As in-law relationships go, I have a very good one with JJ’s parents.
I know I love them, and they love me. JJ and I have spent a lot of time in Spain since we met nine years ago, so we’ve had ample opportunity to get to know each other. I already spoke Spanish and had lived in Spain for two years when I met them, so we had an easier start than other international families. “Que suerte has tenido” JJ always tells his mom, teasing that she’s lucky I speak Spanish since she knows little English despite private lessons once upon a time. We know each other well enough that we’ve been able to navigate the inevitable clashes over how JJ and I are raising Basil without lingering resentment. Lately, I talk to them as often as JJ does so that they can see Basil over Skype. We’re all comfortable together.
This trip to Spain is more of a business one for JJ. He is spending the weeks in Barcelona, the weekends here in Toledo. It’s the longest time I’ve spent without him at his parents’ house. With Basil at the center of things, it feels easy. I know their routines well, and I have my own here. We all know what to expect of each other.
But I know they’d always rather have their son, just like at the end of the day, I’d rather have my family. It’s the way it is, with in-law relationships. These ties created by marriage. Strengthening the ties, turning them into real feelings of family, takes time and effort. When you are crossing cultural, national, class, political boundaries, it takes a lot of patience and humility too, like learning a new language. And even when you’ve done all that, when the relationship is pretty good, you’re still the in-laws to each other. They didn’t choose you, and you didn’t choose them.
I feel good about the relationship we have. But I know we’re all glad to have JJ home for the weekend.
If you are married, how is your relationship with your in-laws? I’m especially curious, if you crossed some kind of big boundary in your marriage (religious, cultural, etc.), how have you navigated the differences with your in-laws? Do you spend much time with them without your husband or wife?
My husband is from an old city in Spain, born and raised among stone buildings and wide open Castilian plains. We flew here yesterday, and I spent this afternoon visiting his grandmother while he went to the Madrid soccer game with his dad. I never knew my grandparents, and am in love with this Spanish grandma, 91 and full of spirit and a lifetime of stories.
We talk in her sitting room, in flowered easy chairs surrounded by family photos and the sounds of heels on cobblestones below the window. She’s lived in this same first-floor apartment since the mid-1940s, between the Alcazar and the Cathedral, centers of military and religious power that dominate the Toledo skyline. She tells me about growing up here, going down to the community fountains with a bucket to get water, lingering with her friends talking about boys. Working in her family’s bakery during the Spanish Civil War, trading bread for produce with people who rode donkeys into the city from the pueblos. Going from house to house through tunnels in the walls when it was too dangerous to walk on the streets.
I am going to interview her, record the stories, write a history of her life. When I ask her, she likes the idea, goes and gets a small pad of paper and begins reading me her family history in dates; births, weddings, deaths, where people were from, full names (a mix of Spanish and French from her mother’s side of the family). When she finishes reading, with the last two grandchildren, my husband’s adopted cousins, it’s quiet, and I’m thinking about how much she’d like to write down a great-grandchild in this small family history. “Have faith” she says, as I kiss her soft cheeks goodbye, and bundle up against the cold.
And I feel it, because she is smiling, so full of life, spirited and beautiful after all she’s lived through.