Zach's PEN #18: To The Best Inlaws

2020 Week 48: Closing out gratitude month with an ode to my inlaws.

As I wrote about in some previous PENs, when the pandemic began, Allison, Louisa, Wendell, and I were living in a 600 square foot apartment waiting for our home renovation to be complete. With the resulting shutdown and delay, preschool closed, economic emergencies taking over both of our jobs, and living on the 17th floor of a building with small elevators full of people in scrubs, Allison’s parents invited us to live with them in the Hudson Valley at great personal risk to themselves.

We took them up on it. We lived with Jan and Suzanne (and Elphaba the cat) in Garrison, New York for five months.

When I think of all the things I’m thankful for this year, this single act of love is tough to beat.

Without time or space to give you a nuanced, well-rounded, all-encompassing picture of who Jan and Suzanne are, I’ll take a moment to tell you five things about each of them.

First, Jan:

  • Jan recently retired as a bankruptcy and restructuring attorney and is currently doing board work, but maybe the best way I can tell you how successful he has been is by briefly recounting when, early in my relationship with Allison, I was brought to New York to attend an event at which Jan would be receiving an award from United Jewish Appeal. I imagined this would be a luncheon with a few dozen lawyers. There were well over 1,000 people there, and the keynote address was given by the person serving as the emergency manager of the City of Detroit. After that, Jan received his lifetime achievement award.

  • After graduating from Harvard, Jan spent time in Tanzania and learned Swahili.

  • He spent time registering voters in Mississippi during the civil rights era.

  • Jan appears to be Wendell’s favorite, much to Allison’s chagrin.

  • He is an avid collector of transferware and we are the beneficiaries of his overflowing collection. We actually use it to eat off of, as the artisans intended some 200 years ago. This beautiful stuff:

And Suzanne:

  • According to multiple sources, though Jan had his very big career, he is only the second best lawyer in his household (Suzanne was among the first generation of women to become lawyers and later served as a law professor).

  • My first birthday spent with Suzanne, she had baked several versions of a cake as experiments leading up to the cake that would be used to celebrate my birthday. As I like to say, everything she cooks is the best version of that thing I’ve ever had, other than everything that Allison has cooks, of course.

  • An avid hiker, Suzanne has been to the top of Long’s Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park (one of many great hiking feats).

  • Suzanne will fearlessly kill bugs that are hurting her plants. She is a ruthless bug smoosher and she taught Louisa a whole lot about gardening this summer.

  • You best come correct with Suzanne. It is not at all uncommon to find yourself 10 minutes into a conversation on a topic you think you know a decent amount about only to discover that Suzanne has read 10 or more books on the subject and remembers every single word.

Circumstances and all, it was the best possible way we could spend this spring and summer.

We set up baby barriers around the whole house and I took over the garage with my madness office setup.

Jan took the role of Quartermaster General/Chief Provisioner-in-Chief, and I swear he went to the grocery store every single day we were there.

Suzanne cooked the most delicious lunches every single day.

They got to see the babies grow and the babies got to know them well.

I took over the garage, injured my foot, and tried to minimize the damage I was doing to everyone else with my incessant whining and general uselessness.

Agnes, who is magical at all things, took time away from housekeeping to watch Louisa and Wendell every day while Allison and I focused on work.

Our little family is pretty formidable in its destructive capacity on nice spaces and nice things, and I say this with total disbelief: When we finally parted ways, I believe that everything was left intact, including the relationships between us all. And that’s a priceless thing.

Even with everything else going on, there’s a lot to be grateful for. Jan and Suzanne: Though this PEN might unfortunately create some bashfulness, I felt I had to do it. While I have a whole lot more that I could thank you for, this season of intergenerational living is such a priceless gift. You very well may have saved our lives.