Category Archives: Holidays

Sober and Gentle

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Do you have any good advice for dealing with the drunken relative at a
family party? This time it is Thanksgiving, but next month will be
Hanukkah, and next year will be two B’nai Mitzvah’s, so this is a
problem we need to face, and believe me we are a family what is
adept at doing everything but facing things. We have an uncle who is
angry, depressive, and alcoholic. He starts off as a sullen drunk but
the more he takes in the noisier and angrier he gets. We’ve tried
everything we can think of, but virtually every family event we can
recall has him storming out in a huff and the rest of us looking at one
another in dismay. Is there a gentle way to avoid this?, short of not
inviting him, which is always tempting but highly impractical, given the
memory of our deceased mother.

Sober and Gentle

 
Dear Sober and Gentle:

In eons past, or in multi-generational families, the burden of delivering
the hard message would fall to the eldest cogent patriarch, who would
with all solemnity sit the offender down, explain what rules of
propriety have been broken, suggest appropriate penance and
apologies, and all would be well, or at least the ground rules would
have been made clear. In this day and age there is no such traditional
model to fall back upon, so everyone has to become empowered to
speak truth to the offender.

 
Short of a full intervention, the message might get lost. In this case
my vote would be for a team of adults, say the parents of the B’nai
Mitzvah children plus one older yet generation adult if such a person
has any authority to invite the uncle to a meeting. Say the family has
lived with his rude behavior too long and they have decided to set
limits. If he will go into treatment, they will support him emotionally.
But in or out of a formal program, at the first sign of disruption he will
be immediately escorted out of the event. If he can comply for
holidays before the BMs, he will get an invite. Otherwise he will not,
and the rule will apply from this moment forward. At the very least
you will get his attention.

Earplugs?

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Please help me with the strategy for Thanksgiving, which is coming up
faster than I think I can handle. My sister, with whom I’ve always had
a very good relationship, is married to a jerk, not to put too fine a
point on it. He’s a lawyer. He’s double rich: he comes from money and
he’s earned a lot more of it. He serves on the temple board, the
boards of various nonprofits, and is a partner in a firm with his name
on the letterhead. He is convinced, convinced to the point of absolute
unreason, that his opinion is right on every subject, from child rearing
to presidential politics. And he will be first, last, and loudest to tell you
why he is right and you or anyone else is wrong. It’s not so much that
I disagree with him on everything, but that I cannot abide the way he
needs to have the last word and put everyone else down in order to be
the most right. Help. Short of not attending a family tradition do you
have a way of coping that won’t end up in acrimony, a bloody nose, or
lots of apologies.

Earplugs?

 
Dear Earplugs:

Earplugs sound tempting even to me, but the bounds of propriety and
your relationship with your sister suggest that donning them is not a
good idea. I’ll assume for the moment that there are other relatives
invited, and that their response to your brother-in-law, perhaps more
mitigated, is similar to yours. I’m not suggesting you start a gossip
war, but if you could find at least one ally you could divvy up the
range of topics and tag-team him in terms of who responds and rebuts
first, and last. That way there is no specific antagonism between you
and him. The more allies, the more you might succeed, the way a
swarm might befuddle a larger predator.

 
You might also take your sister aside before the event, and tell her
how troubling her husband’s behavior is. It’s hard to believe she’s
clueless or indifferent, given that she likely sees lots more of it than
you do. Ask her what works, and how she feels it’s OK for you to
respond if you disagree with him. If worst comes to worst simply leave
earlier or go into the kitchen for a side conversation with a relative you
genuinely like. Once the room he is in is empty, maybe he’ll get the
message.

Second Fiddle

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I come from a big and generally loving family. The only time we sibs
(two gals, two guys) have problems is with competition, as in who
gives what gifts to parents, etc. But every year my sister tries to
upstage me at Passover. We have a family tradition of alternating first
and second nights. When she goes first she puts on such an
ostentatious display that my Seder feels small and average. She says
she cooks everything herself but I’m convinced she’s used a deli.
When she goes second she makes a point of outdoing whatever I have
done. It sounds petty, but if I make one dessert she makes two; if I
make two, she serves three. My brother is single and never has to
host. I know he loves us both, but he knows how competitive she is
and always compliments her profusely. It shouldn’t bother me but it
does.

Second Fiddle

 
Dear Second Fiddle:

Annoying relatives are one of life’s challenges. Silly or not, it’s clearly
gotten to you. A lifetime of sisterhood should have taught you that
you’re unlikely to change her personality. You could create a lot of
tension in the family by trying, but why? Instead, get into the true
spirit of Pesach and try to modulate the game. It won’t be as satisfying
in the short run, but in the longer one, you’ll be happier. Plus your
family will be more in tune with what the holiday is really about.
Bonus: if you master this lesson with your sister, other people will
have a harder time getting under your skin.

 
Passover is about liberation from mitzrayim. For the moment, consider
your personal mitzrayim to be a vulnerable ego and your sister’s
vanity. Since you’re not going to beat her at her own game, move the
goalpost. Instead of buying into perpetual one-upswomanship, strive
for simplicity, piety, and a hamish sense of family and warmth.
Compliment her for what she does well. Smile. Dig deep for sincerity.
Match it with your simplest best. Sparkle where it counts, from within,
and liberate yourself from this annual plague.

Afraid

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My Uncle Hal and my Great-Aunt Sarah haven’t spoken for six years.
It’s a war of shrill and nasty remarks more than live ammunition, but
noisy and distracting all the same. I am not sure they can even
remember what originally started it, but with so many mean things
said about each other to so many people, their feud has taken on a life
of its own. They are both so sure they are right that if you even
suggest there is a middle ground they act like you are a traitor. I am
getting married in two months. I do not see how I can’t invite both of
them, but the idea of how they could ruin the day gives me a stomach
ache. My fiancé thinks I am exaggerating and makes Hal and
Sarah jokes, so I have no help on that score. What should I do?

Afraid

 
Dear Afraid:

You could resolve the whole issue by ending the engagement, telling
your fiancé that his refusal to credit your knowledge of family history
makes him ineligible to join the meshpoche. But that’s probably more
draconian than you’re willing to be and means tossing out the good
because of the bad.

 
If you don’t want your wedding turned into their sideshow you are gong to have to
get their attention. Tell each of them that their acceptance card must include a
check for some hefty sum ($1,000?) made out to the other one. Based on their
behavior at the wedding, you will decide if their check gets awarded to their rival
or returned. Their appearance at the event is contingent on agreeing to your
terms, or else they can stay home and you’ll cheerfully explain their absence to
the rest of the family. Unless they decide to gang up on you, in which case
eloping sounds wise, you should be able to enjoy your wedding and get the last
laugh.

Trimming

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m in the process of cleaning out my house. I try to do an annual purge during
the holiday buying season, in part to spread the wealth around to women’s
shelters, homeless shelters, non-profits that do all manner of good, schools and
gift-giving community events. I feel that I have so much that it is more than just a
mitzvah. It’s necessary to remind myself how easy I have it in a world where so
many have so little and make do without on a daily basis. I’m living on a fixed
income now, so donating money is harder. I am trying not to buy what I don’t
need, and to trim what I have to what feels appropriate. Many of my friends are
into shopping and gifting. And even though each year we say to one another “NO
gifts, please!” when the moment comes to show up at their door it feels churlish
to come empty handed. Do you have a simple solution, especially one that does
not involve my checkbook?

Trimming

 
Dear Trimming:

I suggest a very simple solution that you apply uniformly to all your
friends. Identify the array or organizations that you plan to donate do,
whether it is in cash or in kind. The write an email to all your friends
and send it to them individually, not as a mass mailing. Personalize it
for each of them, with some acknowledgement of their individual
achievements for the year, such a promotions, weight loss, children’s
accomplishments, etc. Summarize your own gratitude for the plenty
you enjoy, and say that you are choosing not to participate in the
commercialism and consumerism of the season, instead opting to
donate to [insert your list here]. Say that you are going to show up
empty handed, and that you do not want your lack of gifting to be
perceived as anything other than what it is, an appreciation of your
happy sheltered life, and a wish that everyone can have at least as
much as they need.
Encourage your friends to do the same.

PTSD-ed

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

How can we plan a family Thanksgiving when everyone is traumatized by the
recent elections? We are a surprisingly diverse family in terms of or political
views. My side was raised as knee-jerk liberals but some of the cousins (whom I
will confess I do not like for this reason as well as others) voted for many (though
thankfully not all) Republicans. All summer they were coy when discussing their
vote, which of course just made me suspicious that they were doing what would
have our grandparents spinning in their graves. I was a nervous wreck for
months. You know what’s going on out there, from threats of militias and
impeachment to people swearing they are going to leave the country. I know we
cannot put the genie back in the bottle, but is there any way to have a family
holiday that will not rupture on the very dysfunctional ship of state? I’m tempted
to only invite the people who agree with me, but I recognize that’s as divisive and
polarizing as opposition pols who swear they will be obstructionist for the next
millennium or two. Helllpppppp!!!!

PTSD-ed

 
Dear PTSD-ed:

If we cannot heal families we are going to have a helluva time healing a country. I
too cannot remember an election that felt this divisive and that had so many
people binge-eating, hysterical with hyperbole and fear, depressed and anxious,
and un-friending friends and relatives at a rate that would make Einstein
reevaluate his theories. We’ve all lived through “this is the most important
election of our lifetimes” more often than I want to count. But this one was a
colossal disaster in so many ways that I hope America never repeats it. I still
have hopes (fantasies?) that democracy will raise her weary head and enough
people of reason will say Enough!! But that will have to start with each of us.

 
You should not un-invite or not-invite relatives who you might otherwise share the
holiday with. You can impose some rules for social interactions and distribute
them before the day. They should be unambiguous and even-handed, but most
importantly enforced. If you say you are going to fine anyone who talk about
politics, disparages candidates and their supporter, etc, then be prepared to do it.
Ditto if you say you will toss someone unceremoniously for rudeness. Having a
strict policy might cause a permanent rift, so be forewarned. Better would be to
set aside some specific period to go around the room and have everyone share
their feelings without crosstalk, then try to continue with family as usual. Try to
avoid the Thanksgiving disaster in the classic film Avalon, where brothers fight,
and one chases the other into the street waving a drumstick; sadly, they lose five
decades of familial caring.

Outgrown this Gift

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Every year my aunt sends Hanukkah presents for my three children. It
started when they were children, and she was pretty good about not
sending cheap plastic toys. Now they are 11, 8, and 5. Each year she
buys T-shirts made by a local to her artist. She lives a very hippie
community across the country so this is generally counter-cultural,
political humor, or just odd. We live in an upper middle-class
somewhat red district. The first couple years I like seeing my kids in
tie-dye and thought it was cute. But now she’s latched on to somebody
whose art is, not to put too fine a point on it, just plain weird. Even I
barely get the humor and the kids certainly don’t. We had made an
annual photo practice to dress the kids and send her a pic. But I want
to stop her from she spending money she doesn’t have a lot of on
something we don’t need or appreciate. Should I say something or just
let her keep sending them. I love her and appreciate the sentiment,
but….

Outgrown this Gift

 
Dear Outgrown:

However you do what you do, you should do it kindly. The fact that
your aunt thinks of your children each year is a lovely thing. I don’t
know how often she visits or you see her, but a conversation like this
in a vacuum may sound harsher than it might said casually over tea.
To imply reject a gift out of hand is churlish and cruel. Your family is
something to be honored so handle this gently.

 
You might tell her the children are growing so fast that the T-shirts
that fit now will be out of size or fashion by summer. Tell her that
perhaps switching to books or apps or something that doesn’t require
shipping is better. Tell her what each of them is particularly interested
at the moment, from dinosaurs to chess to a favorite movie or show.
Then hope for the best and say thank you very sincerely. Who knows,
she may have them in her will too; so at the risk of sounding venal,
think long run love and family, not just a gift you could easily donate
or regift.

Liberal

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Every year at Passover I am confronted by the fact that my relatives
are bigots. This despite that we’re a family of immigrants. The story
should be a cautionary tale: both sides of the family escaped Nazi
Germany in 1939, with the assistance of my father who had emigrated
a few years earlier. They worked amazingly hard their whole lives so
we kids had it easier. I live a life of privilege compared to the rest of
the planet so do all my family. So why should I have to sit without
speaking up at a ritual that’s supposedly about liberation from slavery
and hear my aunts and uncles say words my first-graders aren’t
allowed to us about people trying to immigrate here now. My parents
give me the eye-rolling looks that say I am not supposed to cause a
scene and confront anyone with their hypocrisy. How can I educate my
relatives that the door did not slam shut on America right after our
meshpochah landed?

Liberal

 
Dear Liberal:

Some families have rules forbidding discussion of politics at
gatherings, especially holidays. Others indulge in free-for- alls. While
it’s always possible that one or more are talking that way to annoy or
provoke you, the more possible truth, and sadly embarrassing
knowledge, is that they probably don’t realize how bigoted and
hypocritical their language is.

 
Given that it’s after the Seder, I’d send a follow-up email to the
offenders, or even to the family as a whole. Say very simply what you
tell your students when they use inappropriate language: that it is
dehumanizing and cruel, and reflects more poorly on the speaker than
the spoken of. Draw the obvious parallels between your family and
current immigrants, and ask some open-ended questions to spark a
dialogue. You might or might not have an impact, but at least you’ll
have served notice that you’re not going to be quelled from expressing
your own views. At a minimum, they’ll have to listen.

Tired of Gossip

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I know you get this question, or a variation of it, every year. But
please remind your readers about the etiquette of family events like
Seders. Every year I end up embroiled in the post-Seder round robin
conversations between various siblings, nieces, aunts, cousins, etc
critiquing the quality of so-and- so’s cooking, the inappropriateness of
someone’s attire, who said what to whom about what, etc etc etc for
every possible way that one human being can criticize or kvetch about
another. And this in a family that generally gets along and likes one
another

Tired of Gossip

 
Dear Tired of Gossip:

The irony of turning a holiday that’s about liberating ourselves from
slavery into enslaving ourselves to criticism is beyond sad. We’re
supposed to be about celebrating the end of 400 years of brick-making
and servitude. Not turning up the heat on those near and dear to us.
I’m reminded of the scene in Avalon, a movie set in Baltimore in the
mid-19th century, about two brothers who feud on a Thanksgiving.
One drives off in a huff while the other screams at him, waving a
drumstick, and they don’t talk for fifty years. (At least that’s how I
remember it.) Imagine 50 years without a sibling. You might smile for
a second after winning a small argument, but it would be a collassal
loss for you and your family.

 
So here’re the rules for all family events, from Passover through
Chanukah: Thou shalt not criticize others. That includes their cooking,
their clothing, their children, their homes, their cars, their choice of
vacations, or their choice of souvenirs for the meshpochah. Thou shalt
not say anything that can be misinterpreted by someone with a grudge
against someone else. When asked about anyone’s cooking, say, It
isn’t as good as I remember my mother’s but a very interesting new
way of doing that dish. When asked about someone’s atrocious new
sofa or dress say, It’s not my taste but it suits her and seems to be
making her very happy. Express joy for the satisfaction of others. Do
not appear to take any pleasure in the misfortunes, shame, failures, or
other life traumas of anyone in your circle. That’s actually a pretty
good way to improve your adherence to lashon hara, the mitzvah that
proscribes gossip. It’s also a good way to get people to like you more,
relatives or not. Kindness breeds kindness, not rancor.

Hostess

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

What’s the etiquette of setting boundaries around politics and
discussions of same at Passover? I have a noisy, boisterous family that
includes to my shame supporters of Donald Trump as well as rabid
Hillary and Bernie people. I’m a liberal Democrat, but I am not doing
to disinvite my brother because he has outed himself as a right-wing
jerk. But I do not want the serious festivities to devolve into a political
food fight. Can I just ban all talk of politics?

Hostess

 
Dear Hostess:

You can set down any dictum you want. But the chances it will be
honored are pretty small, at least as far as I can tell, in this particular
election year, where everyone talks politics as often as they discuss
diets and which body part is aching and aging. In addition, Passover is
a holiday that is very much about liberation from oppression. I suspect
each guest will have his/her own view about what oppression means,
and feel very empowered to express that view, perhaps even more so
if you try to set boundaries that are perceived as harsh or strict.
If you try to make it humorous, you might get more traction. You
could say that there will be no political commentary during the reading
of the Haggadah, and that if anyone violates that rule they will suffer
some public shaming punishment, like no dessert. I doubt there would
be a serious food fight. But you can and should tell each of the
explicitly vocal people that you do not want your holiday disrupted,
and that if they cannot keep their comments civil and their voices
down, you would prefer that they not attend. That alone should be
enough to show them where you set the bar. If you need to, you could
send a reminder email the day before, with your confirmation of food
assignments. The PS should read, Remember, if you are tempted to
wave any political banner at this Seder, you will also have
responsibility for all forms of cleaning up the table and washing all the
dishes. That would convince most rational people to play and speak
nicely.

Just A Mother, Not a Rabbi

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m turning into a curmudgeon about the holidays. In this case,
Passover. I raised my two kids in a typical middle-class, middle of the
road, Reform Jewish environment. We went to services maybe once a
month, and were each B’nai Mitzvah. Now they’re in their twenties,
done with college, and starting lives as adults. Neither lives at home,
but they have gone in totally opposite directions. My son is a vegan,
non-gluten- eating, hippie come lately, though he does make a good
living in high tech. My daughter went to Israel, and came back almost
Orthodox. She says she hasn’t decided about moving there
permanently, but whenever I question her (which she takes as a
challenge) on any aspect of the change, she mutters about moving
“back to her people.” I’m her mother. How much “more people” can
someone be?!? How am I supposed to make a Seder with someone
who won’t sit at the same table as someone who will only eat “gluten
free matzo style crackers, not kosher for Passover ????”

Just A Mother, Not a Rabbi

 
Dear Mother:

You make the Seder you would normally have at your house. And you
invite both of your children, and tell each they can bring a
friend/date/support person if they think they need to. You could
compromise by doing a family second night Seder, but frankly I think
that’s backing down to emotional blackmail. You should set the table
as you want, with the foods and accoutrements you have likely used
for decades. If you sweep every crumb from every cupboard, and get
rid of all the leavened things, then do so. If you do not, then don’t. If
your son wants to have his matzo-style crackers on a small plate near
him, then that’s fine. If your daughter is so frum she will not attend,
you have bigger issues than one last family holiday can solve.

 

This is your home and your family, which, though it may seem to be
diverging in opposite directions, will come together again over time.
There’s hope that each of them will evolve onto a more moderate
path. But you should take your daughter’s word that she might move
away, and stress that this may be the last time you are together for a
while, so your children should respect their parents enough to live
through one last Seder together, your way, and then talk about the
politics of religion after the holiday is over.

Queen For The Day

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I come from a loud, boisterous, very mixed family. You name it, we
got it! There are Jews and Catholics, Bernie-lovers and Rubio-crats,
high-school dropouts and college professors, Prius drivers and NASCAR
fans. About the only thing we do agree on is college football (though if
you value your eardrums and sanity, don’t talk about pro ball in any
season of the year!!!0 Here’s my question: It’s my turn this year to host
Thanksgiving, an honor that rotates about every six years.

 

Sometimes the hostess does it all (and by all I mean either catered
from an excellent local restaurant, down to the after-dinner mints),
sometimes it is done as a potluck (with vague instructions like “yams”
or “something green”), and sometimes the hostess allocates specific
recipes with instructions to each participating family member, taking
responsibility for bird, stuffing, and wine. I can’t afford the catering
route (which I frankly think is the opposite of the holiday spirit), and
to me the specificity of the various culinary choices matters far less
than the idea that we are come together as a family, even a family
that agrees on almost nothing for more than a minute or two at a
time.

 

My radical idea that I need help selling: I have proposed that we
all volunteer at the local homeless shelter prior to a modest meal
(turkey and all the trimmings, of course, but without the Martha
Stewart fanfare). I am getting blowback from half the tribe, who are
accusing me of “tampering with tradition,” which really comes down to
delaying the meal from 2:00 to 5:00. That means they can’t pig out
while arguing politics and then pass out in front of the TV with plates
of half-eaten pie dripping from their hands. One brother even
suggested “putting it to a vote.” I’ve put up with everyone else’s
mishigas for the last six years. Shouldn’t they have to reciprocate,
even without holiday cheer?

Queen For The Day

 
Dear Queen For The Day:

Yes they should. But you being in the right doesn’t mean you’ll be able
to bring your boisterous crew down to the shelter and make them
serve the homeless with respect, let alone happy about doing it. But it
also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

 
Announce the schedule of the day to everyone. Say dinner will be
served promptly at 5:00, and they have two choices if they want to be
part of the people sitting down with you to enjoy it. You prepare the
bird, stuffing, and drinks. They can choose between two options.
Option One: Join the service crew. Assemble at your house at x o’clock
and go together as a family work party. If they participate in that
effort or serving, they can be served upon their return by the folks
who opt out of helping others. Serving others gets them the right to sit
down without responsibilities for cooking and cleaning up. Option Two:
people who choose not to serve the homeless are responsible for
coming to your house and cooking the rest of the meal, setting the
table, and generally being the chief cooks and bottle washers. They
might get to watch football before or after dinner, but only when Crew
One has been appreciated for their work. It’ll be fun to see which
factions choose what, and who’s home to cook dinner.

Frustrated

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I know you get these sorts of questions annually, but every year I am
irritated, offended, and frustrated when I shop at the local markets
and malls. Right after Thanksgiving there appear like magic flocks of
bell-ringers who sit outside store entrances like guard dogs. They’re
the ones who collect for various charities– almost always Christian
charities—from morning till night. Often they are disabled, or mange to
look very uncomfortable sitting in the cold 24/7 (I would be). They act
shaming and smugly superior when they wish you “Merry Christmas!!”
every time you pass by them without giving a donation. One woman
seems determined to get my goat. Every time I go in she says Merry
Christmas and every time I go in I say “Happy Holidays,” “Happy
Hanukah,” “Holy Kwanzaa,” and so on to let her know that not
everyone in the world is Christian. Is there something that I else I can
do to make the point that the whole world does not revolve around
December 25, and that America is a diverse cultural landscape?

Frustrated

 
Dear Frustrated:

This is a great chance to combine cultural education with creative
messaging. Also to enhance your computer skills. Go into your favorite
word processing, spreadsheet, or make-a- drawing program. Print up
pages of colorful and creative holiday messages. Avoid red and green,
angels and holly boughs, or other traditional Christmas imagery. Print
up messages like Thank you for respecting cultural diversity., Happy
Hanukkah, Season’s Greetings, Celebrate Solstice, etc. etc. Make the
messages things that when opened will educate the person who sees
them. Yes the message will probably annoy and irritate them, but
that’s partially our goal, correct? Put each in a gift little gift envelope,
the kind that you might use to tip the newspaper delivery person, and
hand write Happy Holidays on the outside. Keep them in your purse
and when you see the bell-ringer and she says Merry Christmas give
her your biggest brought-you- a-gift smile and stuff one of the
envelopes in her donation can. She will soon get the message, though
I doubt she will also come to some unflattering conclusions about you.
We live in an increasingly polarized world. Unless we can find a way to
remember how to be kind to one another, and to honor the message
that every one of the great religions brings to us– Love your neighbor
as yourself. Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. etc-
-we are headed down the wrong track with great velocity. I don’t have
answers, and I share your frustration. But only kindness can defeat
hatred.

Seeking Family Fun

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m a nerdy middle-schooler who’s more into people than gadgets,
clothes, or social media. My parents got divorced five years ago when I
was in elementary school. Now they’re okay around each other, after
they each married another divorced person. Surprisingly, I like them
all. Holidays are complicated because of how many places everyone is
trying to get to. I like my new siblings, half-siblings, cousins, etc, but
it’s usually too hectic for any quality time. I was trying to think of an
idea for Hanukah that could help us be more of a family instead of a
crazy, jumble of busy people who I think might like each other if they
stopped running around and actually spent time together. Can you
help?

Seeking Family Fun

 
Dear Seeking:

Holiday gift-giving offers the perfect opportunity to accomplish your
goal. While you might not be able to get everyone together as often as
you want, you should be able to initiate a series of activities that will
generate energy and establish precedent for family fun. Get yourself a
stack of construction paper, some markers, glitter, and access to clip
art. Then design a series of gifts/invitations, targeting various
combinations of peers and parents. Your goal isn’t to match the exact
people who will become final participants with the activities you are
going to suggest. It’s to start a family conversation about the value of
playtime together, shared hobbies, adventures, and fun.

 

Think about activities you think would be entertaining and educational
to try together. They can be as varied as entering a family team in a
bowling league to participating in a volunteer effort like a Habitat for
Humanity build. Identify concerts that will happen in the next few
months, classes at the local parks and rec centers, and games that will
bring family together to laugh and bond. Make as many invitations as
you think people can handle. Mix and match who gets what. Encourage
people to trade off the invites, or to join in as many activities as they
want. Bring a calendar and write down the names of who wants to do
what. Then follow up gift-giving with email reminders of which
activities people are coming to, and remind them to put them on their
schedule. The more fun you make this, the more fun will follow.

Abandoned

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m angry with my best friend, who is also a neighbor. My mother is
dying. She is also a drunk, an alcoholic, and a conversation dominator.
We had agreed to have the two families together for Thanksgiving, in
part as a favor from my friend to me, so that I would not have to have
my last holiday memory of my mother be a sea of seething
resentment for her making my fabulous twenty-year- old son feel like a
loser, treating my husband like a simpleton, and me like her personal
slave. I know I should feel more charitable towards someone who has
less than a year left. But she is just plain nasty so much of the time.
That’s not new, but dying has made it worse.

 

Two days before Thanksgiving my friend (who knows exactly why I
wanted to be with her family) called and said very breezily, “We just got
invited to Thanksgiving by my boss. I’m sorry to cancel on you, but I have
a 12-pound turkey and stuffing ready to hand you, along with all the
trimmings! I feel I have no choice.” I was shocked. To me the issue
was not the cost of the food, but the size of the conversation pool. She
left me no chance to reply, and I was so stunned and hurt I just said,
“I’ll talk to you later.” What can I say, or is it too late? BTW, the time
with my mother was unpleasant and grueling.

Abandoned

 
Dear Abandoned:

If she really is your best friend, your beef is legitimate and should not
be swept under the rug. She owes you an apology, not just a turkey
and trimmings. Even bosses can be told No, especially on a holiday
that is traditionally about family, and especially on short notice. The
appropriate response would have been, Thanks, but we have plans
with family. We could swing by later for dessert, or connect with you
another time.

 

 

As for your friend, you should say simply, I’m hurt. I have a dying
mother and all sorts of family problems. I thought I could count on
you. It’s okay if she feels uncomfortable for a while. Maybe it will make
her think more the next time.