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Housing Crisis: Staying With the In-Laws

By Amalah

Dear Amy,
My question doesn’t have anything to do with beauty advice, but rather how to avoid seeming like an elitist snob when I’m at my in-laws’ family reunion this summer. You give such great advice and are a creative thinker; I thought maybe you could help me.
Here’s the deal. My husband’s parents have a large log home in the Rockies where the family reunion will take place over an extended weekend. It’s an absolutely gorgeous location, and this house means the world to them. However, no one actually lives in the house, it gets exposed to some extreme weather conditions, and isn’t always in the greatest condition. Local wildlife tends to take up residence in the house when people are away for so long. This summer, the place is going to be jammed with people– so many, in fact, that there aren’t enough beds for everyone and people will have to sleep in every room but the kitchen and dining room.
My husband, my son and I have been assigned a bedroom, but it’s really awful. It’s in the basement, there are no windows, no air circulation, and it smells rank…like mold, mouse poop, and left-over rats’ nests in the walls. All of which are distinct possibilities. We’re very familiar with the room, as we’re always assigned to it. We didn’t complain in the past because we were trying to be polite guests, we wanted to free up the nicer rooms for families with children, it does have a (spider infested) bathroom that we have to ourselves, and it’s at least quiet down there. This room is euphemistically referred to as the “Winter Suite” by my father-in-law. Everyone else in the family calls it The Dungeon.
In the past I’ve just taken one for the team and stayed down there, but this year is different because my husband and I have a baby. Our son will be almost 9 months old at the time of the reunion. I’m a pretty laid-back, nature-loving gal but the thought of staying in the room with our baby and THAT kind of “nature” makes me very uncomfortable. I had a really privileged childhood and my husband’s family has had to work very hard for the things that they have. This house is a treasure to them; I would never want to hurt their feelings, and I’m trying not to come across as a snob. But I do not want to stay in that awful room.
I brought this up with my husband and his solution was to attempt assigning rooms so that no one stays down there. I don’t know how that’s possible with such a large number of people coming. I even thought about pitching a tent outside but the property is on too steep an incline, plus there are bears in the area.
So…how do I gracefully get out of this situation? Help me, oh Great Amalah!
Trapped in the Dungeon

dungeon.jpgYou know what you do? You do what you’re going to find yourself doing a lot, now that you have a baby. YOU BLAME THE BABY.
Have you ever met one of those couples who get a dog and then use said dog as an excuse to bail early on dinner parties or why they have to cut out from work because the dog always has to go to the vet or be let out or I don’t know, boss, the puppy’s poop just looked a little strange to me this morning, I better stay home today in case she ate some curling ribbon.
And of course everybody puts up with it because they don’t want to look like they HATE PUPPIES or anything, but deep down everyone thinks things like, “Oh my hell, it’s a dog. Let it crap on the linoleum once in awhile and GET ON WITH YOUR LIFE.”
Babies are like puppies times infinity. They always need to see the doctor, they are always leaking something suspicious, there is always a strange diaper to worry about and the best part is that no one will dare question you about any of it because it’s your BABY, ZOMGZ.
So…I’m sure some people are going to be horrified at the suggestion of lying, but unless you want to just straight up speak up and demand that someone else take a turn in the Dungeon, or that the rooms get assigned randomly each year, by picking numbers out of a hat or something, you’re going to have to resort to some subterfuge. And I’m personally more okay with avoidance tactics when it comes to the in-laws — it’s your husband’s job to sort this out, really, but unless he has a damn good excuse himself, I can see how the room demands could easily still get blamed on you and your princess-and-the-pea complex, or something.
So…blame the baby. Tell the in-laws that your son is just getting over a cold or a respiratory infection, and while your doctor has cleared him for travel, he thinks it is very important to keep him in well-ventilated areas and away from dampness and allergens. Say he has a very bad mold allergy and you’ve been told to avoid prolonged time in basements. Say you’re worried he won’t sleep in a room without a window because that’s what he’s used to. Say you need to be closer to the kitchen in case he needs a bottle in the middle of the night. SOMETHING. You get the idea.
Sure, you might sound overly-neurotic and fussy, but I think most people will give you a pass because first-time parents are SUPPOSED to be overly-neurotic and fussy. While your father-in-law might not fully get that the Dungeon is undesirable, I bet there are at least a few other family members who will completely sympathize with the idea of keeping a small baby down in a moldy dank room.
Personally, I think a lottery would be a good system to implement, but if your husband can’t get the family to go along with that this year now that rooms have already been assigned, do what you have to do and make concern-y noises about your son’s health and allergies. Then insist on random assignments next year, or rent yourselves a Winnebago.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Kim

    May 16, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    Two words – Holiday. Inn.
    Oh hellz yeah, blame the baby. But even if the baby isn’t getting over a runny nose, um, ew! Staying down there might cause the poor child to develop a runny nose. I got hives thinking about it from the description.
    Perhaps suggesting that the family could chip in on a cleaning/fumigating service prior to the reunion might not be a bad idea, either.

  • Colleen

    May 16, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    I’d totally blame the baby. We do it all the time. We blame each other and the kids…that’s one of the perks of being married with kids…you have new bail-out methods.
    And I agree, see about a lottery method or have hubby mention that the mold/bugs wouldn’t be good for anyone…maybe help offer to clean or fumigate or everyone pitch-in to have someone else do it.

  • ohkwarimama

    May 16, 2008 at 1:10 pm

    9 month old baby! basement!
    one word…. crawling
    even if baby isn’t crawling, explain that he/she can get out of the bed, and that the basement floor provides all kinds of ickyness that said baby should not roll around on… and transfer into the little baby mouth via the little baby hands….
    or just the whole 9 month olds put everything in their mouths and it would really be too bad if it was rodent poop or something from the basement!
    My in-laws were amazingly thoughtless about stuff like this as well, sometimes grandparents forget? Amy is so totally right about blaming the baby…but it’s for the baby’s own good/health, so it’s really being a good mama and taking care of baby! She’s also right that no normal caring person would question your concern for your baby.

  • Beeeee

    May 16, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    I say that you should get a whole lot of credit for taking one for the team and staying down there in past years. That should definitely help your case in this scenario. And while you may have to exaggerate the case a little, blaming the baby is actually telling the truth! Don’t feel even a little bit guilty!

  • mdvelazquez

    May 16, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    I don’t have a baby, but I would totally use the baby as an excuse. It is not exactly lying (I would rationalize) because the baby is the reason I’m not going to take one for the team.

  • Dash

    May 17, 2008 at 12:17 am

    Oh dear. I’m worried about this one. The fact that the letter-writer saw fit to mention the socio-economic disparities, that she thought they would be an issue…well, I’d just say that no matter how plausibly she blames the baby, there are likely going to be undertones received about “Our house not good enough for the princess.”
    Tread carefully, letter-writer, and be prepared for fall-out. Honestly, I would leave this one entirely to your husband (after making him promise to blame it on the baby and leave you out of it–which he should be happy to do, considering the situation).

  • Flicka

    May 18, 2008 at 5:14 pm

    The fact that you’ve stayed in the Dungeon without complaint over the past several years should lend credence to the Blame the Baby theory now. Why would you start being a princess all of a sudden when you’ve been so nice about it for so long? And reality is, even if you were in love with that room, it’s no place to put a baby. Use the excuse you’ve got. 🙂

  • Vicki Hibbert

    May 19, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    You could even be all “Gee, we have enjoyed having our own bathroom in the past but this year we are concerned about the BABY sleeping the basement”

  • designingmama

    May 19, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    If there is ANY history of asthma/allergies in your family or your husband’s family, you can totally blame the baby, without any guilt. In fact, even if there is not a history. Exposing a baby to that kind of environment is dangerous. My oldest son was exposed to unseen mold in the attic of our rental condo and spent the first six years of his life on a constant regimen of breathing treaments, steroids and hospital stays. Mind you, we moved out as soon as we discovered the cause of his asthma (at age 3), but it still took him three years to recover.

  • Nic

    May 20, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    Why not camp outside? The 9 mo old will likely get a kick out of it, and if you get one of those fun inflatable mattresses and big warm blankets, you all may have a good time.

  • amyinbc

    May 28, 2008 at 10:38 pm

    Fantastic advice. I would run with that one. The BABY needs a decent room.
    I got us out of an uncomfortable family wedding trip with the babies (yes twins, hand to forehead)worked like a charm!