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Meet the In-Laws

22 Apr

UnknownMarriage is a package deal. You open the package—you deal with the in-laws.  No exchange policy, no returns, no satisfaction guarantee, and if you’re lucky, no Marie Barone from “Everybody Loves Raymond.” You know, the stereotypically judgmental, overbearing, and meddling mother-in-law who often barges into daughter-in-law Debra’s house and sniffs around for trouble.  It’s enough to make a glowing bride do a U-turn down the aisle.

So it’s no surprise that when I was invited to meet the in-laws, I was anxious.  Not only did I worry about whether I’d like them, I worried whether they’d like me. Would they like my personality? Would they like my outfit? Would they like to have curly haired grandkids?

On a summer afternoon, my husband Chris and I set off for my first visit to my in-laws’ house. We headed south to the Jersey shore, which felt like another country to a girl like me, fresh from urban Los Angeles.

Chris pulled into the driveway of a new colonial home. A welcoming wreath hung on the front door. I stood quivering on their front stoop, chewing down my carefully manicured nails and ordering myself to relax.  Chris knocked on the door.

A petite, smartly dressed blonde woman wearing bright pink lipstick and a turquoise blouse swung open the door. “Hello!” Her eyes shined brightly as she smiled widely and embraced me in a tight hug.

This was either the greatest hug I’d ever received or her python-like grip was going to kill me.  Fortunately, it was the greatest hug of all time. My mother-in-law, Joyce, radiated so much warmth towards me we could have hatched a brood of chicks between us.

From behind her a man emerged, my father-in-law, Bill, wearing kaki slacks and a short-sleeved collared shirt. He hugged me warmly too, but cautiously, so as not to crush the baby he held in his arms—Peanut, their longhaired dachshund. They ushered us inside.

Joyce sat me at a table laden with enough food to feed an entire wedding party. Wanting to make a good impression over dinner, I tried to remember my basic table manners. I placed my napkin on my lap, kept my elbows off the table, didn’t slurp, chomp or belch.

Yet when Joyce brought out four 2-pound lobsters and saucers filled with melted butter, I couldn’t bring myself to ooh and ahh like the others. My mouth had gone drier than a twice-baked biscuit.

In my L.A. world, lobster came pre cracked, along with a bowl of warm lemon water for hand washing, and a plastic bib that said “Red Lobster.” How would I protect my new white linen pants, purple silk blouse and coordinating floral scarf from squirts and splatters?

I inventoried my lobster tools. Stainless steel lobster crackers: check. Lobster mallet: check. Tiny fork: check. Taking hold of my lobster crackers, I broke open the shell and used my tiny fork to poke and pull out juicy morsels with the fine precision of an open-heart surgeon. I had just graduated from the claws to the tail when I looked down to see a hideous glob of lobster fat oozing down the front of my shirt.

I silently gasped and scanned the table to see if anyone had noticed. Fortunately, my husband and in-laws were too busy laughing and talking.

I excused myself and headed for the bathroom, where I scraped off the fatty globs into the sink. But I couldn’t erase the greasy stains that trailed down my chest like the Florida Panhandle. I wanted to cry.

On the way back to the table I stopped to pet Peanut. With one innocent stroke of his back, I kicked up a storm of black dog hair that latched on to my butter infused outfit and clung like magnetic powder to Wooly Willy’s face. I looked like I’d been tarred and feathered. My efforts to remove the fur balls scattered across my body only made things worse. All I could do was return to the table and hope that the sun had set.

It’s then that I noticed while everyone was talking and laughing, they were carelessly squirting and splattering at the same time. It was all part of the fun. And it was at that moment that I realized—I had gotten a pretty good package deal.

Since that day, our marriage has seen dozens more messy lobster family dinners. The difference is, I no longer worry about being judged for grease stains.  My mother-in-law has never criticized me for my cooking, clothing or housekeeping. She has never barged in on me. It was my husband, our three kids and me who invaded my in-law’s house when we stayed with them for a few months while our house was under construction.

Twenty years of marriage has taught me that not all mothers-in-law are Marie Barone.  Sometimes all it takes is a lobster mallet to smash a stereotype.

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45 Responses to “Meet the In-Laws”

  1. morristownmemos by Ronnie Hammer April 22, 2013 at 9:17 am #

    One day when YOU are the fearsome mother in law you will want you new child-by-marriage to think you’re fun and cool and not believe any of the mother in law jokes or stereotypes.

  2. Huffygirl April 22, 2013 at 9:22 am #

    You really were lucky Lisa. Overall, my in-laws were great, but there have been a few moments where I would have loved to trade them in.

  3. winsomebella April 22, 2013 at 9:28 am #

    Who knew we could smash stereotypes in such tasty fashion?

  4. downhousesoftware April 22, 2013 at 9:30 am #

    You really found a keeper – or, rather, a whole family of keepers. Personally, it is a testimony to the many charming facets of my wife and my complete love for her that I ever survived meeting the in-laws. Mom’s nice, just a little neurotic and needy. Dad, on the other hand… let’s say, I have never met his equal. Are Idi Amin and Charles Taylor still living? There’s a chance that they might be close, so long as they’ve spent the last decade or three in prison watching a steady diet of high-volume Fox News to get ’em riled up.
    Over the past thirteen years I have discovered some humanity under there, but it curiously only shows itself when he is completely separated from the rest of his family. Remove the red Kryptonite and suddenly Bizzaro Superman is just plain Superman again. I’m not saying I ever expect us to be friends, but in another decade or so… who knows.
    Thanks for your story, Lisa. I love your writing.
    Happy Springtime!

    • Main Street Musings Blog April 24, 2013 at 9:13 am #

      Sounds like an interesting pair. Isn’t it fascinating how the dynamics change depending who’s in the room? Wishing you heaps of humanity with FIL in the next thirteen years. Thanks for sharing!

  5. nursemommylaughs April 22, 2013 at 10:26 am #

    This is one of my favorites of yours. Heartwarming, laugh out loud funny and true Erma format! I love how you could have incubated chicks with you MIL!! Fabulous.

  6. Carrie Rubin April 22, 2013 at 11:45 am #

    Haha-great story! I was blessed with wonderful in-laws, too. So lucky.

    Nice to see another post from you!

    • Main Street Musings Blog April 24, 2013 at 9:20 am #

      I’m sure your in-laws feel blessed to have a wonderful daughter in law!

      • Carrie Rubin April 24, 2013 at 9:28 am #

        They would have been too polite to say one way or the other… 😉 (Sadly, they both passed away a few years ago. They are greatly missed.)

      • Main Street Musings Blog April 24, 2013 at 1:07 pm #

        Sorry to hear that, Carrie. I bet they’d have been touched by your kind words about them.

      • Carrie Rubin April 24, 2013 at 1:07 pm #

        Thank you.

  7. earthriderjudyberman April 22, 2013 at 8:33 pm #

    Sounds like you won the in-law jackpot, Lisa. Congratulations. Your painful, yet humorous, encounter with the lobster and then the cute doggie just did me in. I have the photo right here in my head. 🙂

  8. Grown and Flown April 23, 2013 at 4:30 am #

    Such a wonderful memory and I am glad you have written about it. You do a great job of showing your nervousness – too bad about the lobster goo and dog hair on your new clothes. Very refreshing to hear a positive mother-in-law story, so different than the stereotype.

    • Main Street Musings Blog April 24, 2013 at 9:29 am #

      It’s interesting how the MIL is still one of the few PC topics to joke about, but I’m grateful that I was able to give my story a positive spin.

  9. Katie Checkley April 23, 2013 at 11:18 am #

    It’s funny…when I first met my husband’s parents I had the “feeling.” Something just told me that these people would be in my life for a long time. Not sure if that’s good or bad considering the “feeling” didn’t necessarily come from meeting my husband! 🙂 I kid, of course. But meeting my future in-laws definitely did something to seal the deal. After that everything seemed to make sense. Your story reminded me of this.

    • Main Street Musings Blog April 24, 2013 at 9:31 am #

      How wonderful that they made such a positive impression on you. So glad my story resonated with you. 🙂

  10. Perfecting Motherhood April 23, 2013 at 12:26 pm #

    After disastrous experiences with in-laws, I know the family says a lot about the man you’re with. I advise anyone who plans to get married to take a good look at the in-laws and decide what they think of them. Sure, you can avoid them if they’re obnoxious, but eventually what you don’t like about them, you’ll notice the same in your spouse. I’m never making that mistake again! You’re one lucky woman, especially if they serve you lobster every time you visit them!

    • Main Street Musings Blog April 24, 2013 at 9:32 am #

      I think you’re right. In many cases the apple doesn’t fall from from the tree.

      • Perfecting Motherhood April 24, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

        From first-hand experience, I can say it’s true. But even looking around at other couples and families, you’ll notice the same. I wish someone had told me that years ago!

  11. Professor Taboo April 26, 2013 at 5:34 pm #

    It seems our best efforts to ‘impress’ the in-laws often backfire, don’t they? You’re so lucky to have blended right in, along with the rest of the little ones. Wonderful story Lisa!

    • Main Street Musings Blog April 28, 2013 at 7:21 am #

      Indeed, we can’t always control first impressions, but all’s well that ends well. I’m glad you enjoyed the story! 🙂

  12. Paprika Furstenburg April 26, 2013 at 7:02 pm #

    That was a really sweet and loving tribute to your in-laws.

    My mother-in-law loves lobster. Oregano and I had the “pleasure” of joining her in Maine for a lobster dinner. She went to town on her lobster while Oregano and I sat across the table from her wiping lobster juice off our glasses and picking bits of shell from our hair.

  13. lifeonwry.com April 29, 2013 at 7:50 pm #

    Oh my gosh, I don’t know which is funnier …’we could have hatched a brood of chicks between us’ or ‘a storm of black dog hair that latched on to my butter infused outfit and clung like magnetic powder to Wooly Willy’s face.’ Awesome post. Wish I had such fond feelings for mine. That honeymoon is over I’m sad to say.

    • Main Street Musings Blog April 30, 2013 at 8:45 am #

      Wouldn’t it be nice if we could manipulate relationships as easily as we used to transform Wooly Willy’s face as kids?

  14. Barbara April 30, 2013 at 9:55 am #

    Ahhh – I laughed my way through this. it should be a movie scene. How fortunate you are to have a mother-in-law like you do. And what a role model to follow as you may or may not become one yourself. It can be a trickly path to tread.

    • Main Street Musings Blog May 1, 2013 at 6:44 am #

      Thanks for your nice reply. Good point about the role modeling. These relationships require a delicate balance on both ends!

  15. thehutts May 1, 2013 at 7:54 am #

    I, too, have a great mother-in-law! Sally

  16. Terri L. Spilman May 4, 2013 at 7:47 am #

    I love your last line. Very clever. And, of course, the rest of your story. I felt like I was there at the table with you!

  17. J T Weaver May 5, 2013 at 9:34 am #

    This is not just a great story, it’s a great telling of the story. Well done.

  18. Rosemarie May 5, 2013 at 10:08 am #

    Thanks for stopping by and liking my seaplane photos. Funny story about meeting the in-laws.

  19. Browsing the Atlas May 15, 2013 at 7:27 am #

    It took me a long time to warm up to my mother-in-law. But now that I’ve become one myself, I see that I never really tried to meet her halfway. Now I do. I’m hoping to have a much better relationship with my daughter-in-law. Fingers crossed!

  20. Main Street Musings Blog May 15, 2013 at 9:43 am #

    Don’t judge a man till you have walked two moons in his moccasins applies to MILS too! Thanks for sharing . . .

  21. WordsFallFromMyEyes June 17, 2013 at 6:49 pm #

    Oh my gosh, I wonder how I will be when my little baby boy brings home a woman/man and speaks of marriage. I don’t know, don’t know… but they better be worthy of him!

    This was a great piece 🙂

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