December 2009 We are driving to the airport after our years with Sly and Doris. Oh wait. Was it just a few days? OK, it just seemed like years. Primo and I are fighting. About what?
We really don't fight over money because we are both tightwads, although I am a far bigger tightwad than he, but we fight about Sly and Doris. And politics and religion, but those are in-theory fights. Sly and Doris have practical applications. As in Primo really is zero sum with them. In a lot of families, a new in-law is seen as an addition to the family. My mother certainly sees Primo that way - he is not taking her daughter away from her, he is just someone new to welcome to our clan.
Sam and Nadine consider Sam's dad's lady friend to be part of their family still, even though Sam's dad is dead. Mr SD dated Anya for three years. You don't throw away someone who has been part of your family that way just because the blood connection is gone. You say, "Anya. We are still expecting you to come to our kid's bar mitzvah and we will arrange for someone to drive you." You even find a way to help her out financially because she needs it and you can and you know your dad would have wanted it. Anya is just another person to add to the guest list when there is a party. Win/win.
But for Sly and Doris, I am a thief. I am not an addition to their family. I have taken their Only Joy from them. Every moment he spends with me is a moment they don't get. I guess they missed the part of the "How to be decent in-laws" class when they taught that if the daughter in law actually likes and gets along with the in-laws, she will spend more time there.
If that's how they want to play the game, fine.
So Primo and I fight about who gets his time. I tell him that he doesn't need to call them every week. That an email should be fine. He tells me they are needy and lonely. I tell him it's their own fault for alienating their neighbors and not making friends and hey, don't they have another son and grandchildren right there?
But now we are fighting over a specific issue: why am I not nicer to Doris?
"What do you mean?" I ask. "I am nice to her. I cleaned her refrigerator. I helped with the cooking. I tried to have conversations with her."
"But you're not sympathetic to her," Primo answers.
I am not.
Doris is whiny. Yes, she has legitimate aches and pains that inhibit her daily functioning and I do what I can to help her get around those, but she wants to whine to me about them. As in, she wants to apologize repeatedly for not being able to do the things that she used to be able to do and have me reassure her.
Doris. I know you can't do these things any more. I get it. But you only have to tell me once. I am not going to give you repeated reassurance. When I was cleaning the fridge, she started in with her usual apologies. I took out my mp3 earbud, gave her The Hand of Stop Talking, and said, "Stop. I don't want to hear it." And I meant it. I hope she took it as an, "Oh don't give it a second thought" kind of thing, which it mainly was, but I really and truly did not want to hear it.
Primo tells me that I am being mean for not listening to his mother whine.
I tell him that that's not my job.
"I am not your mother's friend," I tell him. "If she wants to complain, she can call a friend."
"She doesn't have any friends," Primo says.
"Too bad," I say. "I have my sister and my mother and my friends and I will listen to them whine. But they've already banked good times with me. So by the time they get to the whining, they have built up a balance. Plus, it's a reciprocal relationship. I whine back to them. I am not going to whine to your mother."
Primo is not satisfied. "You could be nicer."
"I am cordial to her."
"That's not enough."
"I don't care. I am cordial, polite and helpful. They don't get any more from me."
We stomp into the airport with the fight unresolved to find that our flight has been delayed several hours and we might not make our connection home. Suddenly, we are united by the joint terror that we might have to spend another night with Sly and Doris. The fear is enough to make us forget the fight. Nothing like a common enemy to pull people together.