The only time in our lives when the holidays weren’t stressful is when we were young boomers and our parents were the ones who got stressed. But now it’s our turn — it has been for decades, hasn’t it? — and this got essayist Barbara Greenleaf to start thinking, from her home in Santa Barbara, California, why would I want to make the stress even worse?!?
This time of year there are always tons of articles with such titles as “Surviving the Holidays with your Folks.” They tell the younger generation what to do about bossy parents (“Take a deep breath”), how to cope with your childhood bedroom (“Visualize your current, grownup apartment”), and where to take yourself when your parents’ friends troop in for the annual Xmas party, exclaiming, “Look at you, all grown up!” (“Time to hit the egg nog”).
Well, as someone who spent last Christmas at my grown kids’ house, let me assure you that it wasn’t any bed of roses, either.
First, I had to trek 2,750 miles to that yuppie haven called Brooklyn, New York, and climb the ever-so-steep/ever-so-narrow steps up to their brownstone’s teeny-weeny landing. Then I had to pray that someone inside was restraining the two Great Danes lest they hurl me back onto the sidewalk, which they had been known to do. Miraculously, I made it through the front door — narrowly avoiding the pointy antique mirror that threatened to take out one of my eyeballs — and beheld my roommates for the next six days.
There was my daughter with a strained smile on her face. There was my son-in-law who was thrilled beyond words to give up their own bed for a week. Then there were the two hyperactive preschoolers, who had been told so many times to “Behave when Grandma visits” that they were virtually vibrating.
Rounding out the company were said Great Danes and a little designer dog before which the Danes cowered. That made 14 eyeballs, 20 legs, and 110 decibels of noise. Something was always prowling, wagging, barking, or shrieking, which for some reason I found slightly unnerving.
Did I mention that the kids’ house is extremely small and extremely uncomfortable? Do not let that big Brooklyn price tag fool you into thinking that a former rooming house built in 1885 must be a mega-mansion. Au contraire. Let’s just say my daughter and her husband, who both work in the television industry (which is a very Brooklyn thing to do, by the way), have to stash their Emmy Awards among the pots and pans because their only other only shelf is needed to hold the essentials: dog food and Legos.
Not that they miss the kitchen space because they don’t seem to eat. Perhaps this is because they have no visual clues, such as a table. At their house you either nosh standing up or crouching on a step stool. No wonder hunger drove me out into the streets in search of real food. In their oh-so-hip neighborhood: matcha tea shops, maybe. Afro-Cuban-Asian-fusion cafes, definitely. Gluten-free artisanal patisserie, mai oui (a.k.a. “of course,” for non-Brooklyn non-sophisticates). But anything recognizable as good old American fare, forget it. So I did. I existed on Kind bars for six days.
Then there was the little matter of heat, or lack thereof. Christmastime in New York is freezing, so I climbed into bed to get warm, which the dogs seemed to think was a swell idea too. Unfortunately, they took it upon themselves to expel a lot of noxious fumes. Catching wind of this (ha ha), my daughter threw open the window to sweeten the air.
Now I had the worst of both worlds: I was once again ice cold and I couldn’t move because I was pinned down by 300 pounds of dog flesh. Little did I know that the Great Danes were accustomed to sacking out on my bed with their heads on my pillows. Some dogs have no respect for boundaries! Of course, from their point of view there were no boundaries; I was so covered in dog hair they thought I was one of their own.
I think I’ll celebrate at home this year. Even if I fly everyone out and pay for doggie camp, it will be a bargain at twice the price.
Copyright © 2018 Barbara Greenleaf
Here’s where you can buy Barbara’s book, “Children Through the Ages: A History of Childhood.”