in-law issues

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At least for a few more weeks according to my older nephew N1, who at my behest called his mother, Baby, last night to tell her  – from me – that ignoring my calls would not make the situation go away. Fortunately, DNOS had already managed to get my rock star sister to take a call and proceeded to royally ream her backward ass, setting her straight on the new world order.

Baby cried persecuted to her son though he informed me that he didn’t believe a word of it, and when I spoke to Mom late Sunday afternoon, the harassing phone calls had stopped.

This was not before she received at least two more after her trip to the police station and was a nervous wreck.

As I chatted with Mom, I called her the traces of anxiety and exhaustion in her voice. This latest incident with Baby being a baby strained her, but unlike times past, she didn’t cave. She’s determined that the Bank of Mom is closed, and she hinted at “other changes”, which can’t be good for Baby. Whereas my dad didn’t believe in punishing us from the grave, Mom is perfectly capable of playing behavior accountant from beyond. Dad was a hammer in the moment, but Mom had the longer memory and could wait patiently for the right opportunity to throw youthful indiscretion squarely back at you when the moment presented itself.

LawnMower Man is on work release, so apparently he was tormenting Mom before or after milking and field work at the farm where he is one of several hired men. My late husband, Will, used to refer to such a set up as “baby jail”. An old high school friend of his wound up in a similar program early in our marriage, and he was mercilessly teased about it.

Between Baby’s broken back and LawnMower Man’s incarceration, they are a hurting financial unit. In days of yore, he would simply phone Mom and inform her that if she didn’t help them out, he would pack Baby up and dump her on Mom’s doorstep. Since the beginning of the year, however, DNOS and I have made it clear that there is no way on any level of hell that we’d allow her to take Baby back. Normally, Mom listens to us not even the littlest bit, but we’ve made surprising headway in the influence department and Baby’s going to have a difficult time getting out of the corner DNOS and I have left her to manuver this time.

“She has the numbers of all the women’s shelters,” Mom told me. “It’s time she got herself out of her own messes.”

Forty-three at the end of the month, she looks a decade older and telegraphs “poor white trash” with her every word and action. No one in the family has an ounce of patience left. If she had  real emergency right now, she had to rely on the kindness of strangers quite literally because anyone who knows her is done with her. She’s played too many people and the chickens are roosting for real in the yard of the possibly condemned trailer she lives in.

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 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.

It’s a bit past eight in the morning. Katy is still sleeping and I have the house to myself. If you have been following my in-law saga – now in it’s sixth day – you will remember that my sister-in-law and her teens are stranded here due to a car breakdown on New Year’s Eve day. Well, it’s a martyr thing. Last evening sis-in-law emerged from meek pity-seeking mode to reveal a more action oriented one. With it came a bit of snarkiness and the ridiculous idea that the best way for the car situation and her “imposing” issues to be solved would be to go into town with Rob this morning and have him drop her off. She and the teens (yes, she dragged them along) will spend the day on foot trying to find someone to fix their vehicle. And okay, it’s not a big town by any stretch of the imagination. You could probably walk from one end to the other in 30 minutes at a good clip. Crossing the highway to the shopping area isn’t too dangerous either. But the repair shops are not near each other and it would have been easier to have Rob drop of the keys at the OK Tire he originally towed the car to and had the owner call sis-in-law with a prognosis and estimate. Providing that he could get to it today. It’s the day after a holiday and Canadians are very serious about their holidays and time off in general. Add to that the rather severe worker shortage – skilled workers especially – and all I can envision is sis-in-law walking the length and breath of the Fort today with two recalcitrant children in tow and being basically told to come back tomorrow (or god forbid Friday). Did I mention that the sun is barely up here and it’s well below 0 celsius? With wind too.

The thing is that I have seen this. When sympathy doesn’t arrive and it becomes apparent that people expect you to do something more pro-active on your own behalf than simply bemoan your fate and play the widow card, half-baked plans like this are the result. Win. lose or draw, when they arrive back here later today they all will be cloaked heavily in the grievous air of martyr-hood, having been “forced” to spend the day tramping about on foot like poor relations because I didn’t want to spend my day playing taxi-cab. And this is what irritates me most of all. I will look like the bad person and in every re-telling of the tale, I will come out worse and worse.

I have been here before with Will’s mother. I was telling Rob last night, after I retreated to our bedroom to read and try to find Zen somewhere, that this whole affair was reminding me too much of the last month Will was in hospice two years ago. His mother had everyone tip-toeing around and letting her have her way in all things because of the sorry state of her life and overall appearance. Even I was expected to give precedence to her and it rankled. Still does. When I had eaten past my fill of being denied time alone with my husband, I asked that she not be around when I visited which only intensified the martyr act. Poor mother-in-law to have such a cruel and heartless woman for a daughter-in-law and she would being her litany of complaints against me never once hinting at the fact that our poor relationship might have been her doing. Rob reminded me that this is my house and I needn’t make myself scarce or stay out of his sister’s way to keep peace, but I reminded him that my being the wife of the dying man hadn’t made a difference two years ago either.

I have worked with kids in at-risk programs several times over the course of my teaching career. When you do this you end up doing a fair amount of counseling and my counselor friends were always telling me I should consider looking into the career full-time because I was good at it. I always shrugged the suggestions off because I am too problem-solving oriented and have only a limited amount of sympathy/empathy for those who refuse to see logic or help themselves even the tiniest bit. That, is what they told, is what made me good. Counseling is not consoling. It’s about helping people help themselves to the best of their ability. It’s not about aiding and abetting self-defeatism or feeding someone’s need to play the role of the cursed or downtrodden. I used to get in trouble on the widow board for doing the same thing. Offering solutions (and occasionally a kick in the pants) instead of tea and pity. I understand that someone fresh to a bad situation needs special consideration, but my mother-in-law was twenty some years into her widowed pity party and Rob’s sister is going on eight years herself. I don’t buy into the idea that grieving is the be-all end-all and should take as long as it takes. Both these women had/have children who they dragged/are dragging down with them. And they are not dumb. Or helpless -they just prefer that because playing the poor me thing will sucker enough people to keep them from having to do something themselves.

I might be pleasantly surprised by what walks in the door later today but the realist in me thinks I am closer to the mark with my original prediction. Let’s just hope in the meantime that the car is fixable and some mechanic has time for it today.

Maquoketa Caves State Park

Image by Phil Roeder (lots of comments to catch up on) via Flickr

I love my sister’s in-laws. They are a large, friendly bunch who lay waste to every bad in-law joke you may have ever heard. BIL and his twin were actually high school classmates of mine, and I actually knew him before he and my sister even met.


BIL has six brothers. All but the youngest is married. All but two have children. When even a couple of them gather in one place with their families, you know they are there. The last time I saw them all together in one place was nearly 7 years ago when DNOS and BIL married. I remember at my parents house the next day while the grown-ups were outside watching the newlyweds unwrap gifts I walked into the kitchen to find a half-dozen or so of BIL’s nieces and nephews pretending to mix drinks using various concoctions of soda pop.


My sister is actually the “oldest” of the sister-in-law’s even though she was the last one of them to marry into the family. DNOS and BIL dated for about fifteen years. They got engaged The Christmas after Will and I got married. In fact, the first time we visited after our engagement BIL’s comment to Will was “Thanks a lot.” Even with the occasionally clash of personalities, I have always thought my sister to be extremely blessed as far as in-laws are concerned. Because Will was an only child and not really comfortable with either side of his family, I knew I wouldn’t have what DNOS did but I had high hopes for pleasant holidays and other such gatherings. I didn’t get that. As we circled the park today trailing after P’s wife K as she scouted about for a picnic site in what is essentially a campground, I had brief flashes of the Mathes family celebrations. A room ringed with people on folding chairs, eating off paper plated balanced precariously on their knees while engaged in the awkward small talk that periodically broke the silence. My sister has not always taken her in-laws in stride, but her observations of mine have made her more grateful for them than she already was.


My daughter loves to visit with her cousin’s cousins. She is just beginning to understand that she is not related to Uncle BIL’s family, but she stubbornly maintains that his youngest nephew is in fact just as much her cousin as N2, BIL and DNOS’s son, is. They are quite the trio. No is the oldest at six and a half, followed by N2 who is just six and then my Dee at not quite five. They ran themselves silly, played on the swings and argued over the camping chairs. No tried to convince the other two to play “runway model” on top of one of the picnic tables. N2 was game but Dee hung back and merely watched. I don’t think she knows what a model is and the look on her face indicated that she wasn’t quite certain that this was an activity for boys. My daughter is a bit archaic in her ideas about gender. As I watched I remarked to my sister that her husband would not have permitted a game like that to played for long. He is very archaic in his ideas about gender, but as the two boys sashayed up and down the table top, wiggling their bums like girls in a hip-hop video, everyone but Dee and I pretended not to notice.


After a dinner of grilled animal and assorted junk food of which Dee partook and I demurred politely, we said our good-byes. Real good-byes I realized when Dee pointed out to No that it was very unlikely he would ever see my Dee again. It’s interesting the people who are connected to your life, but who you have such a little bit of contact with over the course of it. I wonder if a person is richer or poorer for it?