Since I am a contrarian at heart and everyone and their brother is doing the “Let’s talk about what we’re thankful for” bit, I’m going to offer up something completely different. Because as important as gratitude is, I also know that on Thanksgiving there are an awful lot of people for whom the answer to “what are you most grateful for?” is “that I don’t live any closer to these people.” So for those of you going over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house which had damn well better have a well stocked liquor cabinet waiting, I’ve dug through the archieves to create The Upside Down World’s Thanksgiving Survival Guide:
1. Develop an Appreciation for the Absurd: My grandmother once had to be dragged away by a horrified aunt from her very concerned inquisition into the causes of my obesity. One of my cousins made a big deal out of being “sorry we didn’t get a chance to talk” after resolutely ignoring every smile, nod, wave or question we threw her way from the next table over at my brother’s wedding. Learning to laugh is a much better tactic for dealing with people being absurd than any other I know.
2. Learn to Tolerate Conflict: Wishing you would have stood up for yourself is only marginally less painful than the discomfort of conflict. The main difference being whether you hold it together long enough to cry in private or abruptly leave the table to cry in the bathroom. Thanksgiving probably isn’t the best time to confront your family with a list of all the things they have done to hurt you, but speaking up for yourself is a form of self-care you should learn.
3. Learn to Avoid Conflict: At the other end of the spectrum, sometimes we need to tone it down. Not every confrontation needs to happen and not every invitation to conflict needs to be accepted. Learn to see the difference and how to stop it before it gets started.
4. Deliberately Look For the Good in People: Thanksgiving with relatives is the perfect place to put this idea into action. One of my grandfathers used to corner us to give us long lectures and force newspaper clippings about the harm done by smoking into my one sister who smoked. Never mind that we weren’t the ones smoking and this strategy was not likely to obtain the desired results. But he was doing his best to express concern for his granddaughter. He wasn’t a nuisance, he was a grandfather who didn’t seem to know what else to do in the face of her intransigence. Sure it’s easier to smile and nod and escape as quickly trade gripes with whomever else is currently raiding the liquor cabinet. But isn’t the fact that we’re all trying to avoid being the one everyone is talking about around the scotch part of what makes these gatherings so stressful?
5. How to respond when someone you know is making a big mistake: mostly you need to smile and nod and just be there. And admit that you might be wrong.
6. Thanksgiving is a great day to practice “Forgiveness Day”! Just decide ahead of time that everyone and everything is forgiven. It sounds crazy, but will make the day much easier. And force you to practice all the other suggestions as well.
7. Brush up on your listening skills: I have a relative who used to call the house and engage in this conversation:
R: Hi. Uh, this is xxxxxx.
Me: Hi, xxxxxxx. How are you?
R: Good, good.
Long awkward pause. I used to wonder how long he’d let the dead air stand, but after a while I just felt rude and would say, “would you like to talk with my yyyyyy (person they always called for)?”
I get that not everyone is that interesting. But learning to be a better listener helps.
8. Brush up on Tolerance and Boundaries: Seriously, if you read no other link from this list, read this one.
9. Don’t Get Upset Over Things You Can’t Control: on Thanksgiving, that list is topped by the names of everyone you will be visiting with.
10. And let’s not forget that no matter how odd, offensive or annoying our relatives may sometimes be, there will be a lot of genuine love and good will being sent your way. Be sure to catch all of it that you can.