By PHILIP GALANES
I am 55 and the oldest of four siblings. We all congregate at our parents’ home (with spouses and kids) over the holidays. Their place has many bedrooms but only two baths. The commotion is fun during the day, but at night, the house is overcrowded and noisy. For a few years, I have gotten a hotel room three blocks away. I only use it for sleeping and showering. But sleeping there, instead of on the couch, causes resentment in the family, especially from my mother. How can I explain that I don’t mean offense?
A couch is no place for a 55-year-old back — unless the couch in question belongs to your therapist, and you are discussing your unrelenting need to please your mother. It sounds as if you already know there is nothing unreasonable in your desire to slip away from the overcrowded fun house of your youth to bathe and sleep. Do you really need another adult to give you permission?
I get that going home can trigger ancient rivalries and resentments, and even turn back the clock on hard-won maturity. But we are good people (for the most part). When someone asks something silly of you, while you’re at home, take a breath and consider what grown-up Lisa would do in her real life. (Hint: She would probably not stand in a line six deep to take a shower when there is a viable alternative that she prefers.)
Tell your mother: “I love being here with you. And a good night’s sleep helps me love it even more.” No need to engage further. (Remember: She was probably born during the Depression; you will never convince her that a voluntary expenditure is not wasteful.) And the only reason your siblings care so deeply about your lodgings is probably jealousy that they can’t stay there too. (Do I smell a gift idea brewing?)
My oldest friend died suddenly last month. I will see his longtime wife when I go home for the holidays. I am having a hard time with this loss, especially as I remember how sharply his wife spoke to him, often with a nasty tone. I should have stuck up for him when he alive, but I didn’t. Can I say something now?
I am sorry for your loss. (I am also sorry for your friend’s wife’s loss.) And I am praying to the Elf on the Shelf that you will keep quiet about your grievance. You have both lost someone dear to you. But as anyone in a long-term relationship knows (perhaps even you), harsh words are not uncommon.
Even if it constituted verbal abuse, it is over now. And everyone’s wounds are too fresh for a productive conversation. Be governed by Patty Griffin’s humane song “Long Ride Home”: “Forty years go by with someone laying in your bed. Forty years of things you say you wish you’d never said. How hard would it have been to use some kinder words instead?” Treat the people in your life gently in your friend’s honor. He wouldn’t want you sparring with his grieving widow.
For 15 years, a friend invited me to his large Christmas party. The invitations came by email. While I have great affection for him, we do not socialize or speak outside of this party. I have not been good about thanking him, and I don’t give parties, so I could never reciprocate. A mutual friend tells me the party is happening soon. I believe that I was left off the guest list by mistake. Is there anything I can do? (I would find it too awkward to ask him directly.)
Why are you forcing me to be mean today? Christmas is coming! After 15 years of unreciprocated hospitality (slurping down your friend’s booze and gorging on his heavy hors d’oeuvres — without so much as a thank-you text), this day had to come. I won’t authorize crashing the party, and under the circumstances, I don’t think you should ask mutual friends to intervene.
Be honest: Will you miss your pal or his party? Satisfying reciprocation doesn’t have to be tit-for-tat. You don’t have to give a grand dinner-dance to pay him back. Any sign of friendship or appreciation will do. Early next year, call and invite him to coffee or lunch — or even for a catch-up chat. If that’s too much, you don’t belong at his party anyway.
Around the holidays, I like to have some gifts on hand, in case friends or neighbors drop by with unexpected gifts for us. My wife thinks this is cold. You?
I think you’re a genius! If your wife can pull off simple gratitude for a surprise gift without panicking, more power to her. I have a harder time with that, and your idea would work like a charm. I suggest the “God’s Love We Deliver Cookbook,” filled with stories and recipes about the healing power of food. Every penny goes to making and delivering food for homebound people who are ill and their caretakers.