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COLUMN: Holiday expectations lead to frustration

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By Brad Bowman, Landmark News Service

 All of us begin thinking about the holidays with great expectations. On the side of the positives, we think of how great it will be to see family, gorge ourselves on all sorts of food that isn't good for us and how much the experience will bring us closer together. It is as if we set up the scenarios in our minds of humorous anecdotes to share, the exact schematic of how the family get-together will play out and it will end in classic movie fashion wrapped in a bow.

 My Christmas experience inspired my New Year's resolution as well as, not entirely ground breaking mantra of, “What are you going to do?”

 This simple rhetorical question absolves us of our baggage we carry like Santa Claus into the holiday. This is about letting go of the things we can't control, the expectations we put on people and things. It is my personal version of the serenity prayer and can easily be applied, like any household cleaner, to clean up a variety of metaphysical messes. I encourage this peace of mind to anyone.

 I am certain there are universal archetypes in each family. Perhaps not all are eloquent Shakespearian characters but we all have these common players on the stage of family drama. My cast list consists of the eternal prospector, the social substance abuser, and the great committer. Their roles don't require rehearsal or a script. They perpetuate eternally in their behavior despite any direction, advice or support you give them. Their actions defy logic much like acrobats defy gravity and will leave you falling in disbelief at their plight. When you see them next year, remember to say my mantra quietly to yourself,

“What are you going to do?”

 The family Christmas stage is set at my older sister’s home. Her hospitality is endless and at times seems masochistic. She is the matriarch of my father's side of the family. She freely opens her home to a hoard of my nieces' and nephews' children who raze the house with deafening decibels of holiday cheer and chaos. They, the children, are the stewards of Christmas magic and Santa Claus. They are still mesmerized with reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. Their innocence is precious. It is the same magic imbued in our aspirations and expectations for the holiday circus.

The guests start to arrive. It takes about a nanosecond to recognize the players carrying their own sack of baggage I had hoped would be left at home. At least for this one night of the year when the family gets together, all of us would be spared.  I mumble my mantra, “What are you going to do?”

The social substance abuser stumbles through the door happy and looks as if they have already invested a lot of time into happy hour somewhere else before the family celebration. Luckily, they are usually just uncomfortably affectionate and overly verbose. They commit the crime of cornering one poor soul into a conversation from which one needs rescuing. Through the years you learn to expect it. Everyone makes out a strategy before they arrive of how to avoid being cornered and occasionally, for humor's sake, they don't rescued as planned. I laugh to myself, “What are you going to do?”

The eternal prospector is the relative that constantly is engaging in their latest invention, a new money-making scheme, or unbeknownst to you or anyone in the family, acquired a degree of vocation that smells of hyperbolic fiction. For example, this year they have been traveling with the military giving medical instructional classes. They have successfully found a way to circumvent medical school. It is sure to be something different next year and I mumble as they walk away, “What are you going to do?”

The great committer always brings me up to speed on what has been going in their life for last year. They ask meaningful and sincere questions about mine. Year after year, when we near the end of conversation they say, we need to get together and I will call you after the holidays. They constantly commit and it's never legit. I can guarantee if I do talk to them they will commit to something else, but I won't see them until next Christmas. I shake my head to myself and say my mantra again.

My resolution will require me to apply it throughout the years that follow. It isn't a fad diet I will fail on, but a never-ending requirement for sanity. I just can't control people or save them from themselves. I pass this resolution on to you for your own happiness. Otherwise, what are you going to do?