People are evidently nervous this time of year. I’m seeing a myriad of “How to Survive the Holiday” topics in the blogosphere, and #StuffBetterFast is trending on Twitter. North America is buzzing with hints and tips on surviving this time of year, when we are stuck inside with no choice but to engage our extended family in scintillating conversation.
This can be a terrifying prospect, wherein the only solution can be found in the bottom of a bottle, be it ruby red or palest garnet. I, however, have been handed an extended family which frowns upon such liquids which might put a hint of joy in an otherwise morose day. My sober state has paid off in spades however: I’ve learned how to talk about absolutely nothing with ease, and at length.
If you, too, want to navigate the holidays free of catastrophe, stick to the following topics:
1. The cooking of the turkey. Is the white meat moist, while the dark meat still falls off the bone? Bonus points! This will always vary from holiday to holiday, so bears mentioning, and will allow you to explore the meals of holidays past, wistfully or otherwise.
2. The texture of the turkey. Is it gamey? Bland? Does it melt in your mouth? This can be explored while the gravy is being passed around, and don’t forget the cranberry sauce in the event of an overdone bird.
3. Where did the turkey hail from? Usually good for a tale involving lineups and holiday frenzy. Beware the temptation to sojourn into the topic of organic, free-range turkeys, however, as this can lead to polarization from one’s relatives. Ahem.
4. The turkey accessories. Do the carrots complement the dinner? What is the consistency of the mashed potatoes? Is the gravy perfectly lump-free? Is the group assembled pro-brussel sprouts or con? (For some reason we share a collective forgetfulness with this issue, so need to revisit it each occasion, but it never gets old.) The turkey accompaniments can provide you with minutes of frivolity; play around a little and have some fun.
5. The temperature of the meal. Is everything bubbling hot? The water ice cold? This can naturally send you into another blissfully safe topic to round out the meal: the weather.
Now, if you sail through these topics before second helpings are distributed, or Aunt Betty’s apple pie is polished off, you can always revert to my standby: round table bets on how many dinners will be gleaned from leftovers. Add a quarter to the pot to add excitement and intrigue.
Generally, if you stick to the above conversational points, being sure to lean on the positives of the meal, while downplaying the negatives, you should be able to navigate your way through the entire meal without offending anyone, and you can retire to your football game stuffed, but otherwise intact. (Or in my case, a scene out of 1950, where the men retire to the football game and the women clean up the mess.)
It goes without saying that politics, greenhouse gases, the deficit, the euro crisis, whether fighting in hockey should be banned, ‘who is Kim Kardashian anyway?’, Glee, and anything else that could be considered remotely interesting, are all potentially hot topics which could leave someone in tears. Engage in these controversial subjects at your own risk, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Easter will be here before you know it.
By my third pregnancy, my back protested. No more of this baby business, it told me by way of searing pain.
Instead of being a vessel that sent signals to my limbs and brain, my spinal cord became a rod of fire that roared whenever I was on my feet. And since my other children were four and two, that was a lot. No sympathy from the toddler corner.
I tried to grin and bear it, but that usually manifested as swearing like a truck driver and screaming at my kids.
Since I’m a sucker for punishment but not pain, this would be my last baby; the last kick at the can, the last time my stomach would bump into corners and catch my breakfast crumbs. This caused me the tiniest bit of melancholy, I did like feeling those knees ripple across my stomach and that whole creating life concept.
So I decided, against my better judgment, to have pregnancy photos taken. You know, the black and white classy ones with your private parts artfully shadowed.Then I stumbled across one of those promotions where the photographer would practically pay you to have your photos done: the proofs were free, the 8 x 10′s were free, you just gave her your email address so she could harass you for the rest of your life. Surely this was serendipity.
It seemed like a good idea at the time. (In case you are now gripped with fear that you will scroll down and scream, I haven’t posted any of these photos below.)
I hasten to remind you that Demi Moore had these same photos done and she looked pretty damn good. After that, pregnant women were waddling into photography studios in droves, so this is not an isolated incident of vanity.
As the date for my debut shoot approached, the temperatures skyrocketed. A hot summer day when you are eight months pregnant is akin to a day in hell. So I spent the weekend submerged in a glacial lake while my husband and children frolicked on the beach.
Monday morning I woke up with what looked like large mosquito bites all over my body. By noon the size of these bites rivaled ping pong balls, and by dinner they were seething with pus. I looked like an overstuffed egg roll with leprosy.
And those little beauty marks weren’t just innocently and quietly oozing away, they were also itching to high heaven. I was so busy trying not to scratch the little buggers that I even forgot about my back pain.
My doctor told me I had swimmer’s itch, but she consipicuously leaned away from me in horror the entire appointment.
I called the photographer to explain my case, hoping we could delay the shoot, but she could only put it off for a day, and then she was going on holiday. I wouldn’t be pregnant by the time she returned, so I was stuck with Wednesday.
On a positive note, my welts had stopped oozing by this point but remained scattered over my torso in an angry, scabbed-over state. It only looked like I had misplaced acne.
The photographer recoiled in horror when I dropped my robe. I laughed nervously and said something about the powers of PhotoShop, but she explained that while it was a useful tool, it couldn’t work miracles.
I have those photos in a shoebox somewhere. To give credit where credit is due, the photographer came up with the idea of draping a white sheet over my belly, thereby disguising my pockmarked skin whilst leaving its bulging outline. (I’m pretty sure she incinerated the sheet and disinfected her studio after I left.)
I stumbled across them the other day while chasing an agile spider. Whereas Demi Moore had looked beautiful, victorious, and a bit defiant in her Vanity Fair pictures, the look in my tired eyes only said please take the damn picture so I can return to my itching.
What have you done that causes you endless embarrassment in retrospect?
What Really Happens After the Kids Leave for School (Caution: this post may or may not contain the word ‘porn’)
On a good day, the door closes behind my children at 8:45 am and I am seized by the idea of throwing one of those come-as-you-are parties. Of course it would end promptly at 3 pm, leaving me time to trash the empties before the kids return. Other ideas include cranking the tunes and painting my toes razzmatazz. Or having the mother of all pillow fights with every pillow in the house. It’s fair to say I’ve never grown up.
Unfortunately there’s work to be done, and although my finger hovers over that enter key that would send the invitation out to party like a maniac (it would read: Come Now! Someone left me in charge and the house is full of booze!), I don’t actually send it. I go about my work. Dutifully, like June Cleaver.
Yet some days I perform an act of defiance, and put off my duties by Googling random things. It’s no party, but it’s the equivalent of losing yourself in an episode of The Facts of Life. Some people surf porn, but for me today it was the hit songs of 1975.
Let me tell you, that was quite a year in music.
I was astonished by the outstanding quality of that year’s top 100. Running down the list, I knew all but a handful of them. Not only did I know them, I thought to myself, I can probably sing all the lyrics to every song! This impressed me immeasurably, since I was only five the year they were released – not to mention I was a December baby. With such an incredible ear for music, surely I missed my calling when my mother made me choose between gymnastics and piano lessons. So I began my experiment by Googling the lyrics to the songs, and singing along. (By 9:01 I’d spent $20 on iTunes. Damn!)
I could really have used Google when I was five.
It turns out I have an uncanny ability to make up nonsensical phrases in place of the artists more brilliant lyrics. And in many more cases, I tuned the verse out altogether, impatiently waiting for the verse to finish so I could get to the words I actually knew in the chorus.
Yet in the beginning, I was full of bravado.
Captain and Tenille‘s Love Will Keep Us Together was the number one hit that year; that one was a cakewalk, since I frequently dazzled people with a dance I had choreographed to it. I clearly remembered Glen Campbell’s Rhinestone Cowboy and it’s star-spangled rodeo. I shone a light on Elton’s Philadelphia Freedom, yes I did. Crooning with Frankie Valli’s My Eyes Adored You made my eyes water all over again. He never even laid a hand on her!
Then that damn falsetto of Barry Gibb stumped me. He had me at Jive Talkin’. In fact, those were the only two words in the entire song I could decipher, and so I emphasized its enunciation every chance I got: Ji-iiiii-ve TAL-kin’. But the rest was just high pitched rhyming words. I was sure Barry was singing about a bad girl with fancy eyes who had left him looking like a dumb, drunk lug when in fact he was saying more hypothetically “There you go, with your with your fancy lies, leavin me looking like a dumbstruck fool.” But then we launched into ‘With all your Ji-iiii-ve Tal-kin’ in sync and all was right with the world.
Still, that one was an eye-opener.
Kung-Fu Fighting was another disaster waiting to happen. I was so busy mastering my kick that the lyrics went in one ear and out of my mouth with a ‘HA!’, with nary an idea that the song was about funky China men from funky Chinatown, since all of the fun was clearly in the funky, and yelling ‘HA!’ at the end of each line.
I didn’t even remember there were actually lyrics to The Hustle besides ‘Do the hustle!’. Admit it – you didn’t either. Yet Van McCoy is slyly encouraging dancers to eschew individuality, since the hustle’s specific moves fit the grooves of trash disco that is 70′s cool. I hustled right over that little tidbit.
So it turns out, like usual, I have overstated and overestimated my abilities. At least this time, I took myself down a notch in the comfort of my own home, and no one needs to know about it.