Here's the after report.
Next time I say something about my MIL, smack me, will you?
And remind me that my MIL is a 3-D person, and far more sensitive and sensible than my imagination. And that all the negative anticipation inflates things.
She and FIL came early, and she said from the doorway, "is there anything that I can do?"
I found that actually, I *was* able to say, "would you help with this one task?"
And she helped with the stacking of the dishes after the main course, which was hugely helpful (especially because she did the same thing I would have done--scrape and stack according to dish type).
All her trips into the kitchen were short and purposeful, so it felt really helpful.
The other thing I need to remember is this: When I am *with* her, any annoyances become very fleeting. Dwelling on them at other times only inflates them
All the other aunts & cousins were great "family guests." You know, the kind that offer to help without it seeming weird. And I said to them all, "not right now, but if something comes up, I *will* get you." And I did for a few things here and there.
(One aunt brought an eggplant rolitini dish I hadn't planned on, but again--in the moment, it was fine. We wedged it in, and everybody ate it. And my MIL brought a small pasta dish that my kids would eat.)
And it was the LOUDEST Thanksgiving I've ever been part of. I swear, at one point people were nearly shouting to be heard over all the *other* conversations. So even if the main course was a little late and underdone, and I made my life too hard by choosing too many side dishes, it was a very successful gathering.
And I feel a little silly.