What I do have are in-laws. LOTS of in-laws since my husband is one of six children. I have been with the same man since I was fifteen years old so I have grown up with my husband’s family and consider them actual family and not just an indiscriminate collection of people I inherited that I need to contend with during the holidays. I love them. They make me crazy because every single last one of them is certifiably insane, but it’s kind of part of their charm.
The large extended family option that came standard when I purchased the Hubby was part of the initial draw. The family I grew up with is considerably different than my in-laws. They are a small group who is quiet and conservative. They eat really nice expensive food, drink good wine and go on a lot of trips. I get the feeling they are somewhere between amused and horrified that I married a Ukrainian (he’s actually Romanian, but it took my family eight years to stop referring to him as Albanian so I take what I can get). They all have immaculately clean houses (like, freakish hospital-quality clean houses) and none of the women have careers. Well, I do have an aunt that is a nurse and a cousin that is almost a nurse, but the only reason they work at all is because they don’t have husbands. Female careers in my family are pretty much unheard of unless you have no one to ‘support’ you. They also have very nice manners and grammar and all family dinners are eaten properly at the beautiful dining room table using the matching china. Kids are trained not to speak or create any noise or generate any mess, and only a few certain people are invited to family occasions at a time. If you had more people than seats or plates, (a) there would be a tragic mismatched dinnerware situation, and (b) an increased risk of sound. There is NO NOISE EVER allowed around my family. They are a quiet bunch who like things proper and orderly and dignified. It's just how they roll.
The in-laws, on the other hand….are....umm..... different. They are loud (like, bag-pipe marching band loud), opinionated, invite whoever is hungry to whatever occasion is happening and all the kids get to talk or make noise whenever they want. Nobody has a clean house and all the women work. In fact, most of them make more money than their husbands. They burn every piece of meat to a scorching chunk of coal and buy whatever red wine is cheapest and then put it in the fridge. They eat food like perogies (SO good) and cabbage rolls (meh). They have random, quirky relatives whose average age is about 97 and when they come over for a family occasion my father-in-law assigns them a seat and proceeds to get them drunk. After a few stiff ones they start telling fart jokes in Romanian. Everyone eats dinner sitting in whatever free space they can find and if you can score a TV table it’s a major triumph. The brothers and sisters speak in these randomly bizarre pretend accents for no reason and play board games after dinner that include actions such as screaming ‘YODI YODI YODI YODI YODI’ as loud as possible while rubbing bums together and flailing arms whenever a team scores a point. There is nothing proper, orderly or dignified about this bunch. I fit in quite nicely.
Because my family doesn’t live near me and I have grown up with the in-laws, my house is a closer reflection of the environment created by my husband’s family than it is my original family. This works for us, but I don’t think it’s advancing my goal of some day fitting in with my original family. The world they live in has very specific rock-solid rules to live by and I don’t live by them. I work a lot, my house is always mess, my kids make noise and act like, well, kids, I earn more money than my husband and I have adopted the ‘more the merrier’ philosophy to hosting. I’ve tried to marry the two families together a few times for various occasions, and…..let’s just say it hasn’t really worked out all that well. That’s okay. I’m making peace with it. I’m grateful to have this ‘other’ family who makes me laugh and doesn’t take themselves all that seriously.
I’m never putting a bottle of red wine in the fucking refrigerator though. A girl has to draw the line somewhere.