My in-laws moved in with my family fourteen years ago. Let me repeat that. Fourteen years ago. When we first met, I found them oddly charming in a Loretta Lynn/Conway Twitty kind of way. FIL stopped to talk with (at) every little kid he saw in the restaurant and they loved him. He was dressed in blue jeans and a shirt with faux mother-of-pearl snaps, silver hair combed back in a slick pompadour. He was tall and confident. MIL was well coifed, her perfectly white hair a large, round globe on top of her head, plastered with Aqua Net so that even a gale force wind wouldn’t muss it. Slightly more reserved than FIL but talkative once she got comfortable. I did notice fairly quickly that grammar was not her forte. Being early in my career as a speech pathologist, that bothered me but not enough to make merun screaming from Uncle Julio’s. Their swirl margaritas can do that to a girl. Ah, to be so young and naive again.
Time passed as it always seems to do. They easily accepted me into their family but I knew that I was the odd man out. Back then, I was sweet and quiet. Their home was loud, freezing cold, dark and smoke-filled. They slept all day and watched TV all night. In contrast, I’d grown up in a home with two college educated parents who loved to read, worked university jobs and cherished the light. Our home was open and airy but we loved to be outside. I adapted to the new in-laws and found the difference from my family to be a fun change of pace.
When my older son was seven months old, FIL had a massive stroke that left him with right-sided paralysis and no ability to verbally communicate. His words came out of his mouth as “doie doie doie doie” with an occasional “shit” thrown in for good measure. After he was released from the hospital and rehab, we discovered that the in-laws had no savings at all and were living in a rented house. After discussing it for probably not long enough, we decided that the only decent thing to do was to move them in with us.
And here we are now. Fourteen years later.
After fourteen years, doie doie doie is old. FIL doesn’t understand, or maybe doesn’t care, that we can’t understand what he’s saying. So he doie doies to all the little kids in restaurants. And they think he’s a loon. ‘Shit’ was one of my boy’s first words. MIL’s grammar is on my last nerve. The past tense of eat is ate, not eat.
Me: “Do you want some dinner?”
MIL: “Naw. We eat on the way home.”
Invariably, when people find out that both of my in-laws have lived in my home for fourteen years, I get one of two reactions. One—“You must be a saint. There will be a special place in heaven for you.” Or two—“I would kill my in-laws in they lived with me.”
I take my family to church on a regular basis but can guarantee that there will be no jewels in my crown for living with my in-laws. If the church people only knew how often I plot the untimely demise of these two people, I’m quite sure I’d be thrown out to the dogs. Or maybe to the Catholics.
Dear God, I’m only kidding. I love Catholics. Hail Mary.
I hope that I’ll earn a special place in heaven someday, but am positive it won’t be for living with my in-laws. If your situation was the same, you might WANT to kill them. You would probably take notes every time “Snapped” came on TV. I speak from experience. But you wouldn’t do it. How do I know? Fourteen years. My little boy, who was just seven months old when Poppy had his stroke, is now fifteen. Somehow, we managed to create another son with the in-laws just down the hall. He is twelve. I’ve paid a babysitter once in fourteen years. My boys have had childhoods that, while common in many other counties, are practically unheard of in America. They’ve had Nonny and Poppy take them to school, comfort them when they’re sick, celebrate victories, wipe tears of defeat, listen to them play “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” on the saxophone at least two hundred and fifty-three consecutive times with smiles on their faces, tell them that their toilet paper roll dog food dispenser is the greatest creation on the planet ever. The list goes on.
Don’t think I’m sugar-coating this experience. We have had plenty of rough times. Still do. There have been multiple discussions about who the parents are in the house. About how I will be the one to tell my children when they may be excused from the table. About not turning the AC down to 65 in the summer.
Would I do it again? Long, hesitant pause….
A couple of months after FIL’s stroke, MIL left him alone to run a couple of quick errands. Truth be told, she probably just needed a break from doie doie. While she was gone, he took the van for a drive down the road. Luckily, he didn’t wreck it. No harm was done. But it was clear that he could not be left alone. Without either of them able to work, with no savings or assets, they began a pretty rapid decline. Medicines were being cut in half. Meals were meager and infrequent. We did what we had to do. Neither my husband nor I felt we had a choice. So we moved them in.
When people tell me that they would kill their in-laws if they lived with them, I typically smirk then change the subject. What I sometimes say though is that you never know what you can handle until you’re faced with a situation where you feel you have no choice.
Ok, maybe we did have a choice. My therapist (because yes, they drove me to therapy but that’s another story) told me that we did. We could have chosen to do nothing. Could have let them die of starvation, lack of proper medication. But we made a choice. A choice made by a young couple, wide-eyed with humanity and love of family. A choice that forever changed the dynamic of our home.
Life is about choices. Some are easy and some are hard. Some are both.