First Birthday


I have been away from blogging because we had a busy weekend. We had a 1 year party for my little guy. That means dealing with the in laws. Honestly, they are a great family, but they are cut from an entirely different cloth than my “get drunk and let everyone know what you think about them” relatives. They communicate in a waspy code I haven’t yet been able to decipher. They tiptoe around making seemingly mild statements. I later learn that these gentle musings are packed with layers of meaning. For instance, my mother-in-law will say innocuously, “The baby is getting so good at walking.” I later learn from my wife that translates to, “Your son is not wearing appropriate shoes. And why not? Because you don’t have a job and can’t afford them. I know you want to stay home with the baby, but I want a straight daughter. Looks like nobody is going to get what they want.”

I have a hard time navigating this world. I should have paid better attention in English Lit when we were reading Edith Wharton. Part of the reason I have a hard time is that I don’t know when to shut up. And there are a whole host of things that shouldn’t be talked about. My wife forgets that I don’t speak Wasp, and forgets to warn me not to talk about certain things. For instance, law school. Apparently, we were supposed to keep my law school attendance a secret until I graduated. Boy, wouldn’t they have been surprise.

Another secret? Chili. My wife and I love my chili. I was brought up in the Southwest, and I can make a bowl of chili. But my father in law has a recipe as well. Its heart healthy, and doesn’t taste at all like it should. I’m sorry, but if there is no bacon grease or beef, you don’t have chili. You have some sort of northeastern bean stew. So when I was talking to my mother in law about the party, she asked me what we were serving.

“Cold cuts,” I said, “oh, and chili.”
“We can bring the chili,” she said.
“That’s ok. We can make it here.”
“Everybody loves Warren’s chili.”

And I knew I had lost.

“Why did you tell her we were having chili?” my wife asked.
“I didn’t know it was a secret.”
“Now we have to have their chili.”
“I just want to be able to talk to them honestly. You know, tell them we prefer our chili.”
“Sorry, it’s complicated.” Translation: “My mother wants a straight daughter, and she’s not going to get that any more than you are going to get to eat your own chili. Looks like nobody is going to get what they want.”

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9 thoughts on “First Birthday

  1. OMG I just peed a little

    This nice Jewish Girl sends her son to a X-tian school. I didn’t really understand repression until I went to a PTA meeting where it appeared everyone got along and apparently they didn’t, I just don’t speak WASP….

    Very funny stuff… only because it’s not my stuff.

  2. I know exactly what you mean. I was invited to a play date here in the big ol wasp nest that is boston. I thought it was lovely, but later, the girl who invited came up and apologized for all of the tension. Apparently, some of the more established members of the play group didn’t like the fact that new people had been invited. The funny thing was, I was being shunned – and I didn’t even notice!

  3. Darn it– I totally and quite simply SPACED OUT ON the little guys day. It was on my calendar– and I didn’t even CALL. Forgive me? BTW- You would HATE my turkey, black bean “northeast stew”.

    Susan

  4. I can’t believe you would forget our party – seeing as I put so much time and effort into it. What with calling everybody up at the last minute, and running out to Stop and Shop for onion dip. How could you?

    Seriously, I figured as much. Hopefully we will see you guys soons.

    BTW – Northeasterns just shouldn’t make chili. I’m going to post my recipe.

  5. I am fluent in WASP with a side of ACOA, but my family had morphed into therapy-graduating Unitarians by my mid-20s, so we landed on our feet in time for my parents to be super grandparents.

    Somehow I managed to fall in love with one of the few repressed Mexican/ Italian women in the world, so in an ironic twist of fate I need help interpreting her family. Blessedly, their food is out of this world.

    Your blog makes me wish my blog was anonymous. I would have much more to say.

  6. Sorry – I was handling bedtime for our kids by myself as my wife was working late, and forgot my point.

    My favorite technique for handling people with mixed messages is to stay with what they are actually saying and ignore the secret message; it irritates them to no end but they can never be sure if you ‘ get’ them or if you are just not in the know. As hurtful as your MILs intentions are, it might be a relief to gently tweak her.

  7. Hi Nora, I think sticking with what MIL actually says is brilliant. I think half of the power is that they know you are going to spend so much mental energy trying to figure out the “real” message. And the thing, I am not fluent in WASP. I get confused all of the time. Mostly, I know that there is something else going on, I am just not sure what it is.

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