My husband and I traveled to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving weekend. We were prepared with diapers, our laundry, and the ingredients for the cornbread stuffing. We were also ready to sit with our siblings. Thanksgiving day would bring both sets of in-laws, mine as well as my older brother’s, and it promised to be an eventful day. For the “kids” (ages range from 16-27), it would include stuffing our faces with all the delicious food that we wished would magically appear in our own kitchens as well as watching some reruns of the Office and the boys playing Halo.
We arrived early and I quickly surveyed the kitchen asking mom what she needed help with. Mom went through her own mental list, “Lasagna is done, so is the leg of lamb. I already put the turkey in the oven. I made some kibbeh, but it’ll have to wait. You need to start peeling the potatoes.”
As I got to work, mom and I began to reminisce about past Thanksgivings. After all, it marked the anniversary of my engagement and we had a lot to be thankful for.
“So mom, what’s the seating arrangement going to look like?” I asked between peels.
“Same as usual; adults will sit in the dining room, kids in the basement.”
Even though I was now a mother, I had yet to graduate from the kiddie table, which was mostly fine by me. However, there was that creeping little feeling that irked me from time to time. After I became a mother, I started to wonder how long it would take for my daughter to see me as a human being with varied interests and passions, likes and dislikes. Would I forever be titled caregiver, dinner maker, dishwasher? I needed to know my in-laws on a deeper level. I needed to know my brother’s in-laws on a deeper level as well.
And so, the conspiring began. While we did go to the basement for our lovely dinner and laughed together as Dwight attempted to burn down the office, my husband and I quickly made our way upstairs for dessert.
Six adults sat there enjoying their Lipton tea with fresh mint from our backyard.
“Okay, all of you have to pick a number from 1-10,” my husband said.
My father in law went first. “Six,” he said in a slightly worried tone.
“Who do you want to be like and you can’t say the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).” (We got a couple of chuckles and exaggerated protests here).
“I would like to be like my father. He has always been a gentle and caring man. I hope to have his type of character.”
Wow. My father in law is one of the gentlest people I know. To discover that his father has been his role model sent waves of gratitude through my body. I knew that this chain of admiration would continue as my husband always notes how much he loves and admires his dad.
“Okay, I pick three.”
My mother in law seemed slightly frightened about what we may ask but took the game in stride.
“What is your favorite book and you can’t say the Qur’an.”
“Oh, I don’t know…”
“My favorite book is Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus,” replied my brother’s mother in law.
“What does that even mean? We all live on EARTH,” her husband retorted.
“That’s exactly what it means! You men don’t understand how us women communicate!”
After a few laughs my husband asked his mom to answer the question. She couldn’t think of any particular book but did tell us that when she was our age she had committed many Arabic poems to memory.
And so the night went on with lots of laughter, some tough questions, and even deeper insights.
I found out how much courage it really took for my brother’s in-laws to leave Egypt. I discovered that our parents learned so much from their failures as well as their successes, but more-so from their failures. That human connection had been made and whether or not it marked the graduation from the kiddie table, I do not know. However, I do know that I am looking forward to next year’s list of questions and peeling away the many interesting layers that our moms and dads have to offer us.
What have you learned from your parents or in-laws that truly inspires you?
Marwa Aly is a mother, wife, and sister who serves as the Muslim Chaplain at Trinity College and Wesleyan University