Okay, let’s just get into it (deep breath): your parents. We have to visit them. I know we do. It’s an unwritten agreement we have entered into as a couple. But that doesn’t make it easy. I mean, your dad can be dealt with. Dads have a few quirks—like maybe we can’t talk or move during a Texas Longhorns football game or wear black-soled shoes in his new car (he got a great deal on the light interior)—but ultimately they’re easy. I just have to make it through his incredibly long, torturously boring story about the deal he got on the light interior. Act impressed. Smile. Ask him to retell that story at some point in the near future and he’ll think I’m great. “You’ve got a good one here!”
Moms, on the other hand, are a lot harder. They know all the tricks. They have not just read but written the playbook. Nothing is going to get by them. And you are of no help to us. Whereas you know your dad is annoying—I mean, you have seen him eat an entire dinner roll with his mouth open, an impressive feat—you still think your mom is perfect. FYI, she’s not. Definitely not. And my mom isn’t perfect either, but I know it. And my therapist knows it. Nobody has a perfect mom. I just want you to realize it too, perhaps over the eight-year-old bagels your mother has dug out of the freezer even though we volunteered/begged to get fresh ones.
Visiting your parents is like traveling to the land of How We Did Things from the land of How We Do Things Now. And that’s what makes visiting them so hard. You revert back to who you used to be. Your mom does your laundry, cuts off your pancake crusts and makes us sleep in separate beds (even though we spend every night together); she is the boss. In the land of How We Do Things Now, I am, of course, the boss. And the boss says pancakes do not even have crusts! I once really got into it with my boyfriend’s mom. And by “really getting into it” I mean we had a sugary sweet nice-on-the-surface passive-aggressive discussion without even raising our voices or putting down our utensils. She: “So you guys are coming back for Father’s Day, right?” Me: “I might have to work.” She: “Well, we always do a Father’s Day BBQ.” Me: “Sounds fun, but I probably have to work.” She: “We always do a Father’s Day BBQ.” Me: “Yeah, it’s gonna be tough this year.” She: “You guys will come.” Everyone at the table finally exhales. Beat. Me (not letting it go): “Yeah, well, I can’t really commit to that.” She: “You’ll come.” Me: “Probably not.” Beat. Beat. Beat. Nervous shifting in seats. Forks scraping on plates. She: “We’ll see.” She’d done it. She’d pulled out a “we’ll see”! In a passive-aggressive argument, “We’ll see” is akin to a TKO. As soon as I was alone with my boyfriend, I told him we were not coming back for the BBQ under any circumstances. We would just send his dad a card and forget to call until the end of the day like every other self-absorbed 30-something in America.
Cut to the following June, when we were back for the Father’s Day BBQ. She won. And the victory was not lost on anyone. I took it pretty hard. She gloated by serving me delicious cocktails and apple pie made with locally grown apples. How dare she!
I was getting worked up over the weekend, and my boyfriend, who had totally taken her side before, finally said, “Look, I’m sorry she gets so nuts about this stuff.” And just like that, I felt better. That was enough. It was enough for me to stop pouting and enjoy the truly lovely weekend. Turns out, I just needed my boyfriend to acknowledge that his mother wasn’t perfect. That it wasn’t reasonable of her to demand we fly across the country for Father’s Day (a day that doesn’t even celebrate her!). That she could be intense and wrong and stubborn. I didn’t want him to admit this so I could be right, but so I could also be intense and wrong and stubborn too. If a guy thinks his mom is perfect, no woman will ever be able to live up to that. But if a guy can love his mom and accept her flaws, then he can accept mine.
So when you’re visiting your folks and your dad is telling that light-interior-deal story again and your mom has just served a Jell-O “salad,” tell your lady it annoys you too. Tell her it annoys you that for a weekend (or God forbid a week) you have to thaw your baked goods, use pillows you’ve had since you got a big-boy bed and turn on the AC only if “medically necessary.” Then she can relax and enjoy your parents in the land of How We Did Things too, knowing that when she gets back to the land of How We Do Things Now she’ll have a little/a lot of slack.
Note: I lost my guy’s mother not that long after “The Great Father’s Day BBQ Incident,” and I miss her. I miss locking horns with her over seemingly meaningless but ultimately the most meaningful things. She was not perfect. And I am not perfect. And that is actually perfect. I just wish she were around for a Mother’s Day BBQ that I could guilt her into coming to. I learned from the best.