Friday, March 6, 2009

On Being a Daughter-In-Law

I am, I’m afraid, a lame daughter-in-law.

I don’t mean to be. Mostly because I have the most wonderful in-laws. They all live in Australia - Ann, David’s mum lives in Sydney and David’s dad, John and his wife Trish, live a life of tropical paradise in Noosa. They are all kind, loving and wonderful to us. Still, I’m mucking it up.

I do bumbling things like fail to write them e-mails enough or call them enough or leave their Christmas presents sitting on my bureau and never sending them out to Australia in November, which is when they should be sent out, so that they’ll have Christmas presents to open on Christmas day. Before we had kids I used to have long lazy phone conversations with David’s mom, where we would talk about David as a boy and all kinds of things going on in each other’s lives.

Now, I can barely call the super to fix the toilet and so, I make many fewer calls than I should. We talk to them all on Sundays, back-to-back and we often video-conference so the kids can sing them their latest song or tell them about and what animal project they did in school, and there are sporadic e-mails during the week about this or that. But I rarely call them up and surprise them anymore.

Truth is, most days I can barely comb my hair. Yesterday, I forgot to brush my teeth. And I haven’t had an uninterrupted conversation with another adult in nearly 4 years, so this limits my spontaneity a bit.

But this doesn’t mean that I don’t think of Ann and John and Trish often. Because I do. We all do.

Let me tell you a little about them, just so you have an idea about their coolness. Ann or “Granny Ann” as we call her, lets me completely take over her kitchen when we visit. She lets me do the shopping and plan the menu and do all the cooking. She’ll say “Oop, there’s nothing in the kitchen,” and then, marvel as I make something from very little. This makes me feel like a chef. She makes me feel good. I see that there are perks in this cooking thing for her, but for me, it makes me feel like home at her house. I am delighted to be in her hot little Australian kitchen even on vacation.

And Ann lets the girls wander around her house touching, moving and playing with her collection of cat figurines. She doesn't worry when Lucy wipes her Mulberry stained fingers on the carpet. "Uh, it's dirty anyway," she says, laughing. And everyone's at ease.

She has hundreds and hundreds of cat figurines and she doesn’t wince one little bit when the girls carry them around the house or drop them or play pretend with them. She doesn’t wonder if they’ll get broken or lost. She doesn't wander around after them making sure they don't do something egregious with them. The girls love that she has cat pictures hanging all over her bathroom.

She just lets the girls be and because of this, they love being in her house with her. It’s like Disney World for them. Well, Cat Disney World but still, fun.

David is turning into Ann. He has been yelling at the TV a lot lately and telling the characters what to do and throwing his hands up in the air when the plot takes an ugly turn. The next step is for him to start writing e-mails to the networks and asking them to bring back a favorite character that was killed. Neither one of them can help it, it’s in their genes.

My other mother-in law, Trish, also known as “Granny Trish” is also pretty high on the coolness meter. First, let me say that she used to belly dance. Not, like when she was 20. Like, last year. That alone sends her off the coolness chart in my book. She wore a cute belly dancing skirt with all the dangly, clanky medallions things hanging off it and swirled her hips around like a teenager. I didn't see it, exactly but I heard about it and I have the image in my head and she looks great.

As soon as I found out about her mysterious hobby, I decided right then and there I wanted to be like Trish when I grew up. Adventurous, open-to-life, loving, warm, curious. I wanted to be belly dancing or sky diving or swimming in a shark cage or juggling chainsaws or something. But not now, mind you, when I’m 65. When I have the Chutzpah to catch up with her.

John, David’s dad, or “Poppy” as the girls call him, is quite possibly the second most handsome man in the universe. My husband is the first, of course. But if you saw John lounging on the beach with a book, in his long, white, gauzy shirt and beach hat, you’d say “Wow. This guy is ridiculously cool.”

I have a secret hope that when David and I retire, we’ll move to Noosa and I can spend my golden years watching my husband walking along the still-hot beach at sunset, talking on the cell to a grown-up Lucy or Edie off in some corner of the globe, having one adventure or another, in his long, white, gauzy shirt and straw beach hat. His hair still long and thick, only now gray. In my spare time, I will be belly dancing. I could die happy doing that.

David and John have the same spirit. I feel it whenever I am with them – both of them are gentle, forgiving of other people’s frailty, kind, generous, thinking the best and nicest things of everything around them. Lucy felt it too from the minute she was in Poppy's arms, that sameness between her father and her grandfather.

See, Lucy was a particular child. She preferred David and I and her Godmother Bubba, but no one else, really. She never climbed into other people's laps or took to acquaintances. Except for Poppy.

When they came to visit us in NYC when we got married, John would put Lucy in the Baby Bjorn and he and Trish would take her for long walks in Central Park. She dozed on his chest like she had seen him every day of her life. There was a comfort there. It was beautiful to watch. That, too, is in the genes.

Even yesterday, I washed up in the kitchen and listened to David showing Lucy the picture at the top of this post, the one of David and John running a race together when David was a boy. The two of them, Lucy and David, have ruminated over that picture so many times, with Lucy moving into David's lap and asking him question after question about being a boy and how they look a lot alike and why he wore those shorts and why Poppy looks so different and why they were wearing sweatbands on their heads. (Really, what's up with those, guys?)

And then, Lucy and Edie put hair bands around their heads and pretended to be running in a marathon. Or Olivia Newton John in "Physical". Not sure which.

David's dad is the kind of guy who wouldn't say even a bad word after I suffered some kind of feeding frenzy at their house and shamefully devoured his ENTIRE tub of delicious Queensland yogurt - I still have never had better yogurt, ever. He's the kind of guy who turned me on to Kylie Kwong and sends me DVD's with obscure and frankly, down-right weird but fascinating, Australian cooking shows.

He and Trish also keep the cleanest house on the planet. It's so clean you actually have to take your garbage out to the trash container in the garage. I couldn't find a rubbish bin in the house the entire time I was there. Needless to say, we won't be able to go back there until we can completely cover the children in bubble wrap.

So, today is John's birthday and I did the lame thing again. I did not get to Macy's and pick him up a lovely new shirt for the beach and wrap it and box it and mail it off to him three weeks ago, so he'd get it today. Frankly, I'm not even sure you can buy a beach shirt at Macy's.

But David told me something important last night. "It's not about sending our parents presents," he said, "it's about staying connected to them and having them be a part of our lives and the girl's lives."

And this is why I love this man. Because he's right. And maybe I'm not so lame. I mean, there isn't day that goes by that we aren't telling Lucy the story of how she rode the camel with Daddy at the Eumundi Markets or how she knocked a cup of coffee all over Poppy and Granny Trish's perfectly clean beige living room rug, so they had to go out and buy a new rug or how she ate the Mulberries in Granny Ann's yard and I thought she might be poisoned, but really her face was just temporarily stained with berry juice. And don't even get me started on how my baby was just a couple of inches away from a Redback Spider. She loves hearing about it all.

All of it makes her laugh. And then, Edie wants us to tell funny stories about her. And we do. And see more pictures and hear more stories. We remind them that Sheep was a gift from Poppy and that Lucy's new party dress, the one that makes her feel like a princess, was picked out by Poppy himself. And she knows that people at all the far ends of the earth love her and are sending her their love all the time.

Everyday, we try to weave all the grandparents into our lives, even though they aren't here. I guess that's the best gift we can give them. Although I will try to be less lame and write more. I will try to send more pictures. Maybe one day, I'll learn to put our videos up on Youtube so they can see their grand kids doing cute things. And someday, when the kids are off to college, I will master this Christmas thing.

But if it takes awhile, John, just know there are a bunch of people across the world who think of you, love you and are so grateful to have you as a part of our lives. Especially our girl's lives. Look out for the pictures the girl's drew for you. We e-mailed them. We'll blow a candle out on a cupcake for you tonight!

Happy Birthday, Poppy. We love you!

Kim, David, Lucy & Edie



Sharleen said...

Once again you rock! I'm booking a trip to take the family south for the baby's 1st trip to grandma & grandpa's

Thanks for being an inspiration to just pack up and go.


SaintTigerlily said...

Beautiful, beautiful. (Though, I like on the marathon route in NYC and have never seen two people so happy to be running in one...they are clearly magic men.)

Many happy returns to Poppy!

The Mulligan Family said...

Kim, What a wonderful post and loving tribute to your in-laws. It is so obvious how much you adore all of them. They are certain to know that and feel that love all those many miles away. I agree with David. It's not about the gifts... it's about staying connected - and that is exactly what you are doing.
Cheers, Cindy

melissa said...

You have the most beautiful sense of family and what that means. Fantastic post. Happy birthday to John!

rita said...

What a touching tribute to your in laws. I'm betting they consider themselves fortunate to have you for a daughter in law. Wow! How lucky can they get? I'd have been delighted to have my daughter in law (now ex) come and cook for me, especially the kind of cooking that you do. David is so wise.

famdoz said...

Kim, gorgeous post. Sounds like they adore you. I know exactly how it feels for David, all my family still live in Australia and I'm in Paris with my hubby and baby boy. And you got lucky with the in-laws - Noosa and Sydney, what fantastic holiday destinations!