Today was our Annual Christmas Festivities with Darling Husband’s family. Yes, those would be my in-laws.
First I must make it very clear that I have excellent in-laws. They’re generous and kind and generally pleasant to be around, but they do have their quirks, as do all families.
They enjoy picking on each other.
But I’m used to that. I mean, my mother picked on me non-stop as I was a kid and my Dad would often join in. My parent’s pet name for me was snotbag, after all. My friend’s parents gave them pet names too, but they were things like “pumpkin” as in, “We just love our little pumpkin. She’s the apple of our eyes.”
Actually, it was more my dad who fondly called me snotbag. My mother mostly picked on me without resorting to gross pet names. It wasn’t cruel picking. It was lighthearted fun picking. Sometimes my dad would step in and say, “Sue! Stop picking on her! She’s your daughter, not your little sister!”
My mom is the baby of her family, the fifth, and as many babies of large families are, she’s a complete goofball. All she wants out of life is to have fun, tell jokes, and pick on people to see what sort of amusing reaction she can get from them. Personally, I think it’s a lot of fun to be raised by the baby of the family. You just never know what they’re going to say or do.
For instance, there was the time when I was about 17 years old and had a ratty old shirt I didn’t want to get rid of. My mother kept saying, “Oh, just get rid of that shirt! It’s so ratty and old!” Finally, one day, while she was keeping me company while I cleaned my room, she picked up the ratty shirt and said, “Here, I’ll help you get rid of it,” and blew her nose into it. I’m not sure which of us was the most shocked. We both stood there perfectly still, staring at each other, wide-eyed, jaws gaping. Her expression was one of “I wonder if I went a little too far, but aw man, that was funny and totally worth it for the shock value!” My expression was one of, “Mo-ther! Seriously? You just blew your nose on my shirt??”
And as babies of the family often do, she got her way. I never wore that shirt again. Every day was like that. You just never knew what was going to happen. Some of the best moments of my life have been with her.
But, even with the teasing type of picking, she never put me down. In fact, she’s been a constant source of encouragement for anything I want to do. If I come up with an idea, any idea at all, she’s there to look for reasons for why it’s a great idea and ways to make it work.
But the in-laws’ picking is different. I’m not sure if it’s a Polish thing or what, but they love to pick on each other in an effort to better each other. I mean, no one likes it when it’s their turn to be picked on, but we understand that they do it because they love you and want to help you make good choices. And it’s lots of fun when you get to be the picker instead of the pickee.
Here’s what I mean:
There we are at the restaurant reading the menus and getting ready to order our Christmas dinner. Sister-in-law (we’ll call her SIL) says, “Nephew13, what are you going to get?”
And here we go. No matter what that boy orders, everyone immediately tells him that “he’ll never eat all that.”
SIL: A steak?! You’ll never eat all that!”
Mom: Why don’t you order something smaller. You’ll never eat a whole steak.
Nephew13: Yes I will. I want the steak.
SIL: You won’t eat the whole thing.
Mom: You never eat the whole thing. Pick something else.
Nephew13: *with determination* I want the steak and I’m gonna eat it.
Here’s his steak.
That picture is my quirk that the rest of them have to deal with. Poor Nephew13 wanted to dig into his steak, but I grabbed his plate right out from under his nose and started taking pictures.
Mom: Give that poor boy back his steak! He’s hungry and wants to eat it!
Me: He can’t eat it yet. It’s too hot. He’ll burn his tongue.
Fortunately, Nephew13 has seen this often enough to know it’s best just to ride it out. He gave a small sigh and waited patiently for the photo shoot to be over.
Here’s Nephew13 happily eating his steak.
Everyone quickly lost interest in Nephew13 and his steak (which he did eat all of), and so the picking turned to my brother-in-law. We’ll call him BIL.
Mom: When are you going to take vacation time so your dad can bring you some wood?
SIL: He lost all his vacation time.
Mom: What? How can you lose your vacation time?
BIL: I didn’t use it, so I lost it.
Mom: You should demand that time! You need to take a vacation day so your Dad can drive down and you can help him unload the wood from the truck.
BIL: I can’t take vacation time. I’m the only one at work who writes the estimates. No one else can do my job.
Mom: Well, they need to hire someone else who can help you. You need your vacation time! It’s not healthy not to take vacation time. And your dad can’t unload the wood by himself.
BIL: (going on the offensive) Well, why didn’t Dad bring the truck today, then?
After a while the vacation/wood conversation petered out and it was Darling Husband’s turn.
Mom: You have bronchitis?! Didn’t you get your flu shot? You should have gotten your flu shot.
SIL: If you have asthma, you have to do it. Nephew13 almost died in the hospital because of pneumonia.
Mom: Right. When I get my flu shot, I don’t get as much congestion in the winter.
Darling Husband has learned how to deal with this. Don’t try to fight it or justify your behavior, especially when everyone else is right.
DH: You are both right. I should have gotten my flu shot. Oh, what a lowly worm I am that I didn’t get my flu shot. (Ok, he didn’t actually say the line about the worm, but he sure looked wormy.)
Fortunately this time SIL and I were left alone. She usually gets picked on for her lack of cooking skills and I get picked on for my lack of formal education. The conversation usually goes like this:
Mom: If you go back to college now, in a few years you’ll have your degree. Those years will pass either way, and won’t it be better if you have a degree at the end of them?
SIL: Your husband works at a college. What sort of discount do you get?
Me: The classes would be free. I just pay for books.
SIL and Mom: *gasps of shock* You can get a free college education and you’re not! Bad, bad, bad!!!
And then I hang my head in shame and agree that they’re right. And they are! They’re right about all of it!
After dinner, we headed to SIL and BIL’s house. Somewhere in the festivities, Aunt Shirley in Ohio called, as she always does on holidays, and we all sang to her on the phone.
You do not ever want our family to sing to you. We all pick a song (this time it was We Wish You a Merry Christmas) and then everyone chooses their own tune to sing it to. I chose Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Then, on the count of three, everyone sings the song to the tune of their choice.
It’s very disturbing.
After that we pass the phone around and take turns chatting with Aunt Shirley. Darling Husband doesn’t know it, but Aunt Shirley and I exchange funny stories about Darling Husband and then cackle madly. We have the best time telling those stories to each other.
At the end of the evening, SIL revealed her new hobby to me, but I won’t tell you what it is. She’s a little embarrassed by her new hobby, but loves it so much she just had to talk about it. Hey, I know what it’s like to have a hobby totally take over your life. After all, I’ve taken over 12,000 pictures since May, which is when I started counting. Before that—who knows how many I took?
I’m not sure why SIL revealed her embarrassing new hobby to me, but I’m just the person to reveal it to. Remember my mother and her encouragement? Yeah, I learned a few things from her and love to encourage people in their new hobbies. I told her that her hobby sounded awesome (and it does) and that I’m glad she’s enjoying it so much (and I am.) You, go, girl!
Then it was time to go home, whereupon I promptly missed the last step on the staircase and fell over in a heap in their foyer. I peeled myself up off the floor, stumbled out the door and that was the end of our festivities.
And a merry time was had by all.