My friend, "Mrs. Smith," has 2 kids -- a boy and a girl. She and I are pretty similar when it comes to our parenting styles, but she is more vocal than I am. For example, I let it slide with the 3rd grade Nazi that my kid had as a teacher this past year for a long time before I got snarky with her (go HERE for that full story), but I DID get snarky. You might say that my friend is a "bit" more volatile than I am. She is incredibly smart, can be witty, but she is ALWAYS a straight-shooter. Some would say she lacks tact, but I don't think that's it, she is just very blunt and calls it likes she sees it. You never have to wonder where you stand with her, because she has either told you, or screamed it at you to make sure you got the message. She also loves her kids and her kids are pretty awesome. Her 12 year old is very amenable. She can sit quietly through the longest of sermons at church, or carry on a conversation with adults. She is an avid reader and plays the guitar. Her 8 year old is more devious. He took the phone away from his sister while she was talking to her "boyfriend," imitated her voice and said "By the way, I am breaking up with you!" and then hung up the phone. On the 100th day of school, his teacher told them all to draw a picture of what they would look like when they were 100 years old; he drew a headstone because he said that if anyone was looking for him in 100 years, he'd be dead. He makes up silly songs and dances. He is an 8 year old boy. But he also sweet and kind, and he sometimes gets the shaft because on the surface he looks a little like a delinquent compared to his saintly sister. She and her husband fight like 8th grade boys sometimes. It is who they are -- neither one of them holds their tongues, or minces words in an argument. As volatile as their relationship might seem, they love each other and will defend one another no matter what. They even have arguments and fights in front of their kids. But you know what? They also make up in front of their kids. Their kids have no doubt that mom and dad love each other. They have learned that its okay to disagree, it's okay to fight, and that sometimes you say things when you are angry that you don't mean and it's okay to admit when you are wrong. The kids see them fight and they see them make up -- and I think that this gives them a head start on understanding a healthy relationship and how it works.
To say that my friend and her husband differ from his sister and her husband would be like saying that black is a little darker than white -- you really couldn't get more opposite.
"The Dimsdales" are almost Puritan in their pious behavior. They maintain a moral high ground that few could approach without being scolded about their own moral ineptitude. Most of you know that I do not really fault any parenting style (even though I may make fun of it) as long as the parents are doing what we all do -- loving their kids and trying to do what is best for them. My friend is more of a free-range parent like me who allows her kids to do a lot for themselves, make their own decisions about what to wear, what to eat (to an extent), and they are happy, healthy, easy-going kids. Her sister and brother-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Dimsdale, are not like that. Not even a little bit. They are control freaks (emphasis on the "freaks.") They have one daughter who is a little older than my oldest girl -- I think she is 10. They do not let her read certain books, watch certain TV shows, eat certain foods, wear certain clothes, etc. My friend discovered on a family vacation when the kids were all younger just how serious the Dimsdales were about this when she irritated them by letting their daughter read a book that had (gasp) dragons in it. Dragons, are quite obviously of the devil, as are all Disney movies because they have satanic magic, and they do not want their precious child exposed to anything from the occult. They home school her and they have a very short leash on her with the intention of raising her in a certain way. I do not have a problem with that, even though I may not agree with it, and neither does my friend. She laughs about it of course, but she tries to accommodate their desires for their kid's sheltered upbringing whenever she is given the opportunity, which isn't often.
The Dimsdales would never dream of arguing in front of their daughter. They never raise their voices. They never talk about things that have them irritated. Everything is swept under the rug and hidden from their friends and family and from each other so that everything looks just hunky-dory from the outside. For appearances sake, they are constantly bending over backwards for each other and very careful not to say anything that might be perceived as a criticism of each other. It's all very....weird.
Now, Mr. Dimsdale is not someone whom I would take moral criticism from very well. He was working with a local church as some sort of pastor and had an affair on Mrs. Dimsdale with a fellow church member several years ago. He ran up an obscene amount of debt wining and dining this other woman (who obviously must be a great temptress to have broken through his fortress of righteousness) and lost his job as a result of the affair. Mrs. Dimsdale was the very picture of a woman wronged, but instead of kicking him out on his cheating butt, she took him back. She also took on extra jobs to help pay off his slut-debt since he had been fired. But because they were all such upstanding Christians, they ALL STILL GO TO THE SAME CHURCH. Yep, every Sunday the Dimsdales sit singing across the sanctuary from the woman that came between them. I know what you are thinking -- "Poor Mrs. Dimsdale!" I know, because that is what I would be thinking if I didn't know that this woman did not object to staying at the same church with the woman that her husband very nearly threw her away for. Nope, she enjoys it. She enjoys going to church with her husband on her arm every Sunday as a big "Screw you" to the adulteress. She relishes the fact that he ultimately chose her and by rubbing it in this woman's face every Sunday she is maintaining some sort of control over both her and him. There may not be a scarlet A on the woman's collar, but there might as well be because everyone in the congregation knows what happened. Of course, they all work very hard to keep any whisper of the torrid affair from their naive daughter because it would mean explaining S-E-X and she's nowhere near old enough to even say that word out loud. They stupidly believe that "she never has to know" but having grown up in a church, I can assure you that if she doesn't already know, it won't be long before some other church kid breaks it down for her. When that happens, I have no idea what they'll do.
Mrs. Mealy is a doting grandmother who loves all of her grandchildren. She is Mrs. Smith's mother-in-law, and Mrs. Dimsdale's mother. Until recently, in all appearances, she loved and treated her children with great equality -- willing to help out or whatever whenever needed. However, as this story unfolds, you will see that her true loyalties lie with her daughter and all of her moral fortitude and not with the dragon-book-reading son and his wife, my friend.
Now that you have met the players, let me say that over the past 15 years that my friend has been married into this family, she had no idea of the insanity lurking just below the surface. She was aware of their odd take on child rearing, and she knew, of course, about the affair and it's aftermath as she had held Mrs. Dimsdale's hand and helped her find those extra jobs after Mr. Dimsdale returned from his frolic with the trollop, and she thought that whole situation was weird, but took a "whatever works for them" approach. Despite my friend's daughter being a little older than her cousin, the girls were pretty close and they love each other. After all, most of us can say that some of our first friends were family. They would all spend the night together at Mrs. Mealy's house -- all the cousins playing together and having fun with their grandmother. At least, they used to.....
~~The next installment will tell the story of the incident.~~