One of the hardest things about the holidays is that while we are connecting with the loved ones whom we typically don’t get to see very often, we are totally not connecting with the ones we see every day. When your days are filled with visiting distant relatives (was that my first cousin twice removed or my great-niece?) and distant friends (I can’t believe we haven’t seen each other since high school; wait, are you the one who slept with my boyfriend?), it’s hard to find time to just sit and talk with your OG crew — you know, the Paw and Maw and Half-Pints of the prairie you call home. At first, that can be a nice respite from the day-to-day. But it can also quickly become tumultuous, as your usual homestead unit, whatever it may be — significant others, parents, cats, children, weird British roommates who bring home a new partner from the bar each week and always lock your bathroom door for hours on end, a surprisingly empathetic bearded dragon — loses its place as your emotional foundation and becomes uprooted amid the tornado that is the holiday season. Remember when Dorothy flew into the air and a house fell on the poor eastern sister of her aunt’s wicked neighbor (not that any of us liked her anyway)? Hello, holidays.
That’s not to say that it isn’t great to see distant loved ones, because it is. But it can also devolve into a rum cake-fueled rampage. So, for the sake of keeping your holidays about singing “Silent Night” rather than giving silent treatment, allow me a few suggestions.
1) Take alone time for you. My sister-in-law is a shopper. Every time our family would get together during the holiday season, she would spend half the time shopping. Gross. I didn’t like her for years because I associated her with being so materialistic that I was certain we had nothing in common. One year, while I was visiting her home, I noticed that my sister-in-law didn’t shop — like, at all. Here I thought she shopped every day. So I asked her whether she was on a budget. She laughed and said, “No, when I’m with your family, I’m on a time budget for how much I can spend before losing my mind.” Turns out that she rarely bought anything during those hours she spent out of our house. She was just claiming her me time. She is a genius.
2) Take family time away from, well, the rest of your family. Don’t let your grounding relationship with Fluffy, your life partner lizard, or your kids or whomever get pushed aside by reunion craziness. If being alone together makes you feel sane, take a breather together so you can say the stuff you need to say, finish any fights you were having pre-family visit and extinguish any you’re having because of family impact. Your omnivore brother’s feeding your recently vegan partner bacon is bound to ruffle feathers, and it will only get worse if you don’t chat. Get alone so you can get it out and move on.
3) For when you can’t escape, create a secret language with your unit so you can check in while in a crowd. Though making eye contact across the room when Aunt Celeste asks you whether you intend to finally recognize your own limitations and get a real job or when Grandpa Joe asks whether you still hang around that weird sissy boy (uh, you mean my husband?) seems like a great plan, it’s not foolproof. After all, there is a lot going on, and an unhealthy amount of eggnog has been consumed. That is why I recommend becoming a fan of colored scarves and handkerchiefs. Keep multiple colors in your purse or pocket. Display green when you need a soft help — for example, when your second cousin Suzie is making her horrible joke about how her foot corns were like corn chips to her deceased boyfriend with a foot fetish. Alert your partner that you need to be kindly removed from the conversation with green. Red scarf means “get me out of here now.” No, Uncle Stu, the women weren’t asking for it by going into the “whore profession” of acting. Red scarf! Red scarf! Red scarf! Tell your family members that scarves are the new ugly sweater. They’ll never know.
Most importantly, don’t overdo it until you become undone. The season can be a special, connective time if you make sure to connect with yourself and your unit first. And drink your weight in eggnog. Fluffy will thank you.