Written by Jeanne Martin

Q: My parents always host Thanksgiving dinner at their house, and expect all of us grown kids with our children. My in-laws do the same. Feelings get hurt if we suggest visiting only one family for our meal. What should we do?

A: Pack your bags my friend, because you are going on a trip, be it the travel kind or the guilt kind, you are indeed going. The good news is that food will be provided and if you play your cards right, maybe some secret family drama will unfold that you can share with your 670 friends on Facebook.

I say embrace this togetherness. The more people that are there, the more diluted the focus on you and what you are wearing or if you have been putting enough of your salary into your 401k. And as for your in-laws, just go ahead and invite them over to your parents’ house and cram everybody around one table. Togetherness... I’m talking folding chairs out of the attic and the neighbor’s rickety card table-kind of togetherness. It will give your mother something to fret about besides Obama’s healthcare reform and the fact that no one remembered cranberry sauce.

And that’s the stress of the holidays, right? Family. They just know too much about us. But if you add in a new cast a characters, the spotlight can shine on someone more unsuspecting, like your mother-in-law. Your parents and in-laws will be so busy tip-toeing around each other that you and yours can slide under the radar, undetected. Sure you may have an uncle look at one of your kids and start a comment with, “Well, would you lookey here...” But you’ll be ready with a, “Hey Uncle Wayne, did you know that Mr. Martin is a DEMOCRAT?” And that’ll be that. You can leave the table, mix yourself up a stiff one and turn on the tube in the den for some undisturbed QVC time while that plays itself out.

Now this “everybody at one place” notion may scare some of your siblings or cousins off and they may not show, but that’s alright, it’ll just give ya’ll someone to talk about, so it all balances out. And the good thing about it being at someone else’s house is, the minute you see that “how much time would I have to do for manslaughter” look in your husband’s eyes, you can put the back of your hand across the baby’s forehead and exclaim, “Oh no ... I think her fever’s back.” And at the close of the meal, when half of the table is no longer speaking to the other half due to a differing opinion on Kenmore versus Whirlpool, and no one can figure out which Pyrex dish is theirs, you can just smile and announce that maybe we should do this EVERY year.

 

Q: My six-year-old daughter knows we’re on a really tight budget this Christmas; she’s planning to ask Santa for the big-ticket items. Help!

A: This just in: explaining to your kids that Santa is on a budget is about as mind-numbing as trying to finish a Sudoku puzzle... There’s a bunch of numbers that nobody’s really sure what to do with and doesn’t making popcorn balls sound like a lot more fun?

As far as the ‘believing in Santa’ thing goes, in our house, we stick to a strict army-esque “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy, so explaining that Santa doesn’t want her minimum credit card payment to exceed the cost of a full dose of Botox can get a little bit tricky.

Maybe my immune system was down or all of those séances my friends and I did when we were 11 had come back to haunt me, but for some reason last year I tried the notion of limiting the kids to picking just three gifts that they could ask from Santa. There was some reference to the three wise men that was explained (reading off of our church flyer) but when I couldn’t articulate what Frankincense was, that lost all credibility. And as I saw that my seven year old’s list consisted of an iPhone, a foosball table and a Lamborghini, I realized we were maybe a little off the mark on our message.

In truth, there is a really easy way to deal with a Christmas budget crisis, and that is to explain it to them simply. Tell them that times are tight for your family right now and how much harder it is for other families who are less fortunate. Tell them that Santa has to really help those families this year so your family is going to ask for a bit less, so that he has the extras to give to the families in need. You can elaborate all you like or play it down if necessary, but the message is still the same: we have what we need, so we will ask for less of what we want.

Once they get the gist of the concept of a finite amount of stuff out there, and that others need it more than we do, your work will be done... until the neighbor drives up in his new Lamborghini.

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