I lowered my voice hoping my parents couldn’t hear me.
“Why can’t you just spend some time with us,” I hissed at my husband. Just looking at him infuriated me. “They’re only here for three days and you only have to suffer through being social for one of them!”
“I don’t want to go into D.C.” Patrick pushed back in his chair, popping out the foot rest, nudging me back out of his face. I fully understood his reticence to go into D.C.; we’d learned early on after we moved here, that there is no good time to avoid traffic in D.C. But I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t set himself aside occasionally and just do it anyway.
“You don’t engage in conversations either!” I launched into a familiar tirade. “I feel like I have to feed you lines. You won’t even verbalize why you’re too busy to do things with us. I have to make all your excuses and tell them how you feel and why you’re doing what you do, instead of you just acting like a normal adult!”
I glanced behind me up the stairs to make sure my folks were still out of earshot. My mom turned on the blowdryer. Safe, for a few more minutes.
“Then don’t.” Patrick caught my attention again.
“Don’t feed me lines, don’t make excuses. Just let me do my own thing.”
That didn’t seem like a viable option to me, but I’d emptied my arsenal of frustrations and offenses.
My husband and I come from vastly different families. We are both blessed to enjoy and be loved by our respective in-laws. I love beading with his mom, sharing copious amounts of coffee and going on insanely long bike rides. My parents have attended almost every one of my husband’s military recognitions, no matter how far they had to travel to do so. The problem isn’t with our families. The problem is between the two of us, a virtual culture war.
I grew up valuing in depth dinner conversations, ranging from politics to the nuances of a movie no one but the speaker cares about. My dad is a businessman at heart, skilled at relational finesse and networking. There isn’t an Apple gadget my parents haven’t tried. Daddy taught all of his daughters to save, invest and spend conscientiously.
My mom loves shoes. She’s gets into deep Bible study and enjoys mentoring younger women. Together my parents go to the symphony, college basketball games or (used to) ride their motorcycle.By contrast, my in-laws are quiet folks. Their life is a lesson in simplicity. Who needs a car for distances less than 10 miles? Just hop on your bike! Why own a sofa when floor pillows are more comfy?
My father-in-law will pass up casual chit-chat for a good book about Biblical geography, birds or an obsolete African language. Julie, my husband’s mom, is a floor sitter, a long-distance runner and intricately creative. Neither of them think much about money, because neither of them spends much. They aren’t politically active or champions of any cause. They love their small town, cocoon of close friends and predictable routines.
As I bustled up the stairs to find my shoes, I carried a large chip on my shoulder. Why couldn’t my husband just wedge himself into my family’s mold for an afternoon? Why couldn’t he chat up my dad? Why couldn’t he…be more like…
The problem was me. I was fighting a culture war all by myself. When my husband and I are alone, I love the way he is quiet, content, predictable. All of a sudden, in the company of my parents, I wanted him to change in order to meet what I imagined were their expectations.
Slowly, I came back downstairs. Mom’s blowdryer still hummed away and my dad had stepped outside to take a phone call. I stood in front my husband, still in his recliner, and leaned into his knees.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I appreciate the way you are, exactly as you are. I am grateful for the ways that your habits have worn off on me. I like the way we are combining the best of both our families in our own family. I love you. Will you forgive me?”