I love family. Who doesn’t? When, however, do you draw the line and say that enough is enough? Is five hours of “together time” enough? Ten hours? How about two days? What happens when two long days drag into three or four?
It depends upon how you define “family”. I love spending time with my grown children, but I intentionally keep the time short so as to not wear out my welcome. Four or five days, max, and I’m gone. Don’t get me wrong. I love our time together, but I recognize that lengthy visits become an imposition. After all, tall my “children” lead hectic lives filled with work, school, children (in my daughter’s case), and a social life all their own. They are not dependent upon me for their entertainment.
With my husband’s family it is different. They seem to suck up time like a tornado, sweeping along anyone caught in their path. Hours slowly turn into days, which then morph, painfully, into weeks. Invitations crop up more regularly than armpit hair, and turning one down causes an earthquake that sets new highs on the Richter scale.
Is my perception an “in-law” thing? That would be a partially correct interpretation. The family shares a long history of names and places that mean little to me. My husband’s family is huge, with roots beginning in Nebraska and with branches stretching from coast to coast, north to south. I can’t keep all the cousins straight, let alone all the children produced within those relationships.
There are only so many times you can hear what someone’s house looks like, in a painfully drawn out explanation. How is dear Uncle Jay doing? The story is good for another five minutes, at most. Then there are the wedding plans for the niece, which have to be retold every time an arrival steps into the room. Comments about decorations, food, remodeling projects and health only carry a conversation so far.
Walking out of the room to enjoy some solitude is only permitted when a bathroom break is needed. It’s amazing how many times that toilet seat calls! One has to be careful even then, however, as too many visits prompt discussions about intestinal mishaps, surgeries, cancers, and deaths.
I do care for my husband’s family. They are big-hearted people who accept everyone into their lives and hearts. Once met, never forgotten and you are family for the rest of your life.
What is overwhelming are the never-ending parties that start late, run even later, and go on for days. Dinner at five? Arrive at four for cocktails and snacks? Don’t worry if you get out of the house late or if you are held up in traffic, for you won’t have missed a thing. You’ll be lucky to eat by seven. Over by eight? Forget it. Family parties frequently run into the early morning hours, dying only when the last standing person caves and crawls out the door.
Refusing an invitation is tantamount to causing a revolution. Shock and dismay registers, for who could turn down such a lovely family?
After a few hours, I get restless. My legs twitch and my eyes glaze over. My patience takes a hike after hearing about Aunt Mabel’s hip surgery for the sixth time. I yearn for a good book and a quiet corner like some folks salivate over rare tri-tip roast beef. Give me my computer! Put on a good movie, even one that I’ve seen! Turn on the stereo so that music fills the gaps in conversation.
As a hostess, I am conscious of my guests’ time. Things begin and end when stated. Dinner is served promptly. Dessert and tea to follow. An evening together is just that, and no more. Never do I stretch a gathering into double digits, even when the guest is staying at my house. I retreat into my solitude, allowing my company time to relax and recoup energy.
One time declined an invitation. Mind you, this was after being together for twenty-four hours. I thought that the earth would shatter and swallow me up! My husband gasped and turned pale, so I quickly amended my decline by adding that he could come if he wanted. My mother-in-law gave me a look that questioned my competence, and my sister-in-law giggled nervously, followed by a muffled cough.
Oh, well. Here we go again. How much time is too much time to be together as family? When I quantify it with charts, graphs, and concrete statistics, I’ll let you all know. Meanwhile, I’ll stick to my gut instincts. When the stories recycle, then the party should be over.