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Are We Having Fun Yet? Going From Guilt City to Spin City During the Holidays
For most of us, the holidays are an opportunity to search for meaning, to re-evaluate our lives and make resolutions to improve our situation. To stop smoking. Lose weight. Start a new career. You see it in sitcoms, which try to impart a lesson about the meaning of Christmas in 22 minutes. (Generally, the lesson is contained in the eight minutes of commercials.)

Too often, the holidays become a guilt-a-thon because--according to parents, grandparents and in-laws--you haven't done enough.

If you're single, you should get married.

If you're married, you should have a baby.

If you have a child, you should have another.

Adding new meaning to the phrase, "guilt trip," some of us even travel across country to be subjected to this treatment. This is our parents' trap.

Although Martha Stewart provides holiday instructions--how to raise, kill and dress your own holiday ham--many of us are mentally unprepared for the holidays.

Initially, parents' questions seem to indicate interest or concern. Don't be fooled. They are concerned--about bragging rights. In fact, they generally don't listen to your answers; as you speak, they are calculating whom they can tell, and how to embellish your accomplishments (never failures) to compete with Dottie and Harry's kid. It is a blood sport; professional spin doctors have nothing on these people when it comes to hype.

Here are some multiple-choice questions for maintaining perspective during your family interrogation.

- Your parents say: "Jimmy Noonan's parents told us he's now a VP."

Your response should be:

a) "He's sure a real-life Forrest Gump."

b) "Hopefully he'll hold onto this job longer than the last one."

c) "But remember: He's not just a VP, he's a member of the Hair Club for Men."

- If you're single, your parents say: "Did you hear that Sara Wolfe got married? Her parents told us it was a lovely ceremony."

Your response should be:

a) "I hope it lasts longer than the other ones. Her parents must get some kind of volume discount."

b) "I'm so glad. Prison weddings can be a downer."

c) "Did she have trouble finding a maternity wedding gown?"

- If you have no children, your parents say: "The Eliotts have a new grandson. They showed us the cutest pictures."

Your response should be:

a) "Do they know the father of this one?"

Actually, there is only one response for that one.

The best way to enjoy the holidays is to establish the following ground rules:

- No stories about anyone you went to school with--or their spouses--who is more successful.

- No suggestions about how to decorate your house. Tell them: "I don't go around re-arranging things at your house." (Some feel that co-signing a lease or guaranteeing a mortgage gives them a right to provide . . . input on wallpaper.)

- No unsolicited offers of recipes for home-cooked meals.

- No leaving spouse or date unattended to fend with inquisitive in- laws and their friends.

- Develop a plan for parents to keep them busy because they typically can't relax. (And if they stay over at your house, neither will you; one friend spent last Thanksgiving picking up after his.)

- Because grandparents often have an "early bird" mentality, serve the Thanksgiving meal early --like Wednesday--or else you'll hear how all their friends "won't believe how late we ate."

The real problem, however, is one we are unable to avoid. One day, no matter how hard we try, we may turn into our parents. And our kids, like us today, will hate answering our questions.


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