Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Highest Compliment

Tonight we took all three kids out to a nice dinner...DH had gift cards that had been sitting around forever and today we just said "why not?" and decided to take the whole fam to dinner. We never really thought twice about bringing the kids- they are well-behaved and we enjoy taking them with us to restaurants. We went on the early side because it was the only reservation available and, we thought, more likely to be "family time." In fact, when we got there, we were the only party with young children in tow.

Towards the end of our dinner, two older women who had been dining near us stopped by our table and one of them said, "I just wanted to let you know the two of you are wonderful parents. It is so refreshing to see children so well-behaved in a nice restaurant." The way she said it (and just judging by appearance) I assume she is someone who probably cringed when she saw us coming in the restaurant and being seated near her table. Her comment nearly brought me to tears. I have never in my life received a higher compliment.

Friday, May 9, 2008


This post has been sitting in my drafts waiting to be finished for a week now, so I have had some time to cool off but still feel angry about the whole situation...

I think I've vented about my sister-in-law before, but after what happened tonight at dinner, I feel a long-winded vent is well overdue and much needed if I want to be able to sleep tonight.

I'll start with the simple fact that I do NOT like my sister-in-law. I tolerate her because I love my husband and the rest of his family, and that means that I have to put a smile on my face and deal with her. I used to vent to DH about her, but I learned some time ago that it wasn't productive: while he agrees that his sister is more than a bit "off," you know the saying: blood is thicker than water, and when push comes to shove, it is still his sister. I think he used to be more "on my side" about the whole issue until she went through a "mental breakdown" about a year ago and she turned to him for support. He felt sorry for her (and probably a bit of pride in the fact that she trusted him enough to turn to him for support) and I saw a change in his attitude to much more defensive of her. When I'd make complaints about her, he'd say that I was only making the complaints because I didn't like her, and that in any other person I would tolerate or ignore the issue. I admit that I start with a bias because I JUST DON'T LIKE HER (for reasons I'll get into in a bit) but the issues I have are genuine and I'd have them with any of my friends if they acted like she does. I'd even have the issues with perfect strangers if they acted like she did.

In a nutshell, SIL is a self-absorbed know-it-all. Ask a question of someone at the dinner table with an area of expertise and she will pipe in with her "expert opinion" EVERY TIME, even if it's an issue she has no knowledge of and even if she is wrong. I think a lot of her personality stems from the fact that, based on what DH has told me about her teenaged years, she was shunned by the "in crowd" and in defense became "alternative" to convince herself and others that she didn't even want to be part of the in crowd. And then she went to law school, didn't do well and ended up never getting to practice law. She settled into policy work but lost about 5 jobs in the course of 3 or 4 years, from what I can tell due to the fact that she couldn't get along with her co-workers and many times couldn't do the work she was hired to do. So there seem to be a lot of insecurities there about being accepted and competent, and maybe her know-it-all attitude is part of that.

I will admit that a pivotal point in our relationship, and the point in time I think of as when I went from merely amused by her to actually disliking her, was at a dinner several years ago when DH and I were in the depths of fertility treatments. I think we had been through three or four rounds of IVF at the time and I was in a bad place myself. SIL is one of the "fertile myrtles" we all talk about, who has no clue (or at least doesn't act like she does) that it takes more than throwing away the BCP and one romp in the sack to get pregnant. Although I never talked to her directly about our struggles, she certainly knew about them. This particular night at dinner, DH leaned over to me about 15 minutes into the dinner and whispered a warning to me that his sister was pregnant. Sure enough, the waiter asks the table if they want wine and she says with much drama, "oh, no, I CANNOT drink wine tonight!" As in hint, hint, but I'm not coming out and saying it.

I appreciated DH's warning but it was too much for me, especially after the dramatic "I'm not drinking and everyone understands why but I'm not going to say it." I left the table and ended up in a sobbing mess in a bathroom stall. I can still remember the stall with vivid detail. I remember the horrible feeling with even more detail. After several minutes, I composed myself and came out of the stall to wash up and head back to the table. As I was washing up, who should happen to come into the bathroom guessed it...SIL. She looked at me and said, "oh, I have to pee SOOOOO know how it is." She knew at this point DH had told me she was pregnant. And the thought going through my head that I was too polite (because I'm a wuss) to say was "NO, B!TCH. I DO NOT KNOW HOW BADLY YOU HAVE TO PEE WHEN YOU ARE PREGNANT BECAUSE DESPITE THE FACT WE HAVE GONE THROUGH THREE FAILED CYCLES OF IVF, I HAVE YET TO EVEN EXPERIENCE A BFP." Instead, I mumbled something and headed out of the bathroom trying to hold back the sobbing that had I had just managed to stop moments before. Only now I was out in the open restaurant and couldn't even go back into my little stall to cry by myself.

So, needless to say, that moment sticks out as a defining moment in our relationship and shaped how I feel about her.

Regardless, even if things like this didn't happen, SIL is not someone I would have ever been friends with. She is a faux "intellectual" who talks about opera and international politics and art just to show off. She dresses funny. She has no girl friends (no friends at all, actually) except for two that live hundreds (one thousands) of miles away. She is a mommy's girl who is constantly whining to her "Mommy" (and yes, she calls her that in public.) In fact, she once had her mother come with her to a business conference because, in her words, "there's no way I could go on my own without my mommy!" (WTF?!) Mind you, she's a 36-year old mother of two. She immediately rubs people the wrong way when they meet her (my entire bridal party was ready to murder her after spending just 24 hours with her over our wedding weekend, and most of them had never met her before). I could go on and on with the stories about her troubling behavior. She's just not someone I'd ever spend time with if it weren't for the fact we are family.

Anyway, I have avoided up to this point any contact with her other than family gatherings. Unfortunately, DH's parents have a strong tradition of Friday night Shabbat dinners at their house (everyone is local) so I have spent almost every Friday night with her for the past 10+ years. And international vacations DH's family has been kind enough to take us on, until I drew the line and told him I just could not spend 24/7 in the same rented apartment as his sister. But again, I do it (1) because it's important to DH and (2) because I think it's special for our children to have a tradition of Shabbat dinners with their grandparents and extended family.

Tonight before dinner, DH was getting a bottle ready for the baby. Our son wanted to "help" and DH told him no, but he kept trying to reach for the bottle. SIL turns around, out of nowhere, and yells loudly, "NO!!!!" at our son. The look on his face made me want to cry myself- sheer confusion, then sadness, then the tears came. She scared the poor boy out of his mind. Immediately she knew what she did was wrong and out of line- MIL asked why our son was crying and she said "because I said something I shouldn't have." But no apology. I did everything possible to keep myself from knocking her upside the head (or at least screaming at her as loudly as she screamed at our son). I took our son aside and told her, "thank you, but I think we can handle discipline ourselves." I should have said so much more but I was so steaming mad and didn't want to say something I'd regret later.

This was all after I really made an effort to be cordial to her tonight-- asked her how her job was going, etc.-- but just like every other time I try to be nice and think that I can maybe even have a semblance of a relationship with her, she goes and does something like this.

I just don't know what to do. DH didn't bring it up after we left but was clearly annoyed with her. I've learned long ago not to talk about her to him because even though he recognizes she can be annoying, she is his sister, after all. And I just don't want to be the one pitting him against her. But what do I do- I have to see her almost every week, my MIL wants to get the kids together more often for playdates (I have some issues with her kids, too, namely they are starting to turn out like her but I do still love them), etc. Do I just continue to be cordial, but not friendly, and suck it up for the sake of DH? From my vantage point, that's my only option.

If you've made it this far, kudos to you. I needed to get this out and this post is mainly a venting mechanism. But if you've made it this far, what would you do?