There seem to have been more newspaper articles than usual this year about insufferable relatives during the holidays. They have made me especially thankful. Across my extended families (mine and the Man's), you will find difficult people, the occasional inappropriate or ill considered comment, some misunderstandings, moments of tension. Not everyone is close. But there is a general feeling of good will and affection, and these things overcome most bad family behavior.
Still, I find myself expecting the worse when the holidays come and it's time to visit the relatives. It's like taking out insurance: If you assume the worst will happen, you're often happily surprised, and if the worse does happen, you're prepared. You came bearing no Norman Rockwell visions, and so aren't disappointed when the turkey is still raw after four hours in the oven and Uncle Pete is drunk and telling the same dirty jokes he told last year.
If you expect a certain passive-aggressive relative to drop some seemingly innocuous comment ("I think your face looks younger when you have a little extra weight on you"), and she doesn't, well, isn't that nice? And if she does, you were expecting it and it's funny. One of my favorite anecdotes I read this week was about two friends who played a kind of holiday family bingo. They had a list of comments they expected to hear ("Why aren't you married?" "That skirt makes your bottom look big"), and the first one who heard all of them called her friend and yelled, "Bingo!" That's a good way to survive with your sense of humor in tact.
One thing I've come to expect when visiting our older relatives is that they will get tired after twenty-four hours, and once they get tired, they have a much harder time not telling it like it is. My mother, when tired, will often remember comments I made about life and how to live it when I was seventeen. It is the rare seventeen-year-old who isn't an idiot, at least when it comes to the meaning of life, and I don't think it's nice to remind us what imbecilic things we've said in the past.
Here's how I disarm her: I say, "You're right, Mom, I was an idiot. Thank you for remembering."
Tomorrow we're going to Cousin Jane's for Thanksgiving, which is our tradition. I'll enjoy it, because no one there knows what an idiot I was when I was seventeen. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Man. Sadly for him, his mother was fond of recording her children during their more philosophical moments, and you never known when she'll break out the tapes. This is why we're coming home on Friday. And on Saturday we'll roast a turkey, raise a glass to family and friends, and turn off all recording devices.