41. Define Normal

41. Define Normal

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters


Define Normal

Divorce: The past tense of marriage.

~Author Unknown

The house is deathly quiet now, but I swear I can still hear my poor Jeep Grand Cherokee panting heavily out in the garage after toting seven-plus Reillys around town for the past seven-plus days. Ah, the out-of-town guests have left for home; they boarded a plane just this morning and I am finally free to sit down at my laptop in my skivvies with a tall Coke and a short line to the little girl’s room.

For the past week I have been entertaining my out-of-town in-laws; I took them to and from the airport, hauled them around town, fed them my famous homemade fried potatoes and scrambled cheese eggs for breakfast, played board games and charades around the kitchen table with all of the kids for hours and employed every sleep-able piece of furniture I own. When the boys weren’t at my ex-husbands house—taking full-advantage of the ultimate bachelor’s pad—my cozy, little house was stuffed like a summer sausage.

My friends don’t seem to understand this bizarre relationship I keep with my ex-husband’s family, especially considering that I’ve been legally unbound from that particular contractual obligation for almost ten years now, the unspoken rule that states that I am to put up my in-laws whenever they’re in town. I mean, it’s not like I don’t have the paperwork to prove it.

“It’s just not normal,” they observe.

Well, that may be true, but I like to think that I was granted joint custody of my quirky, well-meaning “out-laws”—as I like to call them—in the final decree of my divorce. My ex-husband doesn’t seem to mind that I’m still close with them. In fact, I think he likes it; those are the ties that continue to bind us as a family, and I think it’s been healthy for our boys to see that we can all still get along. And, besides that, whoever said that there was anything normal when it comes to family, anyway?

I happen to love my sister-in-law, a woman who was once married to my ex-husband’s big brother. Over the years we’ve become sisters of sorts. I know it sounds kind of complicated, but she and her three children are very close to me and my two children. We all seem to get along great; it’s as if, somehow, we belong together, in some crazy, not-entirely-dysfunctional way.

When I look at her two boys and her daughter—who are almost exactly the same ages as my boys—I see a strong family resemblance and I can’t help but conclude that it is exactly as the old saying goes: Blood is, in fact, thicker than water.

All I know is that when I watch my kids hanging out with their cousins, laughing and enjoying one another in a way that only family can, I know that my decision to remain close with my out-laws is something I’m meant to do, if not supposed to do. The contented expressions on my boys’ faces say it all, especially when we spend the day with friends and family—at the request of my ex-husband—consuming two lanes at the local bowling alley, scarfing down greasy food and making the Clampetts look more like the Kardashians.

The thing is my out-laws are good people—a little crazy sometimes—but then again, aren’t we all?

And now that they’ve all packed up their bags and are headed for home, I realize more and more how desperately I miss seeing their faces. I realize how quickly time is getting away from us as our kids are growing up, graduating and grappling with their own futures.

Truth: Life is too short to be spent fighting with family—in-laws, out-laws and the like. This sweet time in our life should be spent wisely, say, playing board games around the kitchen table with a humongous dish of homemade chicken nuggets and French fries placed strategically within everyone’s reach, while everyone is eating, laughing and clamoring all at once—pretending to be pseudo-normal, but really coming off as looking more like what a family is supposed to look like, and that is happy. At least happy is what my family looks like to me and that’s what matters most.

~Natalie June Reilly

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