Q: My in-laws are really great, but the holidays bug me: They never come to see us—it’s up to us to arrange to drive a few states’ over to go see them—and yet they always go way overboard on gifts for the kids. Is this normal?
Is there really anything “normal” about in-laws? And I don’t mean just yours, I mean ALL in-laws are inherently kinda freaky and unexplainable, like manatees and croutons. If you think about it, these are basically just strangers that we inherit when we get married. And then we have to spend every birthday and holiday and celebration eating their ambrosia salad and pfefferneuse (What is that stuff? It tastes like Nyquil was baked into a cardboard box and sprinkled with disappointment. I couldn’t even get my dog to try it and she has been spotted eating ceiling tiles.) In the case of my beloved Wisconsin in-laws, at family gatherings we are treated to bloated squares of ham, cheese and elbow macaroni floating in Miracle Whip. See? Weird. So looking for something ‘normal’ in this box of crackerjacks might not be productive, but let’s see if we can find you some positives all up in here.
Many times (and by many, I mean all of the time) having a holiday celebration sans grandparents can work to your advantage. Let’s make a list of things you will not have to worry about since your house will remain judgment-free: creating a spare bedroom from a linen closet, finding six forks that match, locating ONE dish that does not have plastic food levees … honestly this list is endless and I only get about 1,000 words here, so you’re just gonna have to follow along.
My in-laws could send my kids a chupacabra carcass for Christmas and I would be fine with it if it meant that no one was coming over Christmas morning. (Insert longing sigh.) We could just eat the candy out of their stockings for breakfast, watch something totally inappropriate on TV, and my husband and I would crack open the gift booze by 11am. Heaven.
The sad truth is your kids probably don’t even notice that their grandparents aren’t there, especially since they are busy opening up the new golf cart and gold bouillon they were bribed with. If it really bothers you, maybe your husband could try to talk to them about it. Or you could find other ways to connect with them on that day like through face-time calls or skype. Plus you’ll probably get a new computer out of the deal since they will need to bribe you, too.
I’m really not sure if you realize how good you have it. Let me share a secret with you: No one enjoys getting the stink eye all day because you got drive-thru burritos for Christmas dinner instead of making a turkey. (I didn’t see HER basting anything overnight, did you?) And since my family is happy with anything-con-queso, I see no need to dirty-up the bar that we call the kitchen in order to please the masses. This is the season of GIVING for heaven’s sake and the people at the drive-thru need supporting too. (You’re welcome, drive-thru people.)
Our family gets sent stuff, too. Every year my mother-in-law sends my kids some way-too-young-for-them pajamas that they HATE, which is really what Christmas is all about, in case anyone has forgotten. We enjoy parading them around in the hideous outfits looking like the United Colors of Benetton, while snapping photos of them with the cats to post on Facebook. We have a long tradition of then re-gifting the offending pajamas to their cousins for Kris Kringle while telling ourselves that they would enjoy the super bright, candy-striped long-underwear … and plus one of them is color-blind.
But in all fairness to your in-laws, different people show love in different ways. Their way just happens to be with a VISA card instead of overstaying their welcome by three hours. And, as some folks get older, leaving their home environment can get harder and harder (watch one episode of ‘Hoarders’ to illustrate), so maybe sending tokens of love is the best that they can do right now. Or maybe they like to shop. And in that case, send me their address and I’ll send them our Christmas lists, because I am generous like that and I just want to help people.
There is always this option: Your in-laws are trying to BUY your, and your kids’, love in an effort to please their son. While I know this sounds kind of harsh, this is good news (and stop bragging). Because in the end, it all boils down this: We. Can. Be. Bought.
So I salute you, woman who won’t get judged this Christmas. Enjoy your bounty of good fortune and may it not contain a crumb of pfefferneuse.