It’s Wednesday.

Who had their checks already written to the Humane Society?

Well, you can rip ’em up. I made it back … alive!

And we all made it back without any more puking. Ella slept through the mountains. Whew! It was nine hours of driving, another two hours with three pit stops, plus we lost an hour moving into the eastern time zone. That’s one day of our lives spent in the confines of a Passat Wagon, just getting from point A to point B. Traveling is like eating, you have to do it, and while the act itself can be enjoyable it’s most often just a means to an end. I don’t know who said the journey is more important that the destination. They didn’t spend a few hours next to a vomit-stained car seat being passed by speeding truckers hopped up on NoDoz and Mountain Dew.

Anyway, back to the in-laws.

They were tolerable. Trish’s mother reminds me of Hazel, the maid in the 1960s sitcom. She’s loud. Her voice is grating. She’s prone to bouts of silliness. But Hazel was pretty witty, almost wise. The mother-in-law, well, she can yodel. She was almost lovable this time.

There was the first day, when I had to back her off of Ella.

Ella is very shy around men. She actually scoots behind Trish, or me, and avoids eye contact. It’s amazing to watch. She’s also uncomfortable in loud, chaotic scenes. She was already a little frazzled by the commotion of Trish’s sisters and her mom, but the mother-o-law tried to get Ella to sit next to her cousin, who is a very tall 19-year-old. He’s a great kid, but he’s a man. Ella wasn’t having any of it. She was clinging to her grandmother’s neck like a sloth to a tree. I was in another room, but I heard someone say, “Mom, you’re scaring her.” So, of course, I came out of the room. I said, in a surprisingly controlled voice — not threatening, but stern — “Just make sure you’re doing what she’s comfortable with. Don’t push her.”

MOL looked at me and mumbled, “well, I didn’t intend to. …” And she gives me the look, like, ‘is this the button? how ’bout this one, will this one set you off? maybe the one over here, if I just push it a little harder.’

But her eyes are kind of vacant, much like one of the cow’s in the photo header above (which we visited on a trip to a dairy farm). So I just looked back, and she gave up.

There almost were a couple more episodes like that. Ella is a little too bashful, a little too clingy. It’s annoying sometimes. But she’s not being malicious. We can tell when she’s really bothered and when she’s being demanding for the sake of toddlerdom. We encourage the kid to be independent, and believe me, she doesn’t need much help. But why people want to push little kids into situations is a mystery to me. It’s as if they’re walking around asking who doesn’t know how to swim, and whoever raises a hand gets grabbed and thrown into a river. That’ll teach em! Granted, Trish’s parents, are used to a house full of grandkids (three live in the same town) that practically grew up there. And during these mini-reunions, the household is a village raising the children. I suppose their default mode is to treat Ella like one of the others. And, obviously, that’s all very foreign to me.

But here’s the thing, which I’ve harped on before: We teach Ella to say “no” and to tell people to “stop it,” because one day someone’s going to want her to do something she doesn’t want to do, whether it’s growing her hair into a retro-80s style or holding up a Pak-N-Sak for crack money. I’m her dad, I’m supposed to help her look out for the things guy want to do (that’s as close as I’m getting to that). If she says, “no,” as in, “put me down, I’m uncomfortable in this situation,” or as in “leave me the hell alone, I’ll make up my own mind,” people need to respect that. If her own extended family doesn’t respect her boundaries then who can she trust? If she grows up believing her words have no effect, she’s lost a valuable defense.

So, anyway, MOL backed off, and one of the sisters-in-law actually said, another time, “Nope, she said ‘no,’ let’s not do it.” I felt vindicated. I felt like a successful dad. And I was very happy for Ella.