Six is Company - Six is a Crowd
So, here I am in New Jersey, spending what amounts to a month with my husband's family. Someone out there may be wondering Why in the name of Christ and all his long-haired friends would you do that? When I've mentioned our East Coast summer plans to friends or aquaintances, the response often amounts to that.
In fact, this is the fourth summer that my Old Man and I have packed up the Saturn, strapped O. into his car seat, and headed out to spend a month on the Jersey shore with my in-laws.
The why is a bit complicated, but basically simmers down to two reasons. One: my man grew up less than a mile from the ocean, and now we live in a landlocked part of the Midwest. He needs to spend time near the ocean in order to retain his sanity. I love him very much, and I know he needs this. Two: my Old Man's parents love their only grandchild to distraction and get to see him just a few times a year. I want O. to really know his grandparents in a way that you can only know people you've spent expanses of time with. O. is lucky enough to live near my folks (though, given that my mom and stepdad are hardcore Westcoasters, how that came about is a post of its own), and this trip gives him the chance to live with my Old Man's folks.
The actual visit is wonderful in some ways, and hellish in others. The pros outweigh the cons, or else I never would have come back after the first (and hardest) month-long summer visit. My mother-in-law is sweet and very easy to get along with, my father-in-law is completely well-meaning and annoying only in the relatively minor ways that make me realize how really petty I am for being driven momentarily insane by them. My Old Man's adult sister is warm, funny, and unabashedly weird, and over the years we've grown so close that she feels like a sister rather than an in-law. The advantages to having these good people in-house are easy to rattle off: the Old Man and I sleep in together almost every morning we're here, we have free childcare just about any time we want it from people who love our son, and people are constantly cooking for us (and if we're not careful, cleaning up after us). Add to that the perks of our location in a hip Jersey shore town: we're a ten-minute drive from the ocean, a 45 minute train ride from NYC, and close to more excellent dining than we could ever hope to (or afford to) enjoy in one month.
I admit that I also love the crowded chaos, most of the time. I grew up in the same house as grandparents and aunts, a house where it wasn't unusual to find second cousins sleeping on the laundry room floor because every available bed and couch was taken by some other family member. My family is loud and loving and sometimes pushy and annoying, and cramming a bunch of us into one house for an extended visit was always fun, even if tears were sometimes shed and doors slammed. Sitting around the overcrowded dinner table with my son, husband, mother-in-law, father-in-law, grandmother-in-law, sis-in-law, and brother-in-law-to-be, with everyone talking over one another and affectionate jokes competing with mildly cutting sarcasm - it all feels very right, more often than not.
But it's hard, too. This isn't my family, and that makes it easier for me. It is my Old Man's family, and that makes it much more challenging for him. These people do not push my buttons, but they ride his. I think the hardest thing for me about this set-up, harder than the relative lack of privacy, sharing a computer with four other adults, or trying to read a book while my father-in-law persists in making inane small talk with me, is seeing my beloved man at his most adolescent. Sometimes he's unrecognizable. And I get so irritated, at the same time that I do not blame him. I try to imagine spending a week under my father's roof, much less a month, and I know I would be so much worse. Still, it's a strain on our relationship. And that much more because we can't even have a decent argument in the privacy of our own home.
So that's when you have to fight adolescent regression with adolescent therapies. This evening, I found myself grabbing my Old Man by the hand and dragging him out the door for a long walk and a serious talk. It's only day three of the visit, but already we needed it. We ended up sitting in the grass in a field not far from his folks' house like a pair of teenagers in relationship-crisis-mode. We got the space we needed and reconnected. (But before we could do that we had to do something I never had to worry about as a teenager: ask his mom if she'd watch our kid while we went and dealt with our angst.)
After my man and I had worked shit out, I came back in and had a couple glasses of a very nice pinot noir. So let me end with props to the unacknowledged ingredient that allows us to pull off this marathon visit: my in-laws' well-stocked wine rack.