Friday, July 06, 2007

Where's Art Linkletter when you need him?

Last night at dinner - at my mother-in-law's house, with S's (this is my husband - I've never been comfortable with the acronym thing and have just decided to abandon ship; anybody who knows us and stumbles across this blog is going to know it's us whether I use his first initial or not, so...) maniacal, hypercritical, octagenarian Japanese aunt in attendance - J decides to fill a lull in the conversation with this little tidbit:
  • J: Not everybody puts strings in their bottoms.
  • Me and S (mouths agape): Um... what?
  • J: {blink, blink}
  • Me: {silently figuring it out and groping for way to change subject)
  • S: What J? Strings in their bottoms?
  • J (Stabbing an accusatory finger across the table at me): Like YOU do.
  • Me (To S, who looked at me like I'd been taking his child to some sort of feminine hygiene rally): This is what comes from having NO privacy in the bathroom.
  • J: Does (insert affection grandmother term here) have...
  • Me and S (frantically interrupting)...
  • J: ... a TV?

Aye, me. At least my mother-in-law had a good sense of humor about it and rejoined with a charming tale of the time she and her cousin found a stash of "balloons" in her aunt and uncle's bedroom and - with great difficulty - inflated them, much to the shock of said relatives upon discovery. But still. I wanted to slip beneath the heirloom linen tablecloth and hide my crimson cheeks under the antique dining table. And not only because I feel like/know my parenting proficiency is every moment being judged by S's side of the family. And I know that anyone who has ever been in the room with an almost-three-year-old for five minutes knows you have little control over the things that come flying out of their cherubic little faces, and that this has very little to do with one's knack for raising children. But STILL. Strings. Bottoms. At the dinner table.

A few weeks ago S's mother and father - who are no longer married to one another and, according to the MIL have not had a conversation since he walked out of the house in 1986 - showed up on our doorstep at precisely the same time. Unannounced. And S wasn't home. In fact, he was out of town, so there was absolutely no hope of rescue. I actually considered - just for a second, and you would have, too - just not answering the door. But they had already seen me - damn sidelights. So I opened up and in they came. Just to properly impart the awkwardness of the situation: these people do not speak. Ever. At family events where they have no choice but to be under the same roof - grandchildren's birthday parties, et al - they take great care to never be in the same room with one another. I know this isn't particularly unusual behavior for divorced parents, but it also doesn't make them particularly pleasant company. When they're together. Alone. And they didn't expect to be.

But they weren't alone, of course. I was there. And could I have mustered even the most remotely acceptable excuse for leaving them alone, believe me, I would have. But I had nothing. I have enough trouble coming up with topics of conversation in which to engage people with whom I'm not intimately (not biblically, mind you, just intimately) comfortable, much less playing the gracious hostess and smoothing the waters between two people with two decades of pent-up animosity and unresolved feelings between them. And J was asleep, so we didn't even have the distraction of irresistibly cute grandkid - not that either of them have ever really been swayed by that anyway. And I admit to being more than a little bitter about that.

I was actually surprised by the cordial nature of their discourse - that went on for MORE THAN AN HOUR. While I sat on pins and needles just outside their conversation. And J - after she woke up - tried her best to get their attention and then finally gave up. (But they both still expected hugs and kisses before they left. Why do adults do this? J doesn't know what "grandparent" means; all she knows is that these grown-ups are around sometimes and they're kind of boring and they talk about grown-up (and wildly innappropriate) stuff while paying very little attention to her and then demand to be showered with affection before they go home. I'm trying not to go off the deep end with this, but the whole sexual predator thing freaks me the fuck out, so I'm determined to teach J that her body is hers to do with what she wants and if that doesn't include hugging and kissing her grandparents - or us, for that matter - then she shouldn't be expected to do it. And let me make it clear that I don't consider anyone in S's family to have a predatory nature about them. This is just about teaching J that she is in control of what happens to her and that it's not okay for someone to guilt her into being physically affectionate. S is of the mind (sort of) that she should just suck it up because when he was little his parents made him hug and kiss every soggy, doddering elder with whom he crossed paths, but he also likes to tell the story of the babysitter who made him and his brother slather her with Noxzema on a regular basis, so I'm not sure who's point he's trying to prove.)


Anyway. The anecdote I was trying to get to was the IL's exchange in which they cast their mutual shame upon their daughter for her decision not to spank her children. And there I sat. With my unspanked child. Who was particularly grumpy and uncooperative. And wouldn't hug anyone.

But the thing is, I can't make myself care. I don't think spanking - as most parents practice it - is child abuse, but I'm not comfortable with it and I don't do it. And I don't necessarily think they were wrong to do it, because if I had a child who acted like S and his brother did when they were little I doubt I would be able to restrain myself. But I don't think it's necessary in every case. And I don't think parents should be looked down upon for not doing it anymore than they should be for doing it.

So that's still not where I expected this post to end up, but here we are.

And now I'm all melancholy that I may never get to raise a devil child that needs to be spanked because even though we can apparently get pregnant by thinking amorous thoughts of one another in a dimly lit room staying pregnant seems to be an issue for us as of late. Everything was so easy with J. Got pregnant right out of the gate. Easy pregnancy. Perfect baby. And I was naive enough to think that meant that's the way it would always be. But two miscarriages later I'm starting to make my pro/con list for J being an only child. I never imagined I would have only one child. I have an incredibly close relationship with my younger sister and want the same for J. And I want her to have someone with whom to commiserate about her simple parents and to collaborate with on caring for us as we age. I don't want her to be alone. But if we don't have another child we can take her on fabulous vacations and send her to private school. And I won't have to stay up all night or change diapers or potty train again, even though the first time I did those things I never imagined it would be the only time I would do them. Sigh. A brother or sister sounds like more fun. Even though she is sure to despise him or her for the bulk of their formative years. Big picture, J, big picture.

We're waiting on test results to tell us whether we should try again. I'm not sure why the testing was done because I'm pretty sure I didn't request it. I still kind of feel like if we had just gone ahead and gotten pregnant again everything would have been fine and we would be well on our way to having another baby. But now we have to wait for "the results." And if the results aren't good, I'm pretty sure we'll decide to just be happy with the tremendous blessing we've already been given rather than relying on medical science to get us another one. And I think I'm a little sad about that.

About Me

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Southeastern, United States
34-year-old freelance writer/mommy of one, married to S who loves his work but is gone too much