Friday, December 10, 2010

'Tis the Season for Behaving Badly

Is it the holidays that tend to bring out the worst in everyone or is it just that we notice it more now because the bad behavior is such a contrast to the expected seasonal cheer? The foul attitudes, childish antics and rude comments are on display everywhere - from the grocery store, on the daily commute, and at holiday open houses. I had a septuagenarian try to bum rush a seat I was saving David at a school holiday concert yesterday. She asked if the seat was empty and when I told her I was saving it for my husband (and I was not the only person saving a seat – in fact, I might have been the only person saving just one seat), she snapped, “Well, he’s not in it now, is he,” and started to climb over me to claim the chair. I thought about tripping her but figured those calcium deficient old bones of hers would probably snap and she’d crack a hip or something. But before I could come up with another plan, the woman in the seat next to me, on the end of the row, contributed a silent assist, refusing to move her legs, blocking the row and keeping granny from pushing through. The old woman hissed at us both and moved on, trying to find someone else to bully. I was actually caught off guard by the old hag’s behavior. I guess I was fooled by the silver hair, sweet smile and the cheap but festive looking Christmas tree brooch pinned to her red wool lapel and thought, “Oh, here’s someone’s sweet grandma.” Yeah, right…sweet in the way that arsenic tastes sweet until it kills you.

And then there is the usual bad behavior resulting from holiday regression which, despite all vows to keep it from happening, occurs to anyone over the age of 30 when forced to be in close proximity with their parents for more than 48 hours. Before they arrive, you swear that you will not let them push your buttons, treat you like a child or allow yourself to behave like one in response. You’re able to manage maintaining your adult persona for a day or two, three if you’re a therapist, Oscar winning actor or trained hostage negotiator, but after that, the facade explodes, usually over something trivial like your dad leaving dirty socks on the kitchen table or your mother sneering at your choice of landscaping, and you find yourself engaged in a screaming match with your parent. There is shouting, maybe even a little foot stomping involved, names might even be called and inevitably your parent will accuse you of behaving in a way that you haven’t since 1982. You will respond as if you were back in 1982. And let’s face it, that tactic didn’t work then and it won’t work now. But these little holiday induced temper tantrums and acts of childish behavior aren’t limited to interactions with your parents. Try spending even a few hours with your siblings when your parents are around and see what happens. I do find it odd that my brother and I can get along great when my father isn’t in residence, but as soon as he enters California air space, the temptation to start acting like we’re 6 and 10 again is almost more that we can resist. A few years ago, over Christmas, my brother and I were out and I snatched something from him as if I was in second grade. He grabbed it back and I took it again. He responded the way any teenage big brother would and punched me in the arm. It was hilarious to us, but a woman passing stopped and glared at him, I guess assuming she’d just seen some spousal abuse or other horrible act of violence. My brother, in an effort to explain the punch he’d just thrown, said, “It’s okay, she’s my sister.” The woman laughed and continued on. Her parents were probably in town, too.

Ah, the holiday parties, another excellent place for witnessing completely inappropriate behavior fueled by brandied egg nog and other holiday stresses. I was at one recently where a group of five or six moms had gravitated into the living room while the husbands watched the game on the flattest of big screens. While they were watching pigskins, we were listening to a pig. This one mother rattled on about her perfect children and their perfect lives and the perfect private school that she insisted – and here’s the piggy part – they had to go to because they couldn’t possibly attend their local public school which was overflowing with too many minorities! Yes, she said it. If you have that world view, you might think it, you might even say it in the privacy of your own home, but out in the open at a holiday party? There was a very awkward pause as the other women looked down at the floor and the perfect mother realized what she’d said in front of the two minority moms. I took a deep breath, kicked back my Merlot and tried to figure out the best way to respond without putting a damper on my friend’s party. However, before the words, “Listen you bitch, what’s wrong with a little diversity…” could come out of my mouth, the other minority mom changed the subject. She had to go to school with these people, I didn’t, so I guess overlooking the comment was her way of surviving. But I was immediately angered that I’d let the moment pass without at the very least pointing out the stupidity of her comment. I felt guilty, almost complicit in her bigotry by letting her statement go. But by the time I’d worked through all of this in my head, they were onto talk of winter breaks in Aspen and where to get the best take out in Beverly Hills. Another mother came over to me later and said, “Oh, she was talking about the Latinos, we have a big population of them in our area,” as if it I would think it was okay to make fun of the minorities as long as it wasn’t my minority group. So much for Peace on Earth, Good Will Towards Men.

Twenty-two days until the holidays are officially over. I know the bad behavior will continue after that, but at least the behavior won’t seem so ironic in contrast to all the good tiding that are supposed to be inherent in the season. I sound cranky. I guess I better be careful or three ghosts will visit me in the middle of the night. My luck, the ghosts will leave laundry, dirty dishes and bills for me to pay.

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