Most holidays at our house are an enjoyable time of family togetherness. But they can also be fairly described as enormous clusters of frenetic flapping about. This no longer bothers me, though up until recently it made me somewhat insane in the membrane. I know now that the holidays are supposed to be crazy and that’s what makes them fun.
Thanks to a nearly ten year process of cognitive behavioral therapy also known as “parenting small children,” I have grown to not only accept but enjoy the reality that the holiday season brings. I now fully expect that our Thanksgiving will have elements of the ridiculous, absurd and most likely, the profoundly disgusting (as we also have a dog).
I anticipate things spilling, that someone will cry (always), that someone will be a total crabbypants for no discernible reason (usually me), that something may burn, that something will break, that something bathroom related will occur while we are seated at the table, and that we will forget to call at least one relative who will then later get mad at us. With expectations firmly adjusted downwards, I am at peace.
My husband, however, still suffers from what I call “Griswold Syndrome.” It’s a seasonal disorder that strikes otherwise rational people during the holidays and family vacations. It makes them think everything should resemble either a Norman Rockwell painting or an 80’s sitcom. It stimulates an uncontrollable impulse to create “Perfect Family Moments.” When it becomes clear that reality and the ideal are so widely divergent that any rational comparison is laughable, those stricken with “Griswold Syndrome” may develop cracks around the edges. These cracks manifest themselves in many ways:
- Eye rolling
- Excessive sighing accompanied by head shaking.
- Disjointed outbursts such as “Kids in Haiti!”
- Drinking right after lunch (this has been known to help).
- Taking 4,000 pictures and then getting an eye twitch because none of them turned out.
- Unexplained banging noises coming from the kitchen.
- Being under the delusion that no one else is doing anything to help.
- General snappishness.
- Playing of Christmas music, particularly “old timey” Christmas music such as Bing Crosby and Perry Como.
- Stress eating.
- Talking out loud to self in strident tones. When you attempt to hear what is being said, it all sounds like “grumblegrumblegrumble”.
- Crazy eyes.
- Issuing of martinet-like instructions to be seated at the table the very second dinner is ready or the world may end in a fiery fireball of doom.
My familiarity with these symptoms stems from my own case of Griswold Syndrome. My husband’s case is fortunately very mild and can almost always be cured by a cold India Pale Ale and Frank Sinatra’s “Christmas Waltz.” I have a few suggestions for those of you whose family may be affected by this disease during the holiday season. They are based on years of my own clinical treatment.
- Lower expectations in the days leading up to the holiday itself. Perhaps discuss some “first world problems” and enjoy a moment of levity. This will serve as a reminder not to get worked up that there are no paper towels, even though I HAVE GONE TO F*&KING TARGET THREE TIMES IN THE PAST TWO DAYS.
- Make sure you are well stocked with refreshing adult libations, though make an effort not to over-serve. One Bloody Mary can mean the difference between early and late onset Griswold Syndrome whereas four Bloody Marys can lead to extreme cases, where sufferers think it is a good idea “to finally say what I really think.” This should be avoided at all costs.
- If there is a particular task, event, or person that is a “trigger,” remove the trigger from the vicinity of those at risk of developing Griswold Syndrome. For example, I am no longer allowed to make gravy.
- Tell family stories about past holiday, vacation, wedding or birthday disasters that everyone enjoys and finds amusing. This may cause the subject to make the connection that the things that are ultimately remembered and beloved are not life’s perfect moments – but rather the imperfect ones.
- Take time to remember loved ones that are not with you. Acknowledge with gratitude how deeply lucky families are to be able to share a meal together, even if the turkey is dry.
When Griswold Syndrome passes, it often does so quickly. It usually leaves the sufferer feeling deflated, guilty, or abashed. The best thing you can do for them at this point is to remind them that you love them and that all is forgiven. After all, the holidays are supposed to be crazy. That’s what makes them fun.