(An excerpt from Jeremy’s book, Relative Discomfort: The Family Survival Guide.)
Showing up is 80 percent of life. — Woody Allen
… Showing up without pissing anyone off is the other 20 percent.
One of the most overlooked parts of the family gathering is the arrival. Like a gymnastics competition, you can do all your flips perfectly, but if you land wobbly the routine is ruined. Years of not ovulating have gone for nothing just because you screwed up one small detail. The same is true of our big family gatherings. If our arrival isn’t perfect, all our preparing to not be annoyed by our Christian Stoner cousin is wasted. It won’t matter that you’ve been prepared to block out his stories about how he’s sure Jesus smoked pot because he was so peaceful and always turned stuff into food. If you accidentally insult your hostess, watching that uncoordinated niece with chronic ear infections try and perform her dance recital will be the least of your pains.
The key to a successful arrival strategy is ingratiating yourself to the host. This may mean showing up early, pretending to like bland food, or helping with chores you don’t want to do. Unfortunately, having a better holiday may mean kissing a little mother-in-law ass (that is, little by comparison to one of Saturn’s moons); or sucking up to your rich dentist brother’s trophy wife. To help us endure this humiliation, let’s remind ourselves what we can gain with a good arrival strategy:
Do you want the spare bedroom so you can sleep with your wife’s collection of childhood stuffed animals, or do you want to sleep on the couch next to the mantle place and Grandpa David’s ashes? Our host controls where we sleep. They are the captain of the ship and can determine if we get the nice hammock with the parrot and a bottle of rum, or if we have to sleep down in the galleys propped against the bilge pump. Family gatherings are an endurance sport. You will last a lot longer if people don’t have to walk by you at night to pee.
However, if you get stuck on the couch it’s your right to raid the liquor cabinet and the leftovers as much as you want, and at whatever hour you choose. If they didn’t want you to get drunk at three in the morning, they would have set up the inflate-a-bed in the back office.
Mealtime seating chart
Do you want to sit next to your college-age younger cousin, and hear all the latest techniques for how to get tequila stains out of a wonder bra; or do you want to listen to Great Aunt Betty trying to time her cheesecake bites in between each emphysema wheeze? Family gatherings are always a lot less painful if we’re sitting next to someone who doesn’t gross us out. Our host controls where we sit, including who must sit at the proverbial kids’ table. Forming the right bond with your host can mean the difference between staring at a reminder of how great twenty-two-year-old breasts are, or being asked to help little drooling Jimmy cut up his turkey. (Note: Sometimes it’s actually beneficial to sit at the kids table if it’s in your best interest to avoid all the adults.)