The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

July 18, 2013

Aisha Sultan: Annoying each other in the name of togetherness

By Aisha Sultan
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — More than halfway through summer, we've taken our big trips and attended our obligatory family reunions. My girlfriends and I were sitting around the other day, eating pizza and swapping stories about that which makes or breaks so many vacations: other family members.

In the case of families with young children, there is a delicate balancing act known as "vacationing with the in-laws." Grandmas, grandpas, uncles, aunts, cousins and in-laws of all varieties converge and eventually annoy the bejeezus out of one another, all in the name of bonding and togetherness.

One friend of mine confessed that she could not understand why her husband's aunt had to know -- months in advance -- what my friend planned to make on her assigned night of their themed family dinners.

As it turned out, the aunt-in-law had a date with a truckload of papier-mache.

    For each night of the week, the crafty aunt would create a pinata that matched that night's dinner theme. For example, if the theme was Hawaiian night, she'd create a pineapple pinata.

After dinner, the children were handed sticks for bashing these creations, and the adults were expected to cheer. These were not ordinary pinatas, however. They were bulletproof. Thirty minutes into the fun activity, the children started to get weary; the adults, much wearier.

And so it continued. Every night. Six nights in a row.

Months before, under pressure to declare her theme, my friend had said: "OK! OK! 'Green Eggs and Ham.' I'll do 'Green Eggs and Ham.'"

She ended up doing "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish" by dumping blue food coloring on some tilapia. The Dr. Seuss Cat-in-the-Hat pinata took a beating and eventually gave up, like so many of us do when in-laws are involved.

nother girlfriend said that at least the pinata-bashing involved some physical activity. On her sojourn with her husband's family, entire days -- sunup to sundown -- were spent doing nothing but sitting on the deck and drinking beer. After the kids went to bed, joints were passed around. Time stood still.

As all adult children know, certain courtesies are expected when parents are footing the bill for the vacation.

While staying at her mother-in-law's condo in Florida during the holidays, another friend was expected to be at the dinner table by 5 p.m. every night.

"I was 36, and I had a curfew," she said. "We ended up going to bed at the same time as our 3-year-old daughter."

They were too scared to ask for a night out alone.

But perhaps the best in-law tale involved a hygiene quandary.

My friend once received an email from her sister-in-law.

The subject line simply read: "HELP!"

"OMG! I think I am going to hurt myself! (Stepmother-in-law) asked 'Baby' to help clean the dishes! Do I still let the kids eat off of them?! Wait... Do I still eat off of them? Ugh!"

The "Baby" in question was her in-laws' cocker spaniel puppy.

    (Aisha Sultan is a St. Louis-based journalist who studies parenting in the digital age while trying to keep up with her tech-savvy children. Find her on Twitter: @AishaS.)