One of my favorite essays by Martha Beck outlines a “Bingo” game you can play with your friends if you are stressed out about visiting family over the holidays. Instead of worrying about whether dear Uncle Fred will get sauced and behave inappropriately, Martha suggests that you put together a bingo card with each of the outlandish things that are possible in your family in a square. Have a friend or two do the same with his or her family, and while you’re home for the holidays, whenever you witness one of these things, you mark it on your card. The first one to get “Bingo” calls or texts the other players, and the other players buy the “winner” lunch, dinner or much-needed drinks as a prize after the holiday is over. The game helps change your perspective on potentially stressful situations. You find yourself “rooting” for the inappropriate behavior so that you can “win,” which supposedly makes the holiday fun instead of stressful. It’s a funny idea.
I am happy to report that my family’s Thanksgiving went off without any big drama. Had I played the Bingo game, I would have lost. This, too, is obviously a good thing. The only episode we endured yesterday was compliments of my son at the dinner table, but it was a tiny scene; one that in relation to past holidays doesn’t even register on the Richter scale. The issue: he was terribly insulted to have been relegated to the kids’ table, which consisted of him, his cousin and his little sister.
Aaah, the kids table. As the child of one who is the youngest of six, my siblings and I never seemed to be able to outgrow it. I, too, hated being stuck at the kids’ table, so sure that I was mature enough for the grown up table at every possible age. I felt for my son. My husband did, too, and graciously offered his seat at the grown-up table, which my son refused. My sister moved her plate over to the kids’ table, renaming it the “cool table.” This didn’t work either. When I pulled my son aside to talk to him, I found that his thoughts were surprisingly much less egocentric than mine were at his age. He said, “Mom, I am not even just thinking of ME. Thanksgiving is when the WHOLE family is supposed to sit together at one table, so if Dad is at this little table while I am over there, it still isn’t right.”
He was still brooding after dinner, so I took him with me to walk our dog around the block, and we talked about my notion of opposites – the idea that when something upsetting happens, if we can train ourselves to look closely enough, there is an opposite that is also true. It is a similar practice to the Bingo game, really. The reason that we didn’t all fit at the table this year was that everyone who was invited was actually able to come – this means that all three of my siblings and their loved ones and both of my parents and their spouses were actually in the same room at the same time; a rare phenomenon indeed. It also was a signal that our family is growing – I have a two-year old niece now, and another of my nieces, who has been somewhat estranged from us for the past two years, came home. My sister has found love in her life, and we were thrilled that her new significant other wanted to share the day with our family. A full table is a sign of thriving love.
I saw the wheels turning in my son’s head as we chatted. It was actually he who reminded me that one of the filled chairs was due to the happy reunion with my niece, whose company I have really missed over the past couple of years. I was glad to see that he understood what I was getting at, although he still stubbornly insisted that it was better when we all sat at the same table. I agreed. He promised to think extra hard about all of it when I threw in an extra fifteen minutes of video game time to help seal the deal. I know I totally caved, and it was likely that he was working me on the video game business, but the idea of his 11th year being the “worst Thanksgiving ever” because of a lack of togetherness was too much to bear. It was the least I could do.
By the time we returned from our walk, it seemed that all was well.
There have been holidays when I am fairly certain I could have won the Bingo game hands down. This year I am thankful that the only drama I witnessed was my son growing a little bit more into a young man, within a family that also continues to grow and evolve. There is much for which to be thankful.
Photo credit: www.indac.net