This isn’t the first time I’ve tried to write about this.
Much of my husband’s family is not like us. Oh, we have tried to pretend it does not matter, but it does. Mostly to them. My in-laws live in a world of black and white and I bring so much gray. For nine years I succumbed to a subculture that does not accept grayness or dissenting views. I kept my opinions to myself until the absoluteness and ubiquitousness of conservativism made cracks in my surface and the words “I’m liberal” seeped through them. Nine years, it seems, is my limit for keeping quiet.
These two words – I’m liberal – changed everything. My father-in-law stopped calling me “a peach”. He has not visited us to meet our daughter, and likely will not hold her unless we travel to him and place her directly in his arms. My mother-in-law voiced her disappointment, to which I responded, “I cannot believe that you would ask me to pretend to be that I’m something that I’m not.” We are the recipient of disappointed looks as they judge our likely fate for self-identifying in this terrible way. To them, there is hardly a worse two words that I could have said.
I am saddened. My dreams of how my relationship with my in-laws might have been will likely not be realized, and yet I am relieved that my quiet façade is over. I’ve always felt proud of my in-laws for working so hard to live their lives in accordance with their ideals, even if the ideals were in opposition to mine: Prohibition, Tea Party, extreme right-wing. They were true to themselves, and I respected that.
There’s a spectrum to this, of course, spanning from close-minded intolerance at one extreme, to a median position of secure self-identity and acceptance of others, to the other extreme of being a blank slate upon which others write their convictions. I endeavor to live in the middle of the range: comfortable with who I am and also comfortable with who other people are. I strive to be respectful of other’s peaceful beliefs; the world is too complicated and diverse for simple views. Anything that seems normal to one person will be alien to someone else. Secure self-identity and tolerance of others.
My in-laws live on the periphery of this spectrum. In their rather sheltered and homogenous world, I am a black cloud of Yankee Liberalism that darkens the landscape in ways that they do not appreciate, no matter how quiet I am. In their defense, it can be hard to accept the idea of living a life that is the opposite of yours with no dire consequence arising from it.
Sometimes, the hardest thing to be is yourself. It takes courage to muddy the still pool of another by being true to yourself: respectful, peaceful muddying that disrupts homogeneity and creates ripples by being different, being other.
My sister-in-law and I have a running joke where she gifts me black sheep. It places my different-ness into a wonderful perspective and I treasure the sheep. One year I gave her a mug bearing a black sheep and the words “It’s OK to be different!”. Sisters in the heart.
Now on my visits to see my husband’s family, I focus on seeing my sister-in-law and her husband. I focus on seeing my husband’s grandpa, with a Southern accent so thick that I have difficulty understanding him after many years of trying. My husband’s grandpa is a rare gem to me, particularly now that I have lost my last grandparent. I focus on seeing my nieces and nephew and watching them play with my children.
Beyond that, I am at a bit of a loss. I continue to do what I can to keep my drops of blue dye from disrupting their solid red pool, only in a way that does not betray myself. I am still seeking the median of the spectrum.