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Family Dinner: It’s All Bunnies and Rainbows Around Here April 10, 2012

Posted by Gina in Skepticism and atheism.
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Easter was a first for me in the world of polyamory.  I went to have Easter dinner with Shaun and Ginny at Shaun’s mom’s house.  This would be my first time meeting his mother and I was nervous.  Meeting parents is one of those odd things in dating and usually, if you find yourself in a long term relationship, you only have to do this once.  Polyamory means the possibility of more than one serious partner and that means having to go through the dance of meeting parents more.

Yes, yes, get your laughs in about the fact that everyone writing for Polyskeptic had Easter dinner plans yesterday.  Wes and Jessie went to a party that involved an egg toss and an Easter egg hunt.  The eggs were filled with cash.  This is awesome and really in the spirit of the season.  Easter: One of the many days you get kids sugared up and tell them bizarre stories about rabbits and dye chicks green.  Also, something something Jesus.  In my house, Easter has always been an excuse to get together.  I like coloring eggs because I’m a dork and I figure, the older I get the more skilled my creations become, so why stop?  Jesus never enters into the conversation.  Pagans do and my dad usually takes this time of year to say something about Druids being cool and how Christians killed them all or something, but generally, the whole holiday is just an excuse to eat a ham purchased with grocery store points.  Shaun’s family seemingly uses the holiday for the same excuse.  No Jesus, just hanging out eating something you don’t eat the rest of the year.

So, yes, I was going to meet Shaun’s mom.  Earlier in the week she had called him worried that we were going to be obnoxious about our polyamorous ways in front of her neighbors.  I think she had this vision of us standing on the dinner table pontificating about the value of polyamory and then, I don’t know, making out in the kitchen and everywhere else.  I went further to assume that she pictured me, being the Homewrecking Harlot(registered trademark) in this scenario, arriving in some slutty get-up, a giant hairdo and, I don’t know, smoking Virginia Slims? I would walk in while Ginny looked depressed and slur out, “Hi! Where’s the booze?”

I say this mostly in jest, but this fear of what and who she assumed I was got to me a bit.  It was silly because I am lucky in that I can be pretty personable and most people generally like me upon meeting me, but I felt like I was going to have to be some odd version of myself to get through the day.  I assumed also that these neighbors she was afraid we would offend would be terrifying and would be the bigger challenge.  So, I baked an apple cobbler.  Homewreckers don’t bake cobblers, right?  Of course not.  Then I put on a nice skirt, shirt, blazer combination with heels.  “I am a wonderful person.  I am totally professional and appropriate!”  Before Wes took me to Shaun and Ginny’s, Jessie gave me a pep talk and it went something like this:

“Gina, you are awesome.  Anyone who doesn’t see that can go fuck themselves.  Shaun loves you and thinks you’re awesome too and will agree with me about what they can go do if they don’t like you.”

That’s a paraphrase, but that was basically the sentiment.  I really appreciated it.  On the ride over, Wes helped to psyche me up too talking about various psychological choices people make about liking people.  If they find that they actually like you, it’s difficult for them to think of you as bad.  It’s called the “Halo Effect”.  Yes, we are nerds.

We awaited our ride and Shaun entertained Ginny and I by dancing around the kitchen.  When our ride got there, we piled in the truck and were immediately offered Smarties and we drove down to her house 2 hours away.  The guy driving was her ex and didn’t seem to care who I was (and apparently doesn’t particularly talk to Ginny either).  The ride was soundtracked by a 1960’s satellite radio station and this basically made the whole thing start out as absurd.  The ride was pretty quiet.  I had tried to say a few things to our driver, we’ll call him Bob, but he didn’t really seem to be listening.  He engaged Shaun in conversation but generally ignored Ginny and me.  In general, everyone was reserved, which is always weird to me.  At one point, we stopped for gas and Bob got out of the car.  Shaun turned around and looked at me and I said, “It’s going to be a looooong day.” And with that, a switch was flipped and everyone was silly…for exactly the amount of time Bob wasn’t in the car.

His mom lives in a standard sprawling burb.  Getting there added to the absurdity.  Little did I know that the absurdity would grow.  She basically lives where Edward Scissorhands took place, but with less interesting shrubbery.  I had a Doctor Who moment upon entering the house and seeing how pretty it was and how much bigger it was than I thought (yes, indeed, it was bigger on the inside).  Within minutes, Shaun got his mom to find some snacks and things were jovial enough.  I wasn’t getting weirdness from his mom.  Bottles of wine were opened.  Shaun was being Shaun, which Ginny and I are both entertained by and then his mother said,

“See, I think Shaun is Jim Jones or something.  He’s got you both thinking he’s funny or something and he’s not.”

I had a lapse in memory about who Jim Jones was and when his mom left the room, I asked Shaun and he reminded me that Jim Jones was the founder of The People’s Temple, responsible for the deaths of 909 children and adults either through violent coercion or brainwashing.  He orchestrated the largest mass suicides in history.  It’s a delightful story, really.  So…his mother was suggesting that her son had brainwashed us into thinking that he’s funny or something and that he has tricked us into liking him…next step: Kool-Aid.  My eyes widened and I started cracking up.  “Wow!” I said, “That is AWESOME!”  She came back into the room and Shaun poured me some of the red wine that his mom likes, which is hella sweet.  She made another Jim Jones comment and then actually said something about Kool-Aid and I just couldn’t resist. “Hmm, well I’m drinking this wine which is basically Kool-Aid.  Maybe he learned it from you!”  She was good humored about, reiterating that it was her son doing the brainwashing.

She brought out her iPad and showed us this app that she and Bob were kind of obsessed with.  It was an animated cat that you could talk to and it would repeat back what you said.  You could scratch its belly and various other things and it would purr and get into crazy shenanigans.  Periodically, an animated dog would come into the frame and fart loudly, thus offending the cat.  They showed it to us and we found it mildly amusing.  When the fart noise occurred, I admit to laughing harder, but it was just as much about the absurdity of being in poly-law’s kitchen watching her poke at an iPad that is making fart noises.

The neighbors arrived after an hour or so and were…delightful!  All I knew about them leading up to this meeting was that they were Jewish and that these were the neighbors his mom thought we might offend with our decadent, inappropriate lifestyle.  As it turned out, they were wonderful people with that wonderful New York Jew lilt to their voices.  I was helpless against picking up the cadence of their speech as I spoke to them.  It was like talking to the extended family on my mom’s ide.  The husband used to run a headshop in Harvard Square in the 60’s.  Apparently, back then, this also included selling massive amounts of weed out of the shop.  He told me stories about it and said that he stopped drugs all together when he had a trip while driving home in which he saw his own heart beating on the dashboard. ..for three hours.  That was the end of that.  They were great, laid back people who didn’t mind dropping curse words around and had excellent senses of humor.  They didn’t ask about who I was and didn’t seem to care (the theme of the day, really), but we’re pretty sure they would have been fine knowing the truth about our relationships.  Still, there wasn’t any particular need to bring it up.  Our thoughts on this was that if someone asked, we wouldn’t lie.  Simple.  No one asked.

This part of the day was pretty great.  I felt much more comfortable to be myself and I opened up and was cracking jokes with the neighbors the whole time.  Dinner was served and it was delicious.  Shaun made a couple of dishes that were awesome and everyone was impressed that he could cook.  Ginny said something about how this was the reason she was marrying him.  I had things I would have said, mostly of a smart assed tone (“It’s the reward we get for putting up with his ridiculousness!” or “Well, I try to pay him back when I can…but he’s such a connoisseur”), but I stopped myself not wanting to be too familiar.  I couldn’t really snap out of the mindset that to show indications of our relationship was inappropriate in this environment.  It was very difficult and very draining to do.

Shaun and I are relatively affectionate in public.  I like that he brings that out in me and in doing so, I have become more like that with Wes (it’s something we both never did much of, but Jessie brings it out in Wes like Shaun does for me).  In our regular lives, this isn’t anything in particular, but yesterday I made certain work of stifling it as much as possible.  Yes, this was probably unnecessary, but Shaun and I figured it would probably wise to keep it to a minimum.  I took cues from him and we spent the day being a little bit like highschoolers in class.  It was cute, I guess, but ultimately draining because it was us hiding things to keep up appearances, and that’s never fun.  Not to mention that I was hiding my relationship with Ginny too, which of course, always has the double whammy for people with delicate sensibilities.  The advantage here though is that people expect women to be a bit more affectionate with their friends.  We found ourselves cuddling a bit of the couch while Shaun attempted to understand his mom’s entertainment center set up and the adults played with the farting dog app in the dining room.  At this point, I was laughing hysterically while watching Shaun try NOT to throw things out the window (and watching he and his mother communicate with each other, which is basically like watching two people speak completely different languages to each other) and listening to the fart noises and meows come from the other room.  I was sending Wes commentary via text and Ginny was laughing right along with me.  I was really glad she was there because I likely would have gone insane…much quicker.

Another thing that is draining to do is to hide my liberalness from people anymore.  I’m just starting to come out of my shell and call people on ignorance and once you start it’s a hard thing to stop.  As dinner drew to a close, somehow Bob got inspired to start telling ethnic jokes.  It’s was Shaun’s mom’s idea to start with I think and I think I encouraged it because the way the jokes were brought up was in a bizarre way.  I can’t remember how it happened, but Shaun’s mom said something about how all of his jokes are about Italians and he said, “Yeah, but you can substitute Jews in easily”.  My eyebrows went up and my eyes widened again.  Not only were two of the people at the table Jewish that he knew about, I raised my hand and said, “Oh, this ought to be good.  I’m an Italian Jew!”  The jokes boiled down to Italian and Jewish women being ugly.  I was tempted to allow the evening to devolve into a fit of you “Yo’ mama so ugly” jokes but resisted the urge.  Then Bob started talking about Hitler.

I SHIT YOU NOT.

He said something about how Hitler would have been way more successful had the Jews not been so organized.  I almost feel out of my chair and could simply say something like, “Oh, so the facists WEREN’T successful?” and managed to stop myself before saying, “I guess 6 million constitutes as failure these days, you know, for genocide. It’s all or nothing, baby!”  I think everyone was of the mind to not let anything go anywhere significant.  There was no way that could have gone well had it continued.

We had dessert and discussed why cobblers are called cobblers.  I made some smart assed comment about using a real shoemaker in my recipe and then said, “I would assume it has something to do with cobblestone roads”.  The iPad made another appearance, but not for farting dogs this time.  Instead, Wikipedia came to the rescue and it turned out I was right.  Then we discussed suet pie and Spotted Dick and then retreated once again to the couch.  Shaun got the Wii working, but by this time I think the stress of the day had gotten to me and I wasn’t feeling too hot.  There would be no Wii tennis for me.  Shaun had regaled me with tales of his Wii tennis prowess a few days earlier, saying that he used to be able to play sitting down with a simple flip of one hand…while debating a Creationist online with the other.  Show Off.  Ginny was knitting and I was simply starting to curl into a ball on the sofa.  It was about 7pm.  We had been there since 2pm and I had been up since 8am at which time I was gardening with Wes.  The neighbors left around 7:30, while Shaun and his mother were having an epic Wii Bowling battle.  Shortly after they left, Shaun looked at me on the couch, asked if I was alright and I said, “Eh, I think I’m just done with this”.  We were beholden to Bob as our means of getting home and he had disappeared somewhere in the house.  Then Shaun’s mom disappeared and we had no clue when we were getting out of there.

At some point, we figured out where they were because they were fighting.  The fight moved around various areas of the property, the most exciting part being in the kitchen right next to us.  The argument was loud, repetitive (as fights usually are) and relatively easy to follow with little context.  Basically, neither of them were listening to each other and were having two different conversations.

The goal of leaving started to resemble a video game to me.  We would achieve various mini goals that contributed to the ultimate goal, like collecting items in an RPG.  Instead of useful keys, we were achieving things like asking his mom what the plan was, then watching her wash a dish and discuss what food we would be taking with us, then putting our coats on and standing in the foyer.  Each of these levels was interrupted by more fighting or other nonsense in which none of us were involved.  My favorite was an argument about light switches.

At about 9pm we found ourselves in the truck ready for departure.  I was in a daze about the entire day.  Bob started the car and the radio started up too, piping in Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual”.  I lost it in a fit of hysterical laughter.  Bob was unfazed.  We got home an hour and a half later and I curled up in a ball on the Shaun and Ginny’s bed.

What I just described above was a typical family holiday.  Family joy and family dysfunction don’t change when you’re polyamorous and as in most things, the dysfunction rarely has anything to do with the polyamorous thing at all.  It seems common place that going home to visit family is generally a game of hiding things and self control.  Being Shaun’s girlfriend in this context was almost a non-issue.  We didn’t bring attention to it and there were so many other things to distract.  A family’s issues never really change.  In this case, polyamory helped because of the wonderful support structure it gives.  Ginny and I could confide in each other about everything when Shaun was pulled away.  Shaun had both of us to run to when things got too ridiculous.  And I could share quips about what was happening with Wes who was there for me via phone.  His support was there in spirit.

I was expecting the day to be hard, but for unique reasons.  I thought the day was mainly going to be difficult due to people’s discomfort with polyamory, and yes, there were elements that were related to that.  But it was harder for such standard reasons that everyone deals with when you go home to your parents’ house as an adult.  This lends itself all the more to the idea that polyamory isn’t really all that strange.  You encounter everything you encounter in a monogamous relationship, you just have more people to exchange horrified or knowing looks with.  My experience with Shaun’s mom was apparently a lot of Ginny’s experience with Shaun’s mom.  Poly means getting to this awkward thing more often but at least you have more people to share in it, and honestly, to me having more people to point out the absurdity of life to is always worth it.

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Comments»

1. Daniel Hoffman - April 10, 2012

Nice essay! I’m lucky to have nice in-laws. My wife’s could probably fit in fine with Shaun’s mom. I always stick up for Susan and she never lets my mother triangulate us or Susan and her sister’s-in-law. That’s really helpful.

Besides Bob being wrong about the role of organized Jews, he has it in reverse. The ultra-Orthadox Jews in England and in the US lobbied successfully to prevent Jews fleeing the Nazis to enter the US or any of the British Commonwealth nations. The Nazis thought that was pretty funny. It is interesting that there was no mention of this at the Holocaust Museum in Washington.

2. Gina - April 10, 2012

Yeah, I was going to comment on how he was incorrect about Jewish organization (it seemed pretty apparent that much was done to keep Jews from congregating in any useful way. It’s not like ghettos were great places for hashing out a plan for rebellion. Most time was spent just trying to survive and avoid the frequent concentration camp round ups, I believe, though I’m far from an expert), but the essay was getting long already, haha.

Wes’ mother and Jessie’s mother are amazing and have not only been accepting, but really into all of us being considered family and equals. My parents have been accepting in that they are fine with what I do in my own life, but have not been very open to interacting with other partners as “real partners”. Oh well. Hopefully this will change in time.

3. Daniel Hoffman - April 10, 2012

My family was very awkward around my cousin and her girlfriend for a while. After a few years, it was no big deal. It is wonderful that you have some welcoming family.

Oh yeah. If Shaun made the kool aid, I’d give it a try. It might taste bad or give me a hangover, but it wouldn’t hurt anyone.


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