Home for the Holidays: A Survival Guide

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The familiar sound of my father shoveling the driveway for the eighteenth time a day can only mean that I'm sequestered (as planned) in the suburban ice-castle better known as my parents' home for the holidays.  I arrived in Montreal just before a bad storm hit Toronto.  I feel blessed, and just a little bit sheepish, for getting out of Dodge just in time. Luckily, my boyfriend says that our apartment still has power back in T.O.,  which makes me feel a little less guilty while I'm lounging by my 'rents roaring fireplace nursing my third or fourth rum and eggnog.

I'd like to imagine that plenty of north-American twenty-somethings are in similar positions this week, traveling home for the holidays and adjusting to the sound of their parents voices reminding them not to leave messes trailing about.  It's almost as if those eight odd years since I flew the coop all just melt away the second my mother scolds me for something.  So, in the spirit of family matters, here's a survival guide I've devised for making the best of your time back home.  Refer to it whenever the cabin fever threatens to set in.  Let it be your lifeline for the moments when you're about to loose it on your dad in the shopping mall, or deck your brother for calling you the unflattering nickname of your youth.

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The Good:

-Your parents generally have deeper pockets than you do, so strike up a deal whereby you'll take care of all the holiday baking so long as your parents foot the bill.  Don't be shy, pluck that exotic coacoa off the shelf and walk away before you have the time to think about mom and dad's dwindling retirement funds.

Survival tip: Last-minute gift purchases are always that much more special when your pop pulls out the gold card.  Be sure to drop small but mighty hints about your personal finances like, "I wish I could buy my aunt that lovely necklace but then I might have to eat instant noodles for the rest of 2014" and you'll get pity money thrown at you in a jiffy.  

-If you're an apartment-dweller, your parents' house will probably feel like a five star hotel in comparison to what you're used to.  My suggestion is to just kick back and soak it in.  Take longer showers, "borrow" your mother's expensive moisturizing cream, eat oysters and Prosecco for lunch, and overdose of holiday movies while toasting next to the fire.  Let your father drive you around town and thank him for the putting on the seat-warmer (such luxuries do not exist on streetcars).

Survival tip: Pack a lot of plush pyjamas for all the lounging you'll be doing.  Force your mom to knit you slippers if you don't have any yourself. Try to convince the family that "Christmas Eve in PJ's" is a fun theme, and you're not just being too lazy. 

-After months of not seeing your siblings ( if you're the out-of-towner) you might forget how they tormented you all your life and actually miss them.  Suddenly, the vision of your brother in a Jack Daniel's shirt, puffing on some sort of electric cigarette while talking about his puss-infected eye actually melts your heart a little.

Survival tip: Your Belushi-esque sibling is your best ally when your parents start berating you both for being holiday lushes and threaten to lock their liquor cabinet. Make sure that your brother or sister knows where they stash the hidden booze, and brings liquid reinforcements just in case.  Unless, of course, your sibling is a straight-laced ninny. 

The Bad: 

-Although you might think of yourself as much less temperamental than in your teen years, your parents are master studiers of which buttons to push to make you fly off the handle.  I half-suspect that they get a kick out of seeing their grown children throw tantrums (even if they'll never admit to it) because it means they still are the alpha-parents.  Although the nagging might get a bit much at times, tread softly around situations that you know will only end in tears (such as sampling your mother's stuffing before it's served to guests).

Survival tip:  Make sure that you have the perfect comebacks to pesky remarks- funny enough to diffuse an escalating shit show, but also smooth enough to avoid igniting the wrath of the people who raised you.


Mom:  "Why did you just pay 6.99$ for a Christmas card? Don't you know that people just toss cards into the garbage bin? I buy all of mine at the dollar store for that exact purpose. THIS is why you're poor."
Daughter: "You're right, mom. I'm poorer than a coal miner's daughter. But I have a ton of pretty things to show for it."

-Exercising and eating right will be a challenge.  You'll have to make due with what you have, which means that you might be working out on your father's "garage sale steal" elliptical from the eighties. And everywhere you turn there will be a cookie, to the point where you might have to start handing them to the dog to dispose of.

Survival tip:  Instead of lying on the couch in a perpetual food coma, try accompanying your family members on small excursions to the mall or grocery store.  At least then you'll be burning some calories, even if it means coming face-to-face with crazy last-minute shoppers.  THAT WAS MY CHRISTMAS HAM, LADY!

The Instagram Worthy

-Being a tourist in the city you grew up in around the holidays means that you'll be nostalgic about something every nano-second.  For me, it's walking in the Mile End in the early morning with the winter sun gleaming over street name signs. My heart does a little dip as I wonder why I ever left Montreal...until someone drives by and flips me the bird for no reason. Then I'm good...

Survival tip:  You're officially allowed to go social-media crazy around the holidays, so take pictures of everything and hashtag them with really annoying, superior sounding stuff like #thisiswhatarealbagellookslike.

-If you left behind a family pet when you moved out and they're still kicking about, this will be your time to make it up to them for leaving them with the two old bossypants. Give them lots of treats and tell them how special they are in a squeaky baby voice reserved solely for talking to animals. 

Survival tip: Make sure to take a lot of portraits of your family pets being cute and cuddly. If they are old and raggety looking, shoot them from interesting angles and add a filter. 

-You get to connect with all of your long lost buddies who still haven't realized that the best life move for them would be to move to the city that you live in so that you can have them over for cocktails every Monday night (you heard right...Monday).  These friends who stayed in your city of origin will act as unofficial tour guides, and show you all the new bars and trendy restaurants that have popped up since you abandoned them. 

Survival tip: Trust a friend's judgement and you'll end up with treasures for the ages.  They'll know that the best cocktails can be found in a bowling alley, and that the place that specializes in meatballs is legit. Repay them in snuggles and life advice (even though yours is crumbling).

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Our cat Zippy has been around since I was a tween.  He's a bit senile now, but I would be too after so many cat fights.

I want to wish everyone a safe and swell holiday with their families, whether they be big or small, delightfully dysfunctional or as vanilla as a cupcake.  Spending a week at home can be challenging, but boy is it wonderful to get the chance to hug each and every one of  your loved ones , even your brother with his disgusting case of pink-eye.