Sunday, July 8, 2012

In-Laws: The Family I Never Knew I Didn't Have

When I got married, I had no idea what I was getting myself into in the in-law department. My mother-in-law is the youngest of eight children, all very sociable and outgoing, so the number of new in-laws with whom I would be in regular contact numbered in the dozens, maybe even the tens of dozens. My husband has cousins, second cousins, and even third cousins who are within ten years of our age, and since he has both a 20-year-old and a less than one-year-old, we can identify with the least three generations of family who are at roughly the same stage of life as we are.

And when I say “in regular contact,” I mean not only tons of Facebook postings and e-mail updates back and forth, but actually seeing these people face-to-face several times a year. For literally decades, my extended in-laws have had a Christmas party and a summer picnic every year, with anywhere from 50 to 100 family members in attendance. And that doesn’t even count other family events like weddings, funerals, and graduations.

Now, for a lot of people, going to a party with all your in-laws can be a bit of a trial – something to be endured rather than something to be enjoyed. But to me, an in-law party is just about as fun as it can get. I never have any fear of awkward silences, or of being left out of an in-joke, or of accidentally sparking a family squabble. In fact, as soon as I walked into the yard at this year’s summer picnic, my niece was offering to bring me a cold drink, my sister-in-law relieved me of both my bag and my baby, and a number of people were hugging me and striking up conversations. My daughter was delighted at all the attention from aunts and uncles and cousins, my son was thrilled to play in the pool with the big kids, and my husband and I happily regaled all interested parties with stories about my stepdaughter’s experiences in Army boot camp.

Ryan playing in the pool with his second cousin (I think) Brian
I love my own family, but I think it’s wonderful that I love my family-by-marriage just as much. Growing up in a small family, even the family gatherings where everyone in the extended family was there amounted to maybe 30 people. So being in a group of 50 to 100 family members – especially a group bearing very strong family resemblances – is a special treat for me. My in-laws have become a part of my family that I never knew I didn’t have. And I love them all for it.

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