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Home Again

A few tips on surviving the Holiday experience.By David Hill

Wilmington NC – [Click the LISTEN button to hear David's commentary.]

I wasn?t sure we?d make it, but we did. We survived our annual holiday trip to Virginia. And, thanks to the leap year, we have three hundred forty-nine days before we do it again.

We?re in good company. Triple A estimates sixty million people traveled this holiday, forty-nine million of them by car. Only the ten million slowest were in front of us on the two-lane. Twenty-six percent of Americans left home this holiday, many of them hoping to avoid eye contact with the neighbors who gave them fruitcake. Our neighbors gave us tiramisu, but we left anyway since my wife?s whole family was gathering in their hometown of Staunton. If you?ve never been to Staunton you just head northwest from here until the kids whine for a bathroom break, then you turn due north until the DVD player runs out of batteries. Once the kids finally stop fighting and fall asleep you stop for gas next to the pickup that backfires. Then turn west and wind your way into the mountains until the kids get tired of singing ?Frosty the Snowman?. The view is spectacular, but don?t take your eyes off that log truck whose driver looks drunk; it?s a long way down. When you notice you?re singing the theme from Deliverance, take a right and go just up the hill. Only two more blocks and you?ll make it to a clean bathroom, if the grandparents don?t hug you too hard.

Pop pop and Mom mom will insist on taking your bags, but don?t let them; Pop pop just had his knee done and Mom mom has a bad ankle. You may have to be quite firm about this; don?t be afraid to use a headlock. To avoid hurt feelings, you might remind them it?s been awhile since the children last saw them, and it?s normal for kids to scream a little when they?re getting acquainted. Your sister-in-law and her family will have arrived before you; she always was the better one. That means they get the bedroom where there?s nowhere to put your stuff and you get the bedroom that?s always freezing. You?ll be sharing the bathroom with no electrical outlets. Remember, you can run an extension cord from the room where they dump all the stuff they don?t want guests to see.

By this time everyone?s ready for a snack. You?d be wise to bring a hostess gift, maybe some goldfish crackers and juice boxes with a bow. You?ll have to decide for yourself whether it?s rude to turn down the pimento cheese. If you?re in doubt, just take it. You?ll need all your diplomacy in the morning when you ask Mom mom if you can pour her another cup of Folgers so you can brew your Starbucks Estate Grown Sumatran.

You may not be a drinker, but go ahead and open a beer. Don?t worry; you won?t offend your uncle just because he?s in AA. Now sit down on the couch and watch football with the men. Do not reach for the remote; no one cares that you?re missing a very special episode of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. The game is there so you don?t have to talk about politics, religion, or child-rearing. Root for whichever team is wearing red. If you absolutely must go to the kitchen, just sharpen the knives and then sit back down. The women need to catch up.

Eventually the children will go to bed, although your new niece will be up every hour or so to feed. If you think the walls are thin now, just wait until you need to use the bathroom in peace. But don?t think about that now; you?ll need your rest to coordinate activities so your divorced in-laws don?t run into each other. Tomorrow will be a big day at the other grandparents? house, where you?ll see cousin what?s-his-name and aunt have-I-met-you-before. They?re a big family, so you?d best stay close to your wife if you don?t want to embarrass yourself. If you really need to get out of there, you can loosen the top on one of the kids? sippy cups. You?ll know it?s time to do this after they break a couple of heirlooms. But only use this trick in a true emergency; it means you?ll have to borrow the washer and dryer, which means deciding whether to fold your mother-in-law?s lingerie or just dump it in a pile and hope she never figures out it was you.

You?ll know it?s time to go home when your wife and her mother are no longer speaking. My advice, buy a car adapter for the DVD player and be willing to sing ?Frosty the Snowman? until you have a button nose and two eyes made out of coal.

Dr. David Hill is a pediatrician and internist. He and his family live in Wilmington.