Thursday, July 14, 2011

Monsters in Law & Evil Step-Siblings aka Keeping the "fun" in dysfunctional family

The words “in-law” or “step-insert family relation” generally conjures up a snarky joke, story or comment.  My family is no exception.  Those that know me well know the good, bad and ugly about my siblings-in-law and steps.  And, though the bad and ugly would be colorful and let’s face it, some of it is downright hilarious, it wouldn’t be right. These folks are family regardless of how wrong they are and how much crazy juice they drink.

S is my stepbrother though I’ve rarely used the word “step’ when describing him. We are one year and one day apart.  We me when my late father and his mother (please note the omission of any descriptive adjective) dated and later married.  We connected immediately and our sibling-like relationship began. He was dispatched to drive me across country from LA back to WDC in the late 80’s. We drove my very tiny Toyota and both chain-smoked. We had no radio stations.  Our first fight was outside Kingman, AZ. I wanted to stay where the choice of motels was many – he wanted to forge ahead. I can assure you that there is not a lot of choice in food and lodging in Ash Fork, AZ.  We laughed at a Denny’s in OK where we stood out among the senior square dancers dressed in full regalia. We got carded at a motel in TN. And, if memory serves, his girlfriend at the time was mildly annoyed we were sharing a hotel room. Seriously? Ewwww……

We’ve seen each other through a lot – in many ways growing up together. We had children around the same time.  He mourned the loss of my father – his stepfather – so deeply that there was little difference between his grief and my own.  He took over my father’s insurance business and to this day, I still review all my health insurance benefits with him.  He’s an all-around fix-it man (much like my dad) and I’ve made more than one panicky call to him about some type of home repair that I’ve fucked up. 

S is my sister-in-law – she’s married to S mentioned above. For almost 5 years, she and I spoke daily – comparing babies, baby poop, baby food, baby clothes and our new cocktail of choice.   We have laughed, cried, whined and bitched about everything.  A former preschool teacher, S kept me sane during the childcare/preschool years.  I miss our daily talks – life has simply become too busy and my daily commute too short for us to have our morning chats.  We make due with quick calls of “Hey, it’s me”  and never have to apologize when either one of us says, “Shit, gotta go…..”

And then there is V, married to my brother R.  A calm in the storm of family craziness, V is often the voice of reason.  She helped me move when I was hugely pregnant.  By help, I mean that she moved and unpacked me (yelling at the movers to find me a chair) and I was still calling her 6 months later to find out where she put crap in my kitchen.  She was the first person who babysat my daughter overnight when I had to go on a business trip.  We’ve had more than one NYC weekend that included many, many drinks and no other family members.  I believe my brother’s only comment was, “I don’t want to know.” We’ve shopped, dined and wined (and whined) often. She and my brother’s home is my refuge – part vacation spot, part home-away-from home.  Most importantly, V has taught me the importance of wearing underpants when shopping – or at least being sure you’re zipped up before – uh, modeling.

Some in-laws and steps remain that. Cordial (well, sometimes) and civil (eye-rolling). There are laughs, forced time together and efforts to have conversation (or avoid conversation, whichever works best.)  Even the most strained relationships have some level of connection – some type of familial bond (as dysfunctional as it may be) reinforced through years of holiday dinners, rites of passage, grief and maybe even some mutual disgust. 

Every fairy tale ever written prefaces “step” with evil, ugly, selfish, boorish….well, you get the point.  Just as all sitcoms consider in-laws to be stupid, annoying, bossy, interfering, judgmental and so on.  To be honest, we’ve used more colorful words in my family.

But sometimes – just sometimes – the preface is great, wonderful and amazing…and followed by friend.

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