By Wendy Bauder

The holiday season is almost upon us and the obligation of family festivities dangles overhead like mistletoe.  The family unit is a wonderful thing and most of the year we are free to pick and choose who we spend our time with, but the holidays have rules of their own. Preference is tossed to the curb like last year’s Christmas tree as the relatives of your worst nightmares arrive for a holiday dinner. Nothing is as universal as bracing oneself for the “I’m-going-to-get-through-these-holiday-festivities-if-it’s-the-last-thing-I-do experience” and nothing kills off brain cells faster. It’s what I call a holiday lobotomy.

I believe that every family endures something similar even if they won’t admit to it. You may not have a senile aunt who adds dry cat food to the lime Jell-o mold, but these seasonal events carry with them carte blanche to mind everyone’s business and free reign to squeeze and pick at personal boundaries like teenage acne.

Case in point is the supper conversation. In my own experience, one holiday supper was headlined by a conversation revolving around something I carelessly tossed into the bathroom wastebasket. Upon arrival, I had forgotten that my privacy did not cross over the threshold with me. It was the last time I made that mistake. The young cousins stuck black olives on their fingertips while the adults poured gravy into their mashed potato moats and talked about me as if I weren’t sitting in plain sight. I choked down my green bean casserole in humiliation. By the time the candied yams made their way around the table I was, blessedly, old news and the topic shifted to more details than anyone needed to know about Uncle Lou’s colonoscopy.  Chase these kinds of scenarios down with a good bit of politically incorrect dogma and you’ve got a holiday dinner resembling an outlandish Hollywood movie, minus the acting talent. Over the years, trial and error has led me to adopt a “keep-my-mouth-full-of-food-so-I-can’t-participate” defense. It always seems like a good idea at the outset but usually backfires and leaves me looking like a tick ready to burst.

About the time blood sugar levels are slogging their way back to normal, a buffet of food will reappear. Those relative remaining upright will be expected to take their place in the food line to stuff their engorged bellies like a trussed up turkey. No one will be exempt. Those brave enough to beg off eating again will have a liberal dish of guilt served up to them with a dash of culpability and a dollop of blame.

Dinner will end with nauseous children, nineteen pounds of leftover cornbread stuffing and button flies threatening to pop off and put someone’s eye out.

“You may be onto something with this holiday lobotomy theory,” my husband, Patrick, said to me after our last holiday eating fest. We had just loaded up our car for the ride home. My kids were loosening their seatbelts. I was rifling around in my purse for a Tums. Patrick sat, glassy-eyed, in the driver’s seat. “I think my I.Q. is lower now than when we got here. Of course that could just be the Wassail headache talking.”