The Word “In-Laws” Doesn’t Work For Me

Before all else, thanks for the supportive comments from all those who read this! It’s really motivating and heartwarming…

Hi from an internet cafe in Colomba Costa Cuca, Guatemala…about 10 minutes drive from Glendi’s family’s house.

So, things truly have been as challenging as I speculated, but they are more stabilized now. Immediate dangers and hospitalizations seem to have been dealt with, and now is the longer-term struggle of supporting and re-orienting ourselves as a family which has lost one parent and which is in grave danger of losing the other…and in which all the older siblings are living and working away from the home. My main job in the house seems to be playing with the little ones and helping them with homework, but I try to be useful in other ways also. But I still don’t know how to chop firewood or wield a machete.

When I’m not doing family stuff, I’m reading all my pre-reading for the masters program, which starts 1 day after I get back. I’ve read 5 books in 1 week. Yesterday I read Sherman Alexie’s “Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” in two sittings…man, that book was really good. I also read this fantastic and deeply thought-provoking book of life stories of youth with learning disabilities, and that one really pushed me in some intense ways.

But things here are sad, for the most part. There are laughs and good stories, but it’s all tempered by grief, fear, and pain. Like I said, there is a lot more going on than just Glendi’s dad’s death.

But here’s a thing that I think about a lot. When I talk about our family in Guatemala as my “in-laws,” it feels so cheap. And I feel like the response that people give me is watered down. The word really implies a certain order of distance as compared to one’s blood family, but in my case, it’s pretty much the opposite. I’m much more intimately connected now with my Guatemalan in-laws than with my own family, because of the economic and emotional role that Glendi and I have in their lives. It feels weird, and it feels wrong at times, and often I want to bow out, but that isn’t a real option that the family wants for me at the moment…so instead I know all the dirty secrets, and I’m in those family meetings where huge things are decided.

Like I said to my friend a couple of weeks ago, I don’t feel like my previous life and background have prepared me for this. I still play with legos, I still talk to myself. In so many ways, I’m still a kid. Yet Glendi and I are also often put into the position of being heads of this huge and complex family…it’s a really weird mash-up, and it makes me feel insecure pretty much all the time. And I also have very few friends who share the situation or experience, so I sometimes I feel low on resources.

But with this intimate level of connection and responsibility, there is also that root idea…intimacy. And that is beautiful. I love my family–in both countries–so much, and I’m always learning so much, and even in deep struggle I find space for optimism. But like Sherman Alexie says in that book, hope might be something that’s for White people. Because I’m not sure if the rest of my family is feeling it right now.

Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi