I usually gain weight when I spend a holiday with family--and it's not just because. during the holidays, everyone eats too much and drinks too much. I turn to chocolate as my "comfort food," and so, I'm glad to return to my own routine of "normal" life with its exercise groups and swimming. Of course, the fact that I need to comfort myself with chocolate when visiting family is in itself revealing.

The other day my daughter-in-law turned on the music channel in her TV to a very loud degree. I was sitting at the dining table playing guitar, and I thought to myself: Once again, she's intent on showing me who's boss. So I turned to her and asked, "Did you turn on the music because I'm playing?" It was mid-morning and I had brought out the instrument because, for once, the television was quiet. My di Georgio stays at my home in Wyoming, but I keep a secondary one, a Takamine I bought in Nashville fifteen years ago, at my youngest son's home. Andy does play guitar but, since he prefers his electric to my acoustic, an agreement has evolved that this guitar stays so I may use it when I visit. 

"We have company coming in few minutes and I like music playing when people visit," my daughter-in-law answered,

"Well, how about telling me about it?" I shot back.

"I'm telling you now," she said. "Would you mind taking your guitar into the other room?"

Ever since then I've puzzled over this exchange. Why did my daughter-in-law fail to inform me of the impending visit in a timely manner? In truth, I'd overheard her saying to her five-year-old that Eric was coming, but I assumed "Eric" was the boy's playmate. I asked my son who was coming and he said it was a friend and former colleague who was dropping in with his wife and child. He didn't say when. I had no reason to think that the visit would happen in the morning, so I took out my guitar.

Did my daughter-in-law decide to withhold information? Did my son? Was this a move to make me feel isolated and unimportant, a reminder that I was not part of the family and hence did not "deserve" information about family matters such as visits from friends? Or did they think it was enough to drop hints by talking to their son, which I presumably would overhear and draw conclusions? Is it laziness that makes them stingy with words? Fear of involvement? A decision that conversation is unimportant? A reluctance to explain themselves? I remember similar exchanges with another son and daughter-in-law, when I tried to explain feeling slighted by their lack of inclusion. 

 "It's none of your business," answered that daughter-in-law. "It concerns my family, not you."

"But it does concern me and my life," I tried to explain. "When I'm with you, it does." I'm not sure she caught on what I meant. To her way of thinking, what went on in her family was none of my never-mind.

Sometimes, I think, we take our need for privacy too far. We forget that our actions affect others, even such seemingly insignificant things as friend dropping in are acts that affect others, and being forward helps those around us to adjust their plans and their expectations, the routines they've established even as temporary visitors in our homes. Perhaps our need to protect our privacy goes back to the days of our adolescence, when we had to answer to irksome parental inquiries of "Where did you go?" What did you do?" In adulthood, we like to fancy ourselves as free of such obligations. 

It would help if instead we reminded ourselves that relationships, even irksome in-law relationships need care and maintenance, a little TLC. It may be bothersome to spend the extra time, but it would be beneficial to all. Just as we check the pressure in our car's tires and take it to the shop for an oil change, so relationships will run more smoothly if we decide to invest a bit of time and energy and effort.