Saturday, December 13, 2008

Holidays, or Why I’d Rather Have a Root Canal

by Denise Swanson, Interim Chick

Any holiday gathering from the Fourth of July picnic to Christmas dinner has the potential for disaster, and my family hates to see any wasted potential. I often wondered why we seemed incapable of having a get-together that didn’t end in catastrophe, then I realized it was due, at least in part, to the mother-daughter relationship.

In my mystery series, Skye, my sleuth, and her mother, May, have a relationship that somewhat mirrors the one I have with my own mother. May wants what is best for Skye—at least what she thinks is best for Skye. And Skye loves her mother, but has to fight to maintain enough distance to hang on to her independence. In fiction, it can be pretty funny to read about this struggle. In real life, it can cause an otherwise sane, adult woman to yell, “You’re not the boss of me."

Take the previously mentioned Fourth of July picnic. The ambulance would never have had to be called if my mother hadn’t said, “Is that how you’re going to chop the onions?”

My immediate reaction was, hell yes, but out loud, I said, “I was. Why?”

“Well, it’s up to you, but I’d dice them,” my mom replied. “Everyone knows only lazy cooks leave them in big chunks like that.”

After hearing how I had come to cut the tips off of three fingers, the female EMT who was bandaging my hand, said, “That’s exactly why I volunteer to work holidays.”

Major holidays like Thanksgiving are worse. I remember a friend of mine telling me that once she ended up asleep under the dining room table after eating an entire rum cake on this family celebration.

She was thirty years old at the time, but when she had picked up her mother to go to the family dinner, her mother had said, “You’re not going to wear that are you?”

“Well, I sure don’t have a change of clothes in the car,” my friend snapped.

“It’s just I asked your cousin the doctor to bring a friend of his and those pants make your butt look big.”

Eek! A twofer. Not only did her mother say she looked fat, she had set her up for a blind date.

Which leaves the big daddy of all holidays, Christmas. Who knew a gift could result in a visit by the fire department? Before quitting my day job to write full-time, I worked as a school psychologist. I used to dread going back after Christmas break because I usually had a line of kids wanting to talk to me about their less than wonderful holidays.

But one year, the first person in line was an adult—a teacher I had worked with for several years. Let’s call her Gloria. Gloria was an extremely competent woman and I had never seen her ruffled—even when a student had held her at gunpoint. This particular morning she was close to tears. She said it all started when she gave her mother a computer for Christmas. Gloria had had a baby the previous summer and wanted to be able to e-mail her mom pictures since they lived in different states.

She figured she could teach her mom how to use the Internet during her holiday visit. After trying to convince her mom that, no, she didn’t have to hold down the button on the mouse to make it move, and that yes, the computer uses the telephone line, but no she did not have to hold the receiver up to the monitor, more complications arose.

Gloria’s mother developed an irrational fear of pop-up windows, and freaked out when the little arrow turned into a hand. But what sent Gloria over the edge and resulted in her meeting the new fire chief, was when her mom accidently strayed into a porn site. Her mother got so flustered she insisted on immediately going to confession. While her mother was gone, Gloria, realizing her mother wasn’t ready for the technical age, decided she had better take the computer back and exchange it for a nice bathrobe.

This next part isn’t real clear to me, but for some reason Gloria put the laptop in the oven—she said she knew they were going out to eat and she wanted to hide the computer from her mom and it was too cold outside to put it in her car. When her mom got home from church, Gloria was de-stressing in the bathtub and her mother decided to bake cookies.

The fire chief was really nice about the whole thing. She said that she had moved from New York all the way to Illinois, to avoid situations like this with her own mother.

Gloria said that next year she was going to Tahiti for Christmas. I wonder if she really did.

The mother-daughter relation is already weighed down with powerful feelings, adding an emotionally charged holiday get-together to the mix is just time bomb waiting to go off. So this year, be careful out there.

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