b a r e

writing is healing. ask me anything.

Tag: in-laws


I got as a gift a necklace with a religious symbol. Wearing it I feel exposed. It’s so different than it was 10+ years ago. I had that same symbol, a larger one actually, proudly displayed around my  neck. I was an in your face kind of gal. I wrapped myself up in all sorts of layers of my identity. And I hid behind them all. It was a construct. A construct I believed in, but a construct no less. I felt safe and powerful. Fast forward 10+  years and I no longer wish to display who I am. I no longer want that kind of attention, or any kind of attention really. And wearing that symbol makes me feel naked. It’s no one’s business what religion I am. My religion is private, personal and I want to decide when and with whom I share that information. I can’t really do that with it hanging around my neck.

Write about your best vacation ever, why?

The best vacation I’ve ever had was my 1 year dating anniversary with my then-boyfriend, now-husband – Hawaii. A good friend of mine who went about once a year gave me all her inside information so we were able to rent a condo on the North Shore for a week for ridiculously cheap. We ate at the restaurants she recommended and had incredible food with incredible views. And I surprised my husband by renting a convertible, since he had never driven one before and really wanted to. We were ridiculously relaxed. We slept in, did everything leisurely, and were in perfect harmony. The weather was perfect. And all of our pictures looked amazing – some even looked so good that they almost looked fake. The only part that wasn’t perfect was when we went swimming with the sharks. The waves were very active and everyone on the boat ride puked. But we went para-sailing on another day, almost a year after we had gone para-sailing in the Bahamas together, as a new couple – and that made up for it. That year when we visited my in-laws for Christmas and told them about this trip, they teased him and said he should have set the bar lower for an anniversary gift, because how can he possibly top that. We have traveled together since, all over the world in fact, and it’s true, nothing has come close to that Hawaii week of relaxation and adventure.

Dear Mother In Law

I hate you. But I know we are so much alike, that the hatred is really for myself. When I fell apart, when I wasn’t present, in the very beginning, you were here loving my daughter with all your heart, taking sleep shifts with my husband, preparing food, cleaning, and you know, running my household. Well I’m not broken anymore, may I please have my household back? My feelings of gratitude for what you did are tangled up with my guilt and shame and self-hatred. You are good at what you do, running everything. I remember the first time I went to visit for Xmas, you had so many events well-coordinated, herding everyone from one place to another, probably like you ran your classrooms when you used to teach. I was impressed. Now that you’re retired and an empty-nester, I do understand that the skills and desire to organize and control others still exists, worse, is building under the surface like a volcano. But please don’t reorganize my daughter’s clothes. I especially didn’t enjoy that you hid the clothes you didn’t like, which I only came across long after when looking for something else. I’m really trying to run my own home. And when you come and take over, I have to wrestle all over again with my feelings of inadequacy as a mother and a wife. I know you think you’re helping, but you’re actually not. When you first started visiting every 2 months, I let you do your thing. It’s only 4 days, I told myself, as I’d bite my tongue. I especially didn’t appreciate when you’d tell strangers that you were the mom, not I. Oh, ha ha. I get it, my daughter, with her red hair and blue eyes, doesn’t look like me. I get it, okay. And it hurts every time you point it out. Because it grinds into a scabby, leaky part of my underbelly that remembers that I didn’t want her and didn’t love her, for which I will always feel so much shame and guilt. So, again, I respectfully ask, can you just please stop? I know that you love her very much, and that you feel like in your short visits you have to squeeze in as much happy memories as possible. But when my daughter hears that you’re visiting, all she wants to know is what did you buy her. I wish you would think about the values you are teaching her, rather than settling for the short term gratification.

And one more thing, the most important, stop feeding my daughter CRAP.

I get it, you were raised eating a certain way. But that way doesn’t work for my daughter. Every time after you leave, she deals with very painful constipation. Both my husband and I have tried being nice about it, but to be honest, we haven’t been the least effective. At first, we didn’t tell you. Maybe twice, three times, was an anomaly. Well now, after your visits, and even on weeks like this when you haven’t visited, my daughter will decide she that pooping hurts and refuse to do so, for days. Well as you can imagine, this exacerbates the problem. And now, instead of just a physical issue, it’s a psychological one. Think about it, for the last couple years, every two months pooping becomes extremely painful for her.  And it’s my fault. I didn’t have the guts to stand up to you. I was afraid of making you mad. And I am so angry at myself. This is my child, I should be able to protect her no matter what. But I didn’t. And now I’m paying the price…no, she is. If this was as simple as abuse, I would have no problem risking my safety to protect her. But too much ice cream and crackers? How do I make you understand just how much damage you do by changing my daughter’s diet? How can I get you to listen to me?? You argue with me about every decision I make every step of the way, and you always have an answer for every thing I tell you. You are arriving in 6 days. I’m ready to be the bad guy. You can hate me all you want. You can tell all your friends about what an awful daughter in law I am. But I am not leaving you alone with my child. I won’t let you hurt her anymore.

xmas twofer

-What do you want for xmas?

Am I allowed an xmas present? I’m Jewish! Of course it was stolen from the pagans and absorbed by the retail world. So for Xmas I would like my sanity. I want to feel strong but calm, clear minded and sharp, well rested and relaxed. Ok, go!

What? That’s not how it works? Well, bummer. I guess I’ll settle for basically stable.

-Are you looking forward to xmas more or less than last year? Why?

Since the year before I married my husband, we have flown to visit his family in the mid-west each xmas. The first year our connection flight got cancelled and we had to rent a car and drive in a snowstorm the rest of the way. The second year, now married, we flow over our airport but couldn’t land because of the snowstorm. We circled for 45 minutes, then flew back to the connecting airport to get a rental car and drive the rest of the way. The next year wasn’t as bad, we were redirected to another airport, at least we were in the right state. But the drive from there was 9 hours in the fog. Last year we made it the whole way! Well I’ve been watching the weather over there, and there’s lots of snow so wish us luck.

But oh yeah, the writing prompt! I look forward to it a little more each year. I’ve learned the family politics. I’ve gotten to know most of his family and I know what to expect. And each year I fee like I’m more a part of his family. With more comfort and trust, I can hand my daughter off to grandma and go nap or read a book. (Luxuries!) It’ll be busy this year – my MIL already sent me a daily itinerary (she used to be a school teacher) – but I am giving myself permission to excuse myself and go escape into another room by myself when I need to. And I’m really looking forward to a local, tiny ice cream shop, they make the best milkshakes!

What steps are you taking to prepare for the holidays?

I hate the holidays. I’m sure having my only other past, intense relationship crumple around this time of year doesn’t help. Neither do the short, gray days that reflect the gray inside my head and heart. But most of all I blame my orthodox Jewish education who said we are the minorities – we are – and we are not part of everyone else – not true. They reveled in being separate and persecuted. We were special, in that we did not belong. And not belonging created (so far) a life-long wedge between me and the xmas commercial crap that is shoved down our throats each year. You’re probably thinking, “bah humbug!” But I know all the xmas songs by heart and I’ve never tried to learn any of them. And when I lived in Paris I loved the holidays. Beautiful decorations everywhere, but no intense commercial marketing. When I babysat for a Mormon family in high school and college, I really felt a warmth about the holiday. For them it was, yes about Jesus, but more importantly it was about family. Now, as a parent, I find my anger about the holidays returning. From every direction, in all forms of media, everyone is telling you to buy stuff. And my toddler is caught up in this tsunami because she doesn’t understand this forced consumerism. I try to shield her as best as I can, but the decorations, like the marketing campaigns, are colorful and distracting and everywhere. And I have to explain to her that they are not for us, because we’re Jewish. She quiets and looks thoughtful after I say this. And I wonder how the wheels that are turning in her head are processing this. I don’t want her to feel excluded, but unfortunately that might be the end result anyway. At least, in our home. We’re headed to the mid-west at the end of the month to visit my in-laws, who are Catholic. She’ll get her fill of xmas there, grandma will see to it. I guess I just really hope she won’t try to talk to my daughter about Jesus. Even though I have no control over who my daughter becomes – gay? conservative? athiest? – I really want her to feel pride in being Jewish. And let’s face it, xmas is alluring, with its shiny decorations and its mountain of gifts (a sure thing from grandma – my daughter is the first grandchild, and she’s adorable). As for preparing, I’m not sure there’s much I can do except be flexible and be aware of my state of mind so I’m not triggered. Do I ask grandma not to talk religion with my daughter? Do I dare? Maybe after I first see what she’s bought me.