When i married in 1984, it was obvious that my in-laws were not ‘of The Park’. Dignified, smart, hard-working and quiet people — they also had this annoying tendency to mate for life. Celebrations of 60th wedding anniversaries are routine, and there are only whispered stories regarding divorces of more distant family members.
Over the years, our children quickly learned to expect different types of holiday gatherings, depending on which side of the family was involved.
When visiting the in-laws: Quiet dinners at beautiful tables, set with real linens and silverware made of actual metal. Candles. Many helping hands in the kitchen. The eagerly anticipated arrival of vans full of tired, happy people who had traveled great distances to be with family for the holidays. Holding hands at the table while someone says grace. Thoughtful, tasteful and practical gifts.
When visiting The Park: Chaos. Too many people crammed into a too-cluttered house, with smoke so thick you can’t see the dining room from the kitchen. Sandwiches and metric tons of cookies for dinner, with big, plastic 2-liter bottles of soda on the table. Boisterous conversation, while gifts and food are thrown across the room — mainly because there is no clear path to walk without stepping on a screaming toddler. People racing in to collect holiday loot, then racing off to go transfer the kids to the other parent to meet terms of custody agreements. Gifts that vibrate, sing or both…
One Christmas, after a nearly side-by-side comparison of these disparate environments, my children made the following observation:
“Mom, how come on Dad’s side of the family, you are considered the wild, free-spirited, crazy member of the family, but on your side, you’re the one who handles every crisis and all the important stuff?”