old flames working in a liquor store and facilitating a weapon exchange would have been weird under any circumstance, but the fact that she was dating my dad when I was still a baby made the whole exchange extra awkward.  My parents were married until I was in elementary school.

Now, some people don’t know what real dysfunction is until they marry and are exposed to their spouse’s family.  For me, it would be more accurate to say that I didn’t know what “normal” looked like until marriage.  My in-laws provide very little material for amusing stories.  Sure, they have quirks, but even in their quirky moments they cannot hold a candle to the insane in-law stories I’ve heard from friends and family.  I won the in-law lottery.  The chances are slim, but the rewards are great.

The neighbor a few doors up harasses us for never mowing our own lawn.  It’s true.  In addition to providing top-notch child care for Son and Daughter two days a week, my Father-in-Law manages to keep our lawn mowed and trimmed and frequently does “honey-do” items on Husband’s behalf.  He built my chicken coop.  He sketched our new fence with the precision only a former-engineer could manage and then helped to shop for and construct the project.  He changes light bulbs without being asked and tamps down the endless supply of rogue nails that stick up from our wood floor.  He even does research projects on request – When can we switch Daughter to a booster seat?  What is the best college fund?  Is there a lower fee retirement account we should be using?

Right now, we have a blueberry pie in our freezer that my mother-in-law made for us.  There is delicious organic produce on our counter than she brought up this morning from her CSA farm box.  She sometimes calls the night before visiting and asks, “Would it be okay if I brought up a dinner for tomorrow?”  If she sees something she thinks we would enjoy, she buys it and doesn’t wait for a special occasion to deliver it.  My stove top is never cleaner than after she visits.

All these things alone would be a pretty good case for “In-laws of the Year” but the practical kindnesses don’t capture the greatest blessings they provide.  They seem to navigate the perfect balance between support and respect.  We know we can approach them with questions but they don’t meddle.  They provide childcare that makes it possible for me to work but make us feel like we are doing them a favor.  They are the most loving and enthusiastic Papa and Nonna on the planet.  Our kids literally shriek with glee when they hear Papa and Nonna’s key in the front door.

Papa and Nonna bring up bags full of toys and activities to amuse Son and Daughter.  They sit on the floor with them, embrace whatever activity the children request, and seem indefatigable.  Many a day I’ve left the house while Papa is obliging the will of Daughter’s magic wand.

Daughter: You’re a horse….

Papa: [prancing] Neigh!

Daughter: Now you’re a butterfly

Papa: [circumnavigating the dining room table with graceful wings]

On it goes until Daughter tires of transforming Papa with her magical powers.  Papa’s endurance is astounding.  Another of the kids’ favorite Papa pleasures is to play road runner to his Wile E. Coyote.  They light the fuse on imaginary dynamite and Papa obliges them by exploding with great fanfare.

Nonna fosters our children’s creativity and curiosity.  She is a gifted artist herself and provides an endless supply of paper and encouragement for Son and Daughter’s artistic efforts.  When Son expressed an interest in bugs, she provided stacks of books with bug facts and lovingly sat for hours reading them to him.  Last week, when Son expressed an interest in making a volcano, she left with his illustrated shopping list (baking powder, vinegar, etc.).  I have no doubt she has those supplies with her today.  She turns their sandwiches into creatures – Cheeto hair, pickle ears, olive eyes, etc.  She does crafts with them that would put most preschool teachers to shame.

Recently, we learned that Papa has a hernia.  The cause is unknown, but I suspect it is a grandparenting injury.  It could be the shoulder rides, wrestling sessions, human swing and jungle gym impersonations, towel twister game, or any one of the hundreds of other physically demanding silly things he does to make our children giggle.   He is undeterred, however.  We’re going to have to talk some sense into Wile E. Coyote.  Husband spent a great deal of time on the phone last night explaining why it was a bad idea for a man with a hernia to lift all the junk from our basement into his truck for a dump run.  I guess we should add “excessively selfless” to his quirk list, but extreme kindness isn’t really the stuff good in-law anecdotes are made of.

Today I’m feeling especially grateful for my in-laws*.  Today alone, they have provided me with the opportunity to get a massage (hurt so good!), visit the chiropractor (snap! crackle! pop!), meet a client deadline (money!), drink a hot cup of coffee in a café (caffeine!), and even indulge in a little writing time (sanity!).

Perhaps I should go buy areallottery ticket.  Then, I could bask in my in-law gratitude from the deck of a yacht.

*My brother-in-law is awesome too.  He bought me tofu socks!  Alas, I must save my “Ode to Uncle C” sentiments for another day….


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