The One with the In-laws

Reed Family Portrait

It’s no secret that I have little interest in my late husband’s family these days. Will happily threw them, mostly, under the bus to be a part of my family when we married. He assured me even before he met them that if our two families were to ever come together in the same room, mine would be the more civilized, more familial and less bat-shit crazy – no contest.

As his illness progressed and then after his death, his family proved less helpful and even more of a hindrance to progress – mine and Dee’s – than I expected and I pushed them that last curb jump into the transit traffic. All contact is conducted through Hallmark and a bi-annual stash of photos accompanied by a bare bones update on Dee.

And good riddance to them.

But then I married into more extended ties.  Rob brought not only his own family but Shelley’s to our union. And he too assured me that whatever the state of my gene pool, his was a cocktail fit for the trailer park.

Shelley’s family, who had more reason than any to not cotton to the idea of me, opened up the welcome wagon far more generously than many brides are ushered into the fold by their husband’s near and dear. Quirks in perspective, they have never been anything but kind and have graciously taken any issues they might have had directly to Rob and not out on me. I really could not praise them or be grateful enough for their efforts.

His immediate family, after the shock passed, have made tentative moves here and there. Rob’s mother has been most in our lives, a sweet gentle lady who life could have shown more kindnesses but who has risen remarkably above a bad marriage and disappointments that would have embittered many.

She is marrying again. I was not as shocked as Rob when she called to announce her engagement to an American she met on CatholicMatch.com a few months ago.

“When’s the wedding,” I asked.

“June sometime,” Rob said.

“Well, I hope Edie and Silver weren’t planning a June wedding,” I replied and earned his “La-la-la” look because he hates thinking about the reality of his oldest daughter’s quite probably impending nuptials. It makes him feel old in addition to forcing him to think about the fact that someone is sleeping with his daughter. I think that’s probably a dad thing.

It doesn’t help that he is turning fifty this coming year and a wedding with its accompanying threat of future grand-parenthood is just rubbing salt in his mortality issues.

But aside from June possibly being a hectic month for us next year, his mother’s wedding plans dredged up sibling issues.

I have met my sisters-in-law. LW, as you might remember, is widowed and quite mired in her childhood issues as well. Our first meeting involved me raking the lawn of her mother’s house, trying to help Rob get things cleaned up for its sale and their mother’s impending move to British Columbia, and as we worked, she followed me about regaling me with tales of how awful a parent their mom was.

I totally get having been parented in a manner that would horrify the uber parents of today. My own parents did their best but fell short in some critical areas here and there. Most notably would have been Dad’s alcoholism and Mom’s using us to try to change him. Did it screw me up? It left its marks. I struggled as a teen and young adult, but one day, in my early 30’s, I came to the conclusion that my parents – flawed and floundering as they sometimes were – loved me, wanted only joy for me, and if I was ever to have that joy, I had to let go off my hurts – real and imagined.

So I did. Life improved on a lot of fronts in the wake and I am glad I chose to move on.

LW? Not so much. Long story short – we only keep up with her via the Facebook status updates of her pregnant 15-year-old who, as nearly as we can tell, is in some sort of foster care right now. As we are not a receptive audience for her self-pity and self-righteous rage, she isn’t much interested in us either.

Shay is Rob’s other sister. I’ve met her too. She is a tiny woman who gives the impression that at any moment she might pounce on you. Tightly coiled and has led a harder life than most. But she makes an effort to stay in touch and has an attitude about letting sleeping dogs curl up in front of the Ghost of Christmas Past‘s hearth that matches Rob’s.

Tyke is my brother-in-law, and I have never met him. He is the pot-stirrer of the moment.

Rob posted old family photos of his family on Facebook recently. Usually, his family pics are really Shelley’s family pics. For obvious reasons, they are closest and more immediate, but he found some old photos taken of his parents at his wedding to Shelley and pictures of Tyke when he was little and put them up.

Tyke and Rob have a complicated relationship from Tyke’s point of view. They have no relationship at all from Rob’s.

Sixteen years separate them, and Rob was gone and married well before Tyke would have been able to form any solid, fact-based memories and opinions of his big brother.

For his part, Rob views Tyke from the distance that their ages naturally imposed on them. As Tyke was running wild, skipping school and getting into all manner of predicaments that resulted in their mother sending him to live with his dad, Rob was raising a family of his own and taking a squinty-eyed view of Tyke’s behavior.

Tyke commented on three of the photos Rob posted to his FB account. The first one was taken on Rob and Shelley’s wedding day by an unknown relative. It features his mother, father and mother-in-law.

“My,” I said, “look at the way your Dad is looking at your Mom. He’s obviously still in love with her.”

At this point in time, Rob’s mother had left his dad. My late father-in-law had trouble with alcohol and a temper that found its release all over Rob’s mother. She left him just two years earlier.

Shay’s teen daughter commented on that photo, amazed by her grandmother’s beauty. My mother-in-law has those exotic Hungarian features that grace Rob as well and a beautiful body for a woman who’d had four children and was in her early forties at the time.

MomInLaw replied, thank you, and Tyke commented that perhaps his niece was  brown-nosing a bit too much.

“What’s brown-nosing,” she replied. She’s sixteen and, let’s face it, that’s an archaic term.

Rob stepped in. Tempers sparked a bit.

Two other photos featured Tyke as either a toddler or a child. The picture of him with a handgun would only be disturbing if it were taken today. A boy with a gun in the wilds of the Canadian Prairies was not such a big deal in the 1980’s.

More comments. More sparks.

And then the bomb dropped, MomInLaw innocently remarked about her fiance and upcoming marriage … which she apparently forgot to tell Tyke about and forgot that she’d forgotten.

Tyke is a bit like my youngest sister, Baby. His blinkered view of the world confines him to mostly him. No one else’s issues – good, bad or indifferent – really get much consideration.

And to be fair, his life sucks. If being able to puke up the saddest tale of woe was a game show, he’d clean up.

He has no education. Seriously, none. Dropped out of the 8th grade. Worked roofing under the table for his ex-father-in-law until he was diagnosed with Lupus in his early 20’s. The disease attacked and destroyed his kidneys, so he’s been on dialysis for a number of years with not much hope of a transplant because his unrepentantly bad lifestyle choices have made him a “risk”. Translated that means the medical establishment doesn’t want to waste a good kidney on someone they are fairly certain will ruin it in short order.*

In addition, he is housebound due to the nightly dialysis. He can’t receive government disability because he never paid into the tax system and his ex-wife cuckolded him on Facebook of all places.

He has a lot of reasons to be angry … with himself, but like most people whose foolishness or willfulness have brought them to their days of reckoning decades too soon, he prefers to place blame on his family.

Rob is the favorite son and he is the loser. Rob got his great life handed to him while Tyke was foiled by one and all. Blah. Blah. Blah.

I have actually heard all this before. From my own younger brother, CB. More than once he’s compared our lives and accused me of having it “too easy”.

“Really?” I asked. “And which ‘easy’ were you envious of? The fact that I remained single until I was 34 or had to go through IVF to have a child or the fact that my husband died?”

“But you have a good job,” he stammered a bit, ” and a house.”

“I worked for those, remember. The whole going to college and wage slaving away thing?”

“Dad paid for your college though and he didn’t offer to help me.” Indignant now.

“I worked my way through school, and perhaps you’ve forgotten who funded your lost ski bum years while I was living off rice and beans as a teacher?”

Baby has similar delusions about the foundations of my awesome life.

As Tyke does of Rob.

But the thing that sticks most in Tyke’s craw is the fact that in spite of the fact that he’s been mean and mostly unlikable his entire life – no one in the family will volunteer to give him a kidney.

“Not one of you cares enough even to get tested to see if you match!”

But it’s not that simple and the fact that Tyke refuses to acknowledge the sacrifice that would be expected to follow a positive match is at the heart of the reluctance.

The first time Tyke asked for a kidney, Shelley had just died three months earlier. Rob stopped in Calgary on his way to the U.S. where he was taking her ashes to spread in various places that had meant something special to the two of them over the course of the 27 years they’d been together. At the time, Rob substituted much-needed cash for the kidney Tyke really wanted – though he took the money easily enough.

One might sympathize with Tyke’s desperate request even in the face of Rob’s grief if they didn’t know that when Shelley was first diagnosed, Tyke had commented to his mother that he didn’t see what the big deal was. He, after all had just 10% of his kidney function left while she had “just a little growth on her leg”. A “little growth” at stage 4.

I could be shocked but I’m not. Baby once compared her low-life boyfriend’s upcoming four-month stint in county lock-up for a parole violation to the fact that my husband would soon be dead. And I, according to her, didn’t have as much to complain about.

So rounding back to the recent FB tiffle – which continues on in the form of incoherent rants arriving in Rob’s message inbox – Tyke blasted Rob again for not submitting to type matching.

“But you aren’t really eligible now after the heart attack,” I pointed out. “He knows that, right?”

Rob shrugged. “I don’t know what he ‘knows’ sometimes but I’m tired of being his punching bag whenever his childhood rears its ugly head. I sit here and read his words and feel my chest tightening and my heart hurt.”

Which is enough for me to toss Tyke under the bus with my dead husband’s in-laws, but he’s not my brother. If he were my brother, I’d let him have – both barrels, unfriend, have a nice life. I resent the stress he’s causing Rob because he’s not grown up enough to admit that he’s angry his mother forgot about him and jealous of the fact that he isn’t her favorite.

I wasn’t my Dad’s favorite. DNOS was. And I used to resent it. But eventually I grew up and realized that “favorite” and “loved” aren’t the same thing. I was not someone my Dad could be “friends” with, but I was his daughter and he loved me.

In the end, Rob will find the exact measure of tact or Tyke will wear himself out. What will not happen is Tyke being struck by a maturity bolt from the blue because I have been waiting for that to hit CB and Baby for the last twenty plus years to no avail and baby siblings who strive hard to hang onto the immaturity mantle have tenacious grips.

*Getting an organ transplant here is not just a matter of need and queuing up. Age, lifestyle and willingness to follow the strict drug protocol after the fact are all used to decide who gets the organs that become available. It seems brutal, but it’s more fair than the U.S. system that almost throws organs away by giving them to people who aren’t going to make the best use of a precious resource for whatever reason.

2 responses to “The One with the In-laws

  1. “I came to the conclusion that my parents – flawed and floundering as they sometimes were – loved me, wanted only joy for me, and if I was ever to have that joy, I had to let go off my hurts – real and imagined.

    my life got better, too, once i bagged this concept, wrestled it to the ground, and mounted it in the frontal lobe of my brain.

    my life also got better when i let go of any prospect that my extended trailer park family could ever evolve to be more enlightened than they currently are… and that their problems were not mine.

    here’s to Rob finding the best path through the minefield of his family connections. pretty sure Facebook isn’t one of the waypoints…

  2. You and Rob are so very well suited: pragmatic, hard working, intelligent, caring people. I’m so very glad you found each other.

    I’d be p.o.’d too, if my husband’s brother was causing him that much stress. And I’d rant a bit then bite my tongue, too.

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