The Dance

When Jack and I got married, we didn’t plan to have a dance at the reception. The biggest reason was budget – we just didn’t have the money for it. My MIL, who loves any reason to throw a party, was horrified when she inquired about our plans for a dance and I told her, “Sorry, we aren’t planning to have one.”

This was not acceptable to MIL. Over the course of a few months, MIL resurrected the topic of the dance every now and then. I kept repeating, “Sorry, we aren’t planning to have one.” Sometimes I would give longer explanations, but nothing seemed to officially end the conversation. She would lay off the topic for a bit, and then bring it up again later. I told Jack about this and he said she had been harassing him, too.

In June, a couple months before the wedding, we attended a surprise party for my MIL’s 60th birthday. The party was hosted by MIL’s friend, Sandra. Sandra has an adult daughter, Fiona, who is roughly my age and has Down Syndrome. When we arrived at the party, we greeted Sandra, Fiona, and the others who had already gathered.

MIL is on cloud nine when she can be the center of attention, and this night was no exception. She was thrilled to be the person of honor at a surprise birthday party. Her age quickly became talking point. Early in the evening, when someone teasingly asked her age, instead of saying it out loud, she responded, “I’m…[!!]”

Then she did this thing where she puckered her face like she’d ate a lemon, snorted through her nose, and threw her head forward in one hard nod.

Pretty similar to this, but more awkward:


After she did this the first time, she found it hilarious and it became her party trick for the night. Anytime someone walked through the door late, she’d run up to them and yell “I’m [head nod!!]” Then she’d run off, leaving the person completely perplexed by what just happened.

As the night wound on and wine was consumed, this party trick was repeated frequently. She spent much of the party running from person to person, interrupting their conversations to yell “I’m [head nod!!]” and then running away.

Toward the end of the night, Jack and I sat on one of the couches, watching MIL run around while everyone chatted. Fiona (the daughter with Down Syndrome) walked up to where we sat.

“Hi Emily, hi Jack,” she said.

“Hey Fiona, how are you?” I responded.

“Good, good. I want to know, are you having a dance?” she asked.

“A dance? You mean at our wedding?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “I love dancing.”

“Ohhhh no, Fiona. I’m sorry,” I respond. “We aren’t going to have one.”

“Oh, ok,” she responds nonchalantly and starts to turn around. Right at this point, my MIL walks slowly behind Fiona and they almost collide.

“HEY MIL!” Fiona yells, “I ASKED THEM!”

MIL stops in her tracks and slowly turns around to face Fiona. “You asked who, what?” she smiles with a certain tenseness.

Fiona gestures at Jack and I. “I asked Jack and Emily about the dance at the wedding, like you asked me to. I told them I love dancing.”


I notice MIL’s smile tighten around the corners, becoming more forced. “Fiona, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Fiona repeats louder, “I ASKED THEM! LIKE YOU ASKED ME TO! I DID IT!”

MIL slides her arm around Fiona’s shoulders and begins to guide her away from us, “Here Fiona, come with me to the kitchen. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” And with that, they walk away, MIL murmuring something into Fiona’s ear.

Jack and I look at each other. My eyes are wide. Jack is cringing. We both know what has happened here.

“Jack…” I say.

“I know,” he groans.

For the rest of the party, which we don’t stay at too much longer, I am ticked. I’d already been growing tired of having to tell MIL no over and over about this stupid dance. But using someone with Down Syndrome to try and get her way? This is a new low for my MIL.  I’m appalled. It’s getting late anyway, so I tell Jack I’d like to leave. As he makes the rounds to say goodbye to people, I stand quietly off to the side by the door.

Jack tells me the next morning that his mom emailed him to ask if I was okay, coldly noting that I seemed upset at the party. Jack, being conflict avoidant, tells her I was fine. But it’s not fine. What she did was not okay. I’m tired of being harassed about this dance.

So the next time MIL brings up the dance, I level with her. I tell her that we can’t afford it, and that if she wants a dance, she’s will have to pay for it. I inform her what the cost is for the nearest rental venue and music. She tries to make it cheaper by suggesting inconvenient alternatives, but I hold firm. She relents and agrees to pay.

She had also previously offered to purchase the wine and beer for the reception. Having a dance will add significantly to that bill, since it means that people will be hanging around for many more hours and drinking. I wasn’t involved in the purchasing of the alcohol, so I don’t know what the final costs came to, but I assume the dance wound up costing her somewhere in the $4,000 – 6,000 range.

In the end, all went well at the wedding and reception. Some friends of ours got sloshed on my in-laws dime, as did a few extended relatives from her family. I was utterly exhausted when the dance ended at midnight, but I had a good time.

What my MIL did though, using Fiona like that, has stayed with me through the years. It showed me something about my MIL’s character, how low she’s willing to stoop in order to get her way. It also showed me how she operates – that she has no shame in using other people to push her agendas, a behavior I have witnessed repeatedly since then.

As Maya Angelou once wisely said:

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”


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