Living with the in-laws is not usually a preferred course of action for newly married couples. It certainly wasn’t OUR plan going into our second year of marriage. But when Matthew and I prepared to move to Rhode Island for his MBA program, his mom and siblings were dealing with the repercussions of a husband/father abruptly leaving the family. My mother-in-law, Barbara, proposed a plan that would benefit us and them…we could help them with rent and the stabilizing presence of a big brother/loving son, and they could give us a place to live while we got our feet under us.
We took the plunge and entered an…interesting…season. For the most part, we were on the receiving end of their hospitality. Although we paid rent and had our own bedroom, living room, and bathroom, essentially we were long-term houseguests. Barbara had to share her laundry room and kitchen with me – the sacred quadrants for any homemaker – and I had to learn to respect her space even while using it. Sometimes the tables were turned. Because I often cooked dinner for the family and because Matthew and I still entertained friends, at times I played the hostess. Matthew’s family then tried to stay out of the way, which was awkward, since it was really their home.
During this time, I learned about showing hospitality to my (new) family (the “offering a pleasant or sustaining environment” part of being hospitable) as well as being a gracious guest, and I had to answer interesting questions for myself such as, “How vehemently can I insist that Daniel (age 14) eat the broccoli I cooked?” and “How should I react when Joanna (age 19) ummm…walks in on Matthew and me at an inopportune moment?”
Meal times caused tension on occasion, like when everyone was still hungry after eating my “light and healthy” main dish salad or when I not-so-silently fumed about the fat content of Barbara’s homemade mac and cheese. Ultimately, though, it was family dinners that bonded us. Especially when we could all laugh together, like the night I decided to try making pumpkin soup. We were out of fresh onions, and I didn’t know you had to reconstitute dried onions before sautéing them. I, uh, caramelized them and continued cooking. When I served it, everyone tried bravely to taste a couple spoonfuls.
Okay, first of all, who ever thought of pumpkin soup? And why did I decide to try it? Yuck! On top of the general weirdness, all you could really taste was the badly burned dried onion. Finally, I laughed out loud and said, “I can’t eat this! It’s disgusting!” Everyone immediately gave up the polite façade and also started laughing, and assented that it was truly awful. We threw it out. As we ate the main dish, stories flew: “Joanna, remember the time you mixed peaches and peanut butter and it tasted like puke?” “Remember when Dad made the oatmeal that even the dog wouldn’t eat?”
And now I’ve added to Miller lore. I was hanging out with Matthew’s siblings recently and got to say, “Remember the time I made that pumpkin soup?”
- Hospitality Q & A: The Sassy Cousin
- Miller, Miller & Miller Bed and Breakfast
- Student of Hospitality