Posted by: Kate | December 27, 2005

Merry Christmas and Happy Bite Me!

Seriously, you know, there just comes a point where my in-laws behave so predictably as to become stereotypes of themselves. It’s the sort of thing where I always know something’s going to happen, I’m just never able to predict what.

The current episode in this apparently endless miniseries began on Christmas Eve, after my father- and brother-in-law had retired back to their hotel. Yeah, hotel. Not because they’d be unwelcome here – that’s a separate issue – but because they refuse to stay here though they’ve been invited many times before. I’ve stopped feeling offended by it, and now am just relieved that they go somewhere to break up their visits.

So it’s about 9:00 at night, Jacob’s sound asleep, mother-in-law is on her way out the door, and Emily’s starting to settle down for the long winter’s nap, blah blah blah. Of course she’s revved for Christmas, but she seemed to be in control with it all. Until.

She comes wailing and screeching down the hallway, such that I need to full-on tackle her to keep her out of the living room, where I am finally getting around to wrapping her gifts, though I’d had them here for several months by then. I lead her back to her room, and in between moans and panic I am able to discern that she is freaking out because we didn’t leave a plate of cookies out for Santa, which means he won’t leave her any presents, etc., etc. Meanwhile Grandma escapes to her hotel before any of this even begins to near resolution.

Now, this doesn’t sound all that unusual for a 5-year-old on Christmas Eve, right? Except for one tiny detail – we don’t DO Santa here. I know, I’ll lose my citizenship and possibly my birthday, too, for admitting it, but I just despise the annual emphasis on “What did you ask Santa for?” so we just dropped the whole gift-giving part out of the Santa story. We treat Santa just like we treat Thomas the Tank Engine, Nemo, George Bush, and any other imaginary character you might encounter. (Kidding! Kidding! We don’t talk to our kids about George Bush yet! They’re too young.) But we’ve never done letters to Santa, never left out milk and cookies, and so on. And it’s always worked well. Up till this year.

Emily’s version was, “I promised Grandma I would leave out milk and cookies. I PROMISED! If I don’t, Santa won’t leave me any presents!” Now, I don’t much care about the specifics of any interactions that happened between said Grandma and Emily – all I care is that my daughter is miserable, sad and panicked on Christmas Eve, precisely because of a myth that I’ve spent 6 Christmases discouraging. Fine. We calmed her down, convinced her that presents had nothing to do with cookies, and she went to sleep. And woke up the next morning to lots of new toys and fun stuff, hooray.

Willem and I were each pretty unhappy about that happening, because while I don’t imagine that everyone everywhere knows our views on Santa, I do know for sure that we’ve talked to my mother-in-law about it before, with a painful level of clarity. She insists that she understands and agrees with us, but this is the same woman who had presents to Willem, who turned 30 yesterday, “From Santa,” under the tree. So…

We obviously want to avoid that sort of experience again next year, so we knew we’d need to say something about it. My plan had been to wait until after breakfast, in that post-breakfast pre-dinner-cooking lull around 10:00 or 11:00 in the morning. Instead, as we were getting ready to start cooking breakfast, Willem suddenly says to his mom, “Oh, by the way, you made your granddaughter cry last night,” and launches into the anti-Santa campaign. Not the best timing nor the best delivery, I know. Her response was to immediately say, “I didn’t say anything to her about it. I don’t know why she did that.” Well, first of all, given that WILLEM is still getting presents “from Santa,” I do tend to suspect that perhaps she’s more attached to that particular tradition than she’s willing to admit. Though I didn’t see a need to point out that little tidbit. Because, second of all, as I told her, “It really doesn’t matter to me what words were said, to her or from her or whatever. I just want to offer a reminder of how we choose to do things here, so that we can avoid a repeat in the future.” She flat-out ignored me and continued to protest her complete innocence, and I was neither surprised nor especially upset by this – it’s just what she does. Complete denial combined with ignoring what she doesn’t want to hear is sort of a personal specialty. So I was all set to let it fade out and try to have a better talk about it at a later, less chaotic time.

Instead, my father-in-law, who has mellowed in recent years but is still one of the loudest, most domineering and tyrannical individuals I have had the pleasure of being related to, chose that moment to step in and, well, flip out. He immediately began berating me, complete with swearing and finger-pointing and maximum volume, for choosing that moment to bring up such an inappropriate topic. After a few minutes of listening to him get louder and increasingly tangential, I yelled back, “I didn’t choose the time or the delivery. Stop pointing at me, and don’t tell me what is and is not appropriate to do in my house.” So he stormed out.

Lovely. Nothing like a big old jolt of adrenaline AFTER the presents on Christmas morning.

So I waited ten minutes, and then went out to resolve this with my father-in-law. I felt like it all started with a conversation between Willem and his mother, which my father-in-law and I got involved in when we probably shouldn’t have. Over an hour later, we finally reached a point where I was willing to let him back into the house, and there’s no way I could possibly recount the whole argument, even if some masochist out there wanted to read it. It was just too convoluted and circuitous. In summary…
HIM: You are too rigid. You have to allow me to behave however I want to in the moment and then pretend like it never happened. There is no such thing as a private conversation between my wife and anyone else which might not involve me. If you were a good psychologist you would have handled the whole situation differently.
ME: I may be rigid, but that’s my right in my own home, and when it comes to rules about shouting and swearing and generally misbehaving in front of the kids, you’re darn right I’m rigid. I don’t have to allow you to behave like a petulant 9-year-old. Your wife has a whole separate life away from you, seeing as how you haven’t lived together for 10 years, so she does have conversations you don’t know about. And how I am as a psychologist has nothing to do with how I am as a mom, in my sweats, in my own home, on Christmas morning – if I were acting as a psychologist I’d have billed $150 and said, “Come back next week and we’ll continue this.”

(I know, that’s supposedly the SHORT version! Trust me, the real-time event was just endless.)

We did end up working it out and reaching a mutual understanding, which forestalled his repeated threats to leave on Christmas Day and never return again. And truly, at the end of it all, I’m really glad we had the conversation/debate/argument, because I think he and I both behaved badly at points and needed to work that out, and I feel like we did.

But my mother-in-law will never, ever admit that she might possibly have had anything to do with any of it, and I ate cold eggs on Christmas morning.

At least the rest of their visit was uneventful. They left this morning. *phew*

Blech. Too many words, too much information, I know. Consider this one a vent rather than a cute little blog entry. I’ll try to be funnier next time.

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