I honestly don’t know what to think of this submission to EHell. It touches on 3, maybe 4, very hot button topics and therefore could be an elaborate troll job. On the other hand, I’ve seen several real life family dramas that could be considered quite implausible if one did not know the people involved and personally watched the drama unfold.
This may be a little long to post . . . but it will feel rather nice to get it off my chest!
I’m an American, married to an Australian. We live in Australia. My husband’s family is wonderfully multi-cultural. One sister is married to a man whose father was South African and mother was Scottish. His younger brother is in a long-term relationship with a man who was born in Germany and raised in Canada. And then there’s his other sister, Jill, who is twelve years older than me and married to an Egyptian man, Mohamed. When Jill and Mohamed married, Mohamed was rather secular and did not practise Islam. They owned a dog, they lived together before they were married, he enjoyed bacon. But over the years, he has grown more and more observant, and, sadly, more and more intolerant and controlling. Mohamed tells Jill and their daughters what they can wear – Jill doesn’t have to cover her hair, but the two young girls must; and all of them must cover from the neck to the ankles and wear long-sleeved shirts that cover to the wrists. Their son, naturally, runs around in shorts and tank-tops.
Ever since he embraced religion, Mohamed has made Christmas difficult. Jill brings their family’s own Halal food to all gathering (Mohamed doesn’t trust that the food we prepare is Halal, even if we are careful to follow Halal rules in procuring and preparing it), but my mother- in-law, who would bend over backwards to avoid insulting a fly, would go out of her way to make Christmas as comfortable as possible for Mohamed. No ham. Minimal Christmas decorations, and certainly nothing religious. No Christmas music. Never mind that everyone else who was there, was Christian or at the very least tolerant of celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday. However, it was never quite enough for Mohamed. Eventually he decided that his children could not receive Christmas presents – that it was a violation of their religion to celebrate even the most secular aspects of the Christmas holiday. None of us agreed with this – After all, what is Christmas for if not spoiling the children? It also bothered us that while he had banned Christmas presents for his children, he did not specifically ask that he not receive any presents (and this is a man who absolutely relished opening up his presents). I told my mother-in-law that I would not be buying presents for him or for his wife, if I wasn’t allowed to buy them for their children. The next day my mother-in-law called me up to say that, although her children could not receive presents, Jill was expecting them, and did not think she should have to miss out on presents simply because her children couldn’t get any. I asked why they would even be attending, as the other children in the family would be receiving presents, and wouldn’t that be quite distressing to her children to have to sit and watch as their cousins opened presents? My mother -in-law told me that it was very important to Jill to spend Christmas together as a family.
By this time, spending Christmas together as a family, for her family meant this: No participating in any traditional Christmas activities. No eating any traditional Christmas food. And now, no opening any presents. At that time their children ranged in age from 1 to 7. I will never forget the heartache on the 7 year old’s face after she’d passed out presents to all of her cousins: “Oh, it looks like Santa has forgotten about me.”
My husband and I did not have any children of our own, and so we reluctantly went along with it. Year after year, we would see these people at Christmas. Year after year, I would put up with Mohamed praising Osama bin Laden and insulting the US government, voicing an opinion that 9/11 was an inside job put on by the US government to attack innocent Muslims, and pointedly ignoring me. If I looked him straight in the face and said, “Hello Mohamed” he would look right through me and not answer. His wife would excuse all of this as “It’s part of his religion.” But I have studied Islam extensively. I’ve visited many Muslim countries, including Egypt, where I got to know many Egyptian Muslims very well, as I was briefly attending college there. None of this has a basis in Islam.
The first year we had a child of our own, their son, who is autistic, reacted angrily to her receiving presents. I could not blame him – after all, in his 4 year old eyes, why was it fair that everyone else would get new toys and books and clothes, and he and his sisters alone would leave empty-handed? I wondered again what sort of mother would do that to her own children. I have an aunt who is Jehovah’s Witness, and she and her husband and their children never celebrated Christmas with us – they understood it was too difficult for their children, and so they would wait until a couple of days after Christmas to visit. But this – It was bad enough that she made her children sit there and watch while others opened their presents; but to insist on receiving presents herself, while her children went without, was beyond me.
A month before our daughter’s second Christmas, it all fell apart.
I had come to loathe Christmas. I had come to spend half the year stressing about being forced to spend the holiday with Mohamed, and his rudeness, and his unbridled love for Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. This is a man who would say, quite loudly, to ensure that I heard (never mind that he would never address me correctly), that 9/11 was a blessing, because it had sent 2000 infidel Americans to hell, and so it didn’t matter that it was an inside job; anything that killed Americans was a cause to rejoice. My husband, knowing how much I dreaded this, offered to speak with his sister at an upcoming function. It was clear Mohamed did not enjoy being there; and truthfully, Jill was a much calmer, more relaxed person when he was gone. Would she consider coming with the children but leaving Mohamed at home? Before he spoke with her he spoke with his brother and sister and mother and father, to ensure they were all alright with this. They agreed – enthusiastically, actually; they thought it would be a much better Christmas without him there, too.
In the immediate aftermath of the conversation, he said it went well. Jill was receptive and understanding. She apologised for the very rude way her husband had treated me for the past decade, and said that of course she agreed that it would be best if he stayed home, as he clearly did not enjoy being there anyway. I thought it was too good to be true . . . And it was.
What followed was three weeks of nuclear annihilation. There were angry phone calls from Jill to her mother – and my mother-in-law’s reaction was to hang my husband out to dry. She lied. She disavowed all knowledge of the plan, and told Jill that of course my husband was in the wrong, and no doubt I had put him up to it; and that she loved having Mohamed for Christmas, and that the holiday was better with him there. To my husband, she admitted she was lying, but justified it by saying, “Mohamed is furious, and he’s telling Jill that if I don’t take her side, he’s going to move the entire family to Egypt.” I pointed out that all of her children could play that game – that, through my father- in-law, they all had the right to a British passport; and that through their respective spouses/partners they all had the right to at least one other passport – but that none of us were stooping to that level. She insisted she had to take Jill’s side. (I am open to the possibility she was telling Jill the truth and lying to us.) Jill would call my husband in tears, telling him how horrible he was. He would just hang up the phone. She would call other family members, and tell them how horrible he was, and they would call and tell him how horrible he was. He would calmly and rationally explain the situation – and remind them that they all knew what he was going to do, and gave vocal support for it – and hang up on them.
About a week before Christmas, my brother-in-law’s partner sent an e-mail to my husband and my husband’s two sisters with a link to a podcast about religious tolerance. Unfortunately, there was a long, rambling, and slightly pornographic e-mail conversation below this link, that was quite obviously a private conversation between him and one of his friends. Around the time he started to talk about how a certain construction crew had a certain sexual effect on him, the rest of us figured out it was a private correspondence that we weren’t meant to be reading, and we stopped. Jill, however, insisted on reading all of it, and found, in the middle of this back-and-forth about things they would like to do to the construction workers, a passage where this very nice, wonderful, albeit horny as hell man had said that I wanted nothing to do with Mohamed, and that my mother-in-law was a hypocritical bitch. Jill immediately called her mother and told her about this e-mail.
I want to make this clear: Jill’s mother (my mother-in- law) would never have seen this e-mail. She doesn’t use e-mail. She would have no way of knowing what her son’s partner had said, in what was obviously a personal and private correspondence, had Jill not told her about it. Jill deliberately hurt her mother and attempted to drive a wedge between her mother and her son’s partner. It took several phone calls and apologies on behalf of my brother-in- law’s partner to smooth things over. Meanwhile, it left me feeling even more animosity towards Jill, for violating his privacy and for deliberately attempting to hurt her mother. At one point Jill also called my husband to ask if it was true that I didn’t want anything to do with Mohamed. My husband said yes, it was; that he had been very rude to me over the years; and that he felt she had sacrificed too much of herself to be with him. She responded by telling my husband to F off – that he had no idea what a wonderful, kind, generous man her husband was, and that my husband and I could go to hell.
I am not sure if it’s a sign of our goodwill, or a sign of our complete and total idiocy, that at this stage we still thought we’d spend Christmas with the family. But, all of that changed a few days before Christmas, when Jill announced that her children had chicken pox. The doctor had urged them not to go out in public, because they were still contagious. The doctor had told them to go home, put the children to bed, and focus on getting them better. However, Christmas was just so very important to all of them – they wouldn’t think of missing it – and so instead they would be making an 8 hour round trip to spend Christmas with the family. And Mohamed, because he was such a wonderful man, would be going too, because he didn’t think it was fair for Jill to face her horrible, hostile family alone.
Jill does not believe in vaccinations. More accurately, she believes that vaccinations are responsible for her son’s autism, and so refused to vaccinate any of her children further. Jill is also a nurse, who is well versed in matters relating to the vaccination schedule and to the period of time it takes chicken pox to develop. All of this is relevant. Our daughter was 17 months old – one month shy of receiving the chicken pox vaccine, and there was no chance of getting her into a clinic for an early shot, anyway. We were due to take a trip to the US to visit my family and introduce our daughter to her American aunts, uncles, and cousins in 2 ½ weeks’ time – conveniently, once exposed to chicken pox, it takes between 2 and 3 weeks for the onset of the disease, and what sort of monster would expose a plane full of people to the chicken pox? This wasn’t the first time her children happened to get the worst possible disease in the lead-up to Christmas. When I was pregnant with my daughter, her daughter had rubella, but Jill insisted they all come, knowing full well I was in my first trimester of what was a surprise pregnancy. I had had no chance to get a booster MMR before falling pregnant, and had had my last booster some 25 years prior. Why I didn’t run screaming from that holiday gathering is beyond me. I was too afraid of appearing rude. But this time, I put my foot down: I was not going to spend Christmas with these people. I was not going to deliberately expose our daughter to illness, and cancel my first trip back to see my family in 2 years, all in the sake of family harmony.
When my husband told this to his mother, she told him I was ruining Christmas for everyone.
As it happened, my brother-in-law and his partner decided to sit that Christmas out, too, and we spent a lovely day together. The next year, our son was born on Christmas Eve. (When people commiserate with me about his birthday, I respond, “This child is my ‘Get out of Christmas with the in-laws’ card. After all, it wouldn’t be fair to travel on his birthday! Believe me, he’s getting anything he wants for his birthday.”) Things have never been the same between Jill and her family and my husband and our family – but I can’t say I miss it, the rudeness, the praise for Osama bin Laden, the anti-American conspiracies. (Apparently he told my father-in- law that the termites in his house were planted by the CIA, in a global attempt to take away Muslim wealth by damaging their homes.) And us? Well, our Christmases are relaxed, low-key affairs. We celebrate our son’s birthday, and make a point of not mentioning Christmas until bedtime, when we leave birthday cake out for Santa. We wake up to a rush of presents, followed by waffles for breakfast. We play with our toys, we splash around in the pool (after all, it’s Summer), we eat too much ice cream and laugh at the melted chocolates. For Christmas lunch, everyone chooses a favourite food, and we have a crazy smorgasboard – last year, it was a Thai soup, watermelon, lasagne, and crackers and hummus. After the kids go to bed, my husband and I relax in front of a schlock horror film. My mother in law has told me that she wishes they could spend Christmas with us, and that she misses being around happy children who are excited to see what Santa brought them; but she feels obliged to spend it with Jill. Of course, I’m open to the possibility she’s lying to us.
After that first Christmas away, my brother-in-law and his partner have continued going to the big family Christmases. Each year, my brother-in-law’s partner tells me how much he hates it, and how he wishes they weren’t going; but that it’s important to my brother-in-law, and so he goes to keep the peace. However, this year they will have their own child to consider . . . . My brother-in-law and his partner live half an hour from us; my husband’s parents live three hours from us and from them; Jill lives two hours in one direction; and their oldest sister (whose children are all grown now) lives two hours in the other direction. I refuse to host Christmas if Jill and her husband come; my brother-in-law’s partner feels the same, and refuses to even let them in his house. Will the pull of three children who can celebrate Christmas be enough for my mother-in-law to tell Jill she is going to spend Christmas with the grandchildren who can open presents? And if so, what will Jill do next? Watch this space . . . I have a feeling there is at least one more terrible, horrible, no good, very bad nuclear Christmas yet to come! 0410-13