Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Family Reunion

Let's talk a bit about dealing with the family reunions and not getting sick. Family can make you sick; we've discussed this.

Someone once asked me how exactly to avoid getting sick when certain subjects are destined to come up that will make you sick, and the answer, of course, is Steer clear. Or as the kids say these days, Don't go there.

Meaning if you know it's toxic, as Boris or Natasha or someone used to say on that cartoon, Spy versus Spy, on the Rocky and Bullwinkle show, Exit; stage right. Or at least have a stage door in mind.

Conflict avoiders among us relate. Fight or Flight? No contest.

A person doesn't always have the option to fly, however, and sometimes assertiveness feels too hard. So there are other alternatives. Like dropping the gefilte fish on the floor, which makes a huge mess, but distracts nicely. Or spilling some sort of liquid,like water or wine. The more creative among us might pull off the tablecloth altogether.

There are family reunions that are just for fun, but sometimes there are reunions that are more purposeful. I know of people who rent cottages in Colorado once a year and everyone gets together just to hang out for a week. They float in and out and don't necessarily talk about their issues with one another.

Therapy tends to be about how to handle it when there are issues that should be ironed out, and who should do/say what. It's very complicated. In therapy we entertain the options, sometimes include the siblings or a sibling, parents or a parent, just to prepare for the extended time together.

Then there are the shorter reunions, the kinds that are played out over a dinner on a holiday or a birthday or anniversary. These tends not to be a good times to work on relationship problems.

But there's often a person at an affair trying to corner another person to do just that, which is why sometimes plates drop and drinks spill.

Pehaps more respectful variants of dropping the fish (respectful to one's host)include noticing what one's nemesis is wearing (people often buy new clothes for parties and holidays) and going crazy over it.
OMG, your tie! It's so beautiful! Italian? Where did you get it? I just love the design, and how the tones bring out your coloring.
Or you can try to change the subject, as in:
How's ____ ?(pick someone) I heard he/she is:
(a) thinking of leaving his job,
(b) expecting),
(c) just came into a ton of money,
(d) is running for village council.

(make something up)
If this doesn't feel right to you and you think this is a good time to resolve differences, think again. You're at dinner. This is not the time for conflict resolution that should take place at lunch with just the two of you and a few well-designed therapeutic interventions in your head.

Instead, say,
Eventually, you know, we're going to have to get together and resolve our differences.
Put this meeting off for as long as you wish, but do your best to get through the party.

Family reunions are supposed to be happy.

Can you tell we're getting to the Passover seder? Well, it is that time of year, and the first of the two sedarim starts on Saturday night. It's a hugely labor intensive holiday for the observant, but even many non-observant Jewish people have a family dinner.

For those of you who aren't familiar with it, the seder is an ordered meal with traditions to remind us that we were slaves in Egypt (1500 B.C.E. about). It can take awhile to get through this dinnertime service, too long for some of us who want to get on with the meal.

Eventually you do get to dinner. So it is to this end that FD and the kids put together a list of things to avoid talking about at the seder, especially at dinner, after the telling of that story starring the late Charlton Heston.

They even started a list of things we should talk about.

I'm going to hand them off to you since there's still time to inform your guests, but surely these are ours, so make up ones of your own that make sense:

We don't talk about:
baseball (there's this Cubs versus Cards problem)

any politics, any politics, even Valley Village politics, we'll try not to, but we will

religion
credit cards, mortgages, or tuitions
websites
blogging
wii
winter
Obi-wan

We do talk about:
religion
the Masters (golf)
shoe sales
the food
why Saba is throwing toys (frogs, insects, ping pong balls) at the table

Star Wars jokes
past performances of the Four Questions

that story about the grandfathers who were switched at Cedar Sinai hospital in Los Angeles and sent home with the wrong families!
Now, some people like to really get deep and understand the true meaning of everything, why we celebrate Passover, what the symbolic foods mean, etc.

If you're one of those, even if you're not, I'm going to take the liberty of recommending one particular author's lovely and serious piece, but not too serious, if you know what i mean. Stewart Weiss writes, Top 10 Pessah talking points, and for some crazy reason, they're different than the ones my family put on our list!

Friends, I need of a little rest and plan to take a few days off. Not just work, but this, too. Slavery's not for everyone, and we Jewish women strongly feel that way by the time we get to the holiday (the cleaning, the cooking, the shopping, the juggling of menus, guests, the self-correction, another day on that). I'll do my best to post your comments over the holiday, but probably won't have a chance to reply to them until it's over and the last child is on an airplane home, assuming the airlines remain solvent, that is.

Have a great week, and I'll see you next year in Jerusalem. That's what we say when the seder finally ends, the last song is sung, and most of us are already asleep on, or off our feet.

therapydoc

9 comments:

Jay said...

I saw the title of this post and said "Pesach is coming". Chag sameach.

Jack said...

Valley Village politics is an easy topic. You're either against tearing down the small houses and building mansions or you're in favor of it.

It was worse before the bus line came in. We had all sorts of chaos about what it would do to Chandler, but no one really wants to read about that.

For almost a decade now the grandchildren have made it really easy to avoid the rough topics.

If ever things get sticky we can rely upon a niece, nephew or my own kids to do something to distract everyone.

Like the time they decided to throw a matzah ball.

therapydoc said...

Of course! The matzah ball!

Awake In Rochester said...

Therapy - What works? That's my question. Please read about it at my blog. I would love to get your opinion.

sunshine4shadows said...

where was this blog when i had to go to my family reunion??? lol

phd in yogurtry said...

will your follow up post be about insuring family members stick to your list of non-talkables? I've got my list down but nobody seems to give a flip.

Barbara K. said...

Hope you and your family have a good Pesach filled with excellent, low risk but high energy conversations

Leora said...

The issue is my family is what is NOT talked about. Very hard to connect with other family members about anything of emotional gravity.

Spent the first days of Pesach with my husband's family and had a pleasant time! Hope you are having a good holiday.

Scraps said...

Moadim l'simcha! I hope all went well at the sedarim. :)

I probably should've read this post before Pesach instead of now, on chol hamoed. But I survived anyway, b"H.

All the best to you and yours.