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Please. Make it stop.

Yesterday it snowed. As I've explained before, when it snows in these here parts, everything non-essential shuts down. That means schools, hospitals, churches, grocery stores, and law enforcement are simply unavailable. What's left is cock fighting and casinos, the die-hards.

My mother-in-law called in her trying-to-sound-not-stressed-and-therefore-sounding-like-someone's-fist-is-clenched-around-her-throat voice and said, "Well, dear. I've been on the phone with the committee all morning, and we've decided to carry on with the fashion show. But I'm telling everyone I talk to that if they feel ANY doubt in their deepest soul, then they shouldn't come."

I know what you're thinking. SCORE! You just got a get out of jail free card! No fashion show, no in-law clashing, no fake smile plastered on your face all day long. Alas, I did not take the opportunity that was handed to me on a shiny silver platter. I am S.T.U.P.I.D. I said, "Oh, we're still planning on coming. The roads are fine, it's no big deal."

Despite the fact that my mother-in-law is, in fact one of those people who packs three to six weeks in advance of an approaching trip out of town (Chag, how ever did you know?), when we arrived at the event, it was utter and complete chaos. I had planned on keeping Bryce with me so I could help change into his clothes - and also because I had no idea what to tell him to expect, so out of the courtesy I would want from someone who'd drag ME into something like this, I was going to stick around and keep him informed (because my mother-in-law won't...she will talk to him like he's a puppy - a retarded one). Bryce found his cousins, though, and wanted to play with them in the activity room they'd set aside for the kids, so I left him there and tried to find out when I'd need to help him prep for the show. Hannah was with me, and she was helping in the kids' room, so she agreed to come find me and keep me posted.

When it was time for Bryce to change, I asked him how everything was going. He was having a great time with the other kids and he was still looking forward to being in the show, so I helped him change and went back to my table.

The coordinators of this event had failed to take into account a few minor details. First of all, making kids wait in a quiet hallway with no food, toys, books, games, or even an errant trash can to play with, while a bunch of adults sit around and eat a gourmet lunch is, well, just a pretty crappy thing to do. What did they decide at their committee meetings? "Aw, screw the four- and five-year-olds! We can give 'em a bowl of goldfish in the activity room while we eat heaps and heaps of catered lunch!"

Also? Um, when you get a bunch of bored and hungry kids together, it's not so much a quiet or still situation. I went out to check on Bryce a few times; imagine this multiplied by 12 other kids:

The local news anchor (who was, strangly, wearing a black leather "biker" style miniskirt and metal-studded jacket) announced, "Well, everyone, it seems that the little models are getting. Um. Antsy. Heheh. So we're going to go ahead and start the fashion show!"

Because my mother-in-law does not even remotely "get" Bryce (Candace, you're so right), but because on some level she has some sort of good intentions, she told Bryce's cousin, right in front of Bryce, that they had to "teach Bryce how to be brave" to get on stage. There are so many issues I have with this. First of all, if her idea of bravery is denial and repression of one's feelings about something, she's going to have to bite me pretty hard before she gets that message through to my kid. I've been through a lot in my life; by most standards, I would be considered a pretty "brave" person. But I still don't want to be an actress or a model or any sort of public speaker, because I JUST DON'T LIKE IT. Forcing me to do something I inherently don't want to do is not going to make me any more tolerant of it. Secondly, what if Bryce were uncomfortable even after they "taught" him how not to be? What message does that send him? "Either GET comfortable, or PRETEND to be comfortable to keep everyone around you happy." SCREW THAT MENTALITY, Bryce.

Not to worry. Consistent with his progressively more and more profound understanding and view of the world, Bryce spoke up for himself when he heard his grandmother make her "bravery" comment to his cousin, as if he weren't standing right there. He cut her off with gumption and indignantly declared, "I AM BRAVE! You don't have to teach me!" God, I wish I'd been there to shriek "YEAH!" and give him a high five. I had to hear this through John (his mom told him - she was smart enough - but not very BRAVE - not to tell me that story). Here he is with his grandmother in her non-grandmother-like bohemian outfit:

After the models went on the stage, they were supposed to walk through the dining room once and then go back to the hallway, escorted by their grandmother or whatever adult they were modeling with, of course. My mother-in-law just walked off and started socializing with all of her pals, undoubtedly admiring all of these horrifying teddy bear centerpieces on each table (I had to take pictures from one spot, so the shots aren't that great, but the point here is, can we get any more RANDOM? And let me ask, since no one else did. Why were the children forced to entertain themselves WITH THEIR FEET while these sat uselessly in front of our plates?)

Anyway, who knows where my mother-in-law wandered off to, but Bryce and my nephew were just blindly walking around the dining room, with no clue where to go. Look at them, they're even running into each other, and looking at other kids, like, "what the hell are we supposed to be doing here?"

I gave up on their grandmother and just walked them back to their dim, foodless hallway. Suddenly, my mother-in-law ran up to me like she'd been scouring the building looking for all of us. I was holding Bryce's hand, getting ready to take him into the room to get his regular clothes back on. What happened next has been permanently etched like some sort of bloody, puss-filled, infected tattoo on my brain. She had already told me once earlier to "go sit down" because "she could take care of it" like I was some sort of unrelated babysitter over-stepping my bounds, so I was admittedly not entirely happy with the woman by this time. I just wanted to get my kid back into his warm clothes and let him go back to the room where he could have a snack and play with his younger cousin, like I'd told him he could, like he was expecting to. As she approached us, with a big, forced smile, she said again, with no smile in her voice, "Go sit down, I've got this." (I suppose she was defensive since I'm sure she realized SHE was the one who had left the kids to wander cluelessly, otherwise I never would have been back in that hallway in the first place.) But, her condescending and completely inappropriate tone were not enough. She needed something else to really get her frigging point across to me. So she reached out and grabbed my wrist, the one connected to the hand that was holding Bryce's, PULLED IT AWAY FROM BRYCE, clenched his now empty hand in her gnarled wicked witch fist, and walked away WITHOUT EVEN LOOKING AT ME.

What I've envisioned doing to those fluffy overdressed bears since that time is only a fraction of the loathing I feel for that entire two-second experience. But that mounting volcano of fury is equalled by the pride and amazement I feel towards my son, who not only put up with ridiculous conditions, but did so with flexibility, contentment, and a healthy self-preservation that even my power-hungry, occasionally psychotic mother-in-law couldn't crack.

As we were leaving, my mother-in-law thanked Bryce for coming to the show to "help people with special needs." He shrunk away from her and into my leg (who could blame the kid - he was probably wondering when her claws were going to rip him away from me without warning again), but didn't break eye contact and said, "you're welcome." After we got home and I fed the boy some lunch (since all he'd had at the show was goldfish; I'd asked my mother-in-law for a piece of cake for him and she'd informed me coldly that "there was food for the children in the back room"), I asked if he knew what she'd meant when she thanked him for helping people with special needs. He said no, so I explained the idea of the charity and told him people had paid money to see the fashion show, and the money they paid was going to help people who couldn't do certain things for themselves. He listened intently and then glided his car around the surface of the coffee table, like he was thinking. I said, "Do you understand about people with special needs and how the show was supposed to help them?" He kept rolling his car around, looking pensive: "Yeah. I'm glad I did make some more money for them, then."

And ultimately, I guess that was the whole point. But, next year? Next year I'm going to be out of town. Bryce and I deserve a vacation.