Thursday, November 30, 2006 Home for the Holidays

We spent Thanksgiving with my husband's family this year. Two day drive there, two days hanging out overeating, two day drive back. Gotta love it. Now that I've been to the massage therapist to get my neck back to normal, it seems in retrospect to have been an interesting visit. And I did not kiss my desk when I got to work last Monday, I just said that I had.

I really like most of my in-laws, and generally look forward to spending time with them. All but one of them, that is. I refer to her as the Sister-In-Law from Hell. Although we are cordial to one another, she is generally able to put me completely off balance within 5 minutes of any encounter. I wish I could put my finger on why - it's actually a subject I end up spending way too much time thinking about (it's a long trip back from my mother-in-law's house, and we don't fly, and one has to do something to make Kansas go by quickly).

Here's an example of our interaction. A few years ago, we missed a train connection in Chicago and had to spend Christmas Eve there. Since it was a holiday, we decided to skip the Amtrak vouchers for the Quality Inn and stay at the Palmer House hotel instead, to make the stop more of an occasion than an annoyance. (It worked, too - we had such a good time that we're planning an on-purpose trip to Chicago one of these days. What a cool city!) When we arrived at our final destination, a day late, we were raving to all present about the Palmer House and how wonderful it was and how much we'd liked staying there overnight.

"Oh yes," she said dismissively. "It's really cheap; that's why they hold a lot of conferences there."

Now, I don't know if you've ever set foot in the lobby of the Palmer House, but if you have, you may understand why my first reaction to it was not "Wow! This is really cheap!" Try "omigod-will-you-look-at-that-ceiling!". But I digress. The net effect of her response was to shut us up completely on the subject. Maybe she intended to do that, or maybe she just has the social instincts of one of those glow-in-the-dark sea creatures that live in the Marianas Trench.

We spend family occasions where she is present in a sort of weird competition - one in which we never agreed to participate, and to which we don't know the rules. Anything we have done, anything we are doing, anything we are tentatively planning to do, she or her family has done better-faster-smarter-first. She once arrived before we did at an out of town event where both families had reservations at the same hotel. Not content with checking herself in, she checked us in, inspected our room, adjusted the air conditioning, pronounced everything satisfactory, and when we arrived told us step by step what she had done.

I also get the impression that she makes assumptions about my opinions on various things, and then caters to those assumed opinions. Her assumptions are invariably wrong, but they leave me feeling kind of inadequate because I'm not maintaining the high standard to which she is catering. Again, an example is germane: Quite a while back, she offered to take our daughter on a camping trip. Which was fine with me, although, as I recall, the trip never materialized. But while making the offer, she was incredibly anxious to assure me that the adults on the trip would not be drinking while any children present were awake.


I'm fairly sure that, up to that point, we had never discussed whether I cared if my daughter saw adults imbibing adult beverages - in fact, the two of us had probably had a glass of wine in my daughter's presence before that conversation. And to the best of my knowledge, she and her husband are responsible adults, so I wasn't exactly anticipating some sort of drunken orgy on the trip at all. So where did that come from? Did she normally drink to excess on camping trips? Did she think that I normally did? The whole conversation left me feeling like maybe I was a bad mother for NOT worrying about drunken orgies in my daughter's presence. Once again, I was rendered speechless - I couldn't figure out how to tell her that I wasn't concerned about such a thing without making myself sound uncaring or making her sound overly anal.

My husband thinks that I intimidate her. God knows why - I'm just an average working stiff with a husband and a kid. It's probably fairly obvious that I'm a bit stressed in her presence, so maybe she picks up on that. And I guess all those fullstops in the conversation come off as a bit peculiar (is "buh-buh-buh" an intimidating thing to say? That's as much as I can manage sometimes).

This Thanksgiving, we really didn't see much of her, but she was in her usual form. I made the incautious statement at dinner that I intended to be buried in my Mini Cooper. Oops. Now the whole family knows that she and her husband just finished looking at a used Mini Cooper, that was in just simply pristine conditon - it was obvious that the owner had taken very good care of it and it was only two years old, after all - but that they just couldn't quite bring themselves to spend $20K on a vehicle without ridding themselves of one of the two they already had.

What do you say in response to that? In my case, I think it was something like, "pass the pie".

It's good to be home.