Tuesday, July 22, 2014

There’s outright madness amid this merriment

December 10. 2013 6:40PM

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“IT’S NOT A family gathering until someone has a meltdown.”

Got that from a package of cocktail napkins — a most amusing Christmas gift — on which snowpeople were all lined up, and it was anyone’s guess which one would self-destruct first.

For better or worse, in my extended family, bets are often placed on yours truly. I’ve finally accepted that, much as I try to accept all the “helpful” prevention advice, delivered by well-meaning folks who profess not to care if my house is clean, my decorations impress, or my food tastes exquisite.

Well, they say that, but ask them about my famous “polyurethane cookies,” a recipe that lives in infamy thanks to the ill timing of some home-improvement efforts that had me baking the same day some wood got stained. Still don’t know whether to blame the MinWax or some bad Crisco for the off taste, but words to the wise: Mama always believed in real butter in cookies, not margarine, not shortening. Real. Butter. Dismiss anyone who advises otherwise.

Then there was the great Christmas “fire” a couple of years back, but let’s not go there again.

The point is I’ve since made adjustments, trying to limit home renovation when company is imminent — always tough — and introducing some catered fare into my spreads, but the holidays nonetheless remain a fantastic season for impending meltdowns.

A co-worker and I discussed this the other day, so I know I’m not alone when it comes to stressing over who’s hosting whom and when and who’s staying with whom and for how long, and will we all still love each other when the dust settles? If you’re reading this, you survived Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and boo-yah. Now proceed to whatever you celebrate next, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or the balance of Hanukkah.

If your coming holiday marching orders are still uncertain, may I offer advice?

No. 1: Work it out via email. That’s how my family rolls, and it always goes, um, swimmingly. Ahem. (By that I mean nobody really gets hurt because nobody sees or hears you steaming about something somebody said, and if they do call you out, you can always say they read in a tone.) Now I suppose we have a good problem, which is that everyone has a house, and everyone wants people to come to it, and most major players involved have not one but two families they treasure. Trouble is in-laws often live hours away, so creativity might come into play.

Which brings me to No. 2: Improvise. Last year, we declared Dec. 23 an official family holiday, and it worked so well we’re reprising Christmas Eve-Eve this year. Only problem is now that one of us — you remain unidentified, brother — made the bonehead statement that New Year’s Day is a bit of a downer, and pork and sauerkraut not exactly anticipatory fare, we have multiple people jockeying to host Dec. 23, the nouveau “cool” gathering. The hashing and gnashing were largely done via email, probably because our matriarch doesn’t check hers with fervor. That bought us some time to duke it out unrefereed over such hotbed topics as who gets to keep the baby (and his parents) overnight. He’s a real charmer, OK? So what if I made an unreasonable claim based on precedent. If it’s good enough for the law …

The important thing is the plans seem hammered out now. Before Jan. 1, each of us will get at least one signature holiday to host, and none will pout. As for the baby, he’ll just bounce around happily, which babies do best. We just have one tiny problem remaining …

When ordinary time returns, Mom might finally be in a condo in Del Boca Vista. Some lady friends similarly “blessed” with adult kids put that idea in her head, and she has threatened to run off to Florida if we can’t all play nice. Wait till she reads our emails.

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