Summer weekends for the last two decades or so, I’ve visited my in-laws. It’s not so bad. They happen to live on a lake less than two hours from our house.
I grew up in a small, quiet family. We lived long plane rides away from our extended family, for the most part—although I had a second cousin who was my age in Chicago who I saw frequently when I was a child.
But large family gatherings just didn’t happen, and certainly not every weekend.
When you get married, you don’t just marry the person. You marry into their family—even if you don’t see them every weekend, because each of us is shaped by the family we grew up in. I’m learning that when I embrace this truth, I strengthen my marriage, and my family.
My husband is from a large family (although not as large as some others on the lake). Three of the five siblings have two kids each, so there are six grandchildren, including my two kids. The oldest, my niece, the baby in our wedding pictures, will leave for college next weekend. She’s become an amazing young woman, who is going to study medicine at Johns Hopkins, and we’re all so proud of her we find ways to bring up her accomplishments in conversations with complete strangers. The youngest, my nephew, is three, and his favorite word is “why?” (with “no” a close second).
I have grown to love my nieces and nephews in a way I didn’t think was possible. They have, over the course of their lifetimes, wriggled their way into my heart. My eight-year-old niece was catching butterflies in a plastic cup this weekend. She captured what turned out to be a moth, and when we tried to release it, it sat on the tin-foil lid. I put my finger next to its tender feet, and it climbed onto my finger and sat there, quite content. We watched it wriggle its antennae and extend its coiled tongue to drink nectar from a flower. We gently passed it from my finger to my niece’s hand, where it simply sat for a while, tamed momentarily in a quiet moth miracle.
When we celebrate birthdays at the lake, we pull out these tacky cardboard hats that my mother-in-law keeps in the closet. These hats (some say “happy new year” on them) have been in that closet since way before I entered the family. When my nephew turned three and had cake at home, he reportedly asked, “Where’s the hats?”
And after two decades, I’m learning to embrace being a part of that family. For years I thought of them as my husband’s family, but I am realizing that they are my family too. I’m learning to say to my husband and my in-laws, as Ruth said to her mother-in-law, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16)