A few months ago Jamie (my husband) and I moved back home to live with his family. We’re in a three-family building which means we have our own apartment on one floor of the building. His parents live in an apartment on another floor, and his sister and sister’s boyfriend live on another floor. So, as my mother-in-law said when Jamie told her we were moving back here “One big happy family!”
When I told one of my Korean friends in Korea that we were doing this he said he was really surprised I would like that arrangement. “I know people do that here in Korea, but it seems surprising to me you would want to do that. Isn’t your mother-in-law. . . difficult?” He went on to explain that in Korea mother-in-laws often are.
Other friends of Jamie’s have expressed similar sentiments. They understand why Jamie would want to live here but are surprised I can “handle it.”
Well, yesterday I was sick. Sick as a dog. Sneezing. Coughing. Headache. Congested. Nose running all over the place. I was fatigued and just a huge mess. I stayed home from work and was in the house alone with Jaxxy. I have to admit it was a little lonely. Jamie had gone to work and I was taking a nap. I knew at some point I had to walk Jaxxy but I didn’t feel like leaving the couch or bed.
In the afternoon my mother-in-law, whom I call “ni ni” which means mother-in-law in Cantonese or their village dialect, I can’t remember, knocks on the door and and then comes in, I presumed to walk Jaxxy. (She normally takes care of him when we go to work.) She realizes I’m there and sick and asks me what I need.
I tell her tissues. We had none. She disappears. I wasn’t sure if she was coming back. She returns with two boxes. She asks me what I want to eat. “You want sesame oatmeal?” she asks me.
I’m not sure what this is but I think it must be jook flavored with sesame. I’ve never had it but it sounds good so I say sure even though I’d just eaten a few hours ago.
She tells me she is going to take Jaxx for a walk. A short while later she comes back with sesame jook. It’s warm and has some sort of fruit in it. I think about asking her what the fruit is but figure she won’t know the English word and it’ll just be a confusing conversation I don’t have the energy for.
A lot of times this is why living with my in-laws is not so hard; they don’t speak English so most of our conversations are short and simple. For example, when they ask me where Jamie is a lot of times I just say, “He’s not here.” Or, “He went outside.” (I know how to say that in Cantonese.) If I were to speak Cantonese they’d probably ask me when, where, with whom, etc. We’d probably have a long conversation. But since their English is limited they stop themselves from asking me too. That makes thing easy.
A while later she comes back with corn on the cob she just made. Yum. I love corn on the cob. But I’m not that hungry so I eat most of it and give the rest to Jaxx. Who has been walked and pooped and is happy as a clam, thanks to ni ni.
So next time you wonder how I live with my in-laws, think of this example. Granted it’s not all roses. There are things that bother me, but there are things that will bother you with any living arrangement. But being here, now, after all the places I’ve lived in the past 12 years, feels more like home than anywhere else has in a very long time.
It feels more like home than the single family house Jamie and I lived in for 5 years right after we got married. That was ours; our space, the first time Jamie ever had a yard and a garage and a dishwasher, a door on his room. Maybe we needed that to start off our married life.
But this space makes the single family home we lived in seem far away (driving there felt like the boondocks and it’s only 10 minutes away) and lonely. Jaxxy feels it too, I can tell. He is surrounded by love and endless sources of food (unsuspecting uncle who doesn’t have much experience with dogs but LOVES Jaxxy) and playmates of all ages (baby cousins, uncles, village friends visiting), not to mention all the cute and fun neighborhood dog friends! It’s safe and comforting to have people around all the time, to hear them moving about, to know there’s someone around if we (Jaxxy included) need something, even at a moment’s notice. Comfortable. Comforting; such a contrast the more isolated way I grew up with tons of personal space and distance.
Living here in this space is living surrounded by love. It’s like being a very small being and going about life in the palm of a much bigger being’s hand. (Does that make sense? In the way that it is comforting.) It might sound cheesy and be hard to understand, but for me now, it just feels right.
Don’t take my word for it though. Ask Jaxxy. Minus the daily access to his neighborhood off-leah park (that we didn’t start going to regularly until the last year we lived there), I’m sure he’d tell you the same thing.