Surviving holiday visits from elderly relatives

Surviving holiday visits from elderly relatives

by Lisa Smith Molinari
The Meat and Potatoes of Life

Being stationed overseas in the military has its perks. No, I’m not talking about sightseeing and travel. I’m not referring to exposure to history and culture. I’m not discussing foreign language immersion. What I mean is this: when you PCS overseas, you won’t have to endure as many visits from relatives.

There, I said it.

Unless you’ve been stationed in Hawaii — in which case your home has probably become a revolving door of freeloading family and friends — living overseas affords you a layer of protection against unwanted company, and gives you the ultimate excuse to enjoy the holidays however you wish. As in, “The airline tickets cost $700 each, darn it ... Looks like we’ll be Zooming you on Thanksgiving again this year, Aunt Millie.”

When our family was stationed overseas, we couldn’t afford to fly home for the holidays, and our relatives couldn’t afford to visit us often either. At first, it seemed strange celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas without visits to and from extended family members. But ultimately, we enjoyed some of our most memorable holidays skiing in the Alps, renting a cottage in France, pubbing in Ireland, visiting German Christmas markets, touring Prague, hiking in Switzerland, roaming around Italy. Left to our own devices, we managed to create grand family adventures.

Enjoy the freedom living overseas affords while you can, because you will, one day, receive orders back to the continental U.S. And as they say, “Payback’s a ...” Well, you know. Your other relatives have been covering for you during your overseas tours. While you gallivanted around in lederhosen, they endured Easter with grumpy Gramps. While you wolfed down Christmas KFC and strawberry shortcake in Japan, they dealt with Gramma Jean’s incontinence. While you ordered another round of tapas in Barcelona, they overheard sis-in-law Peggy complaining about the canned cranberries.

And guess what? Now it’s your turn.

After returning from our last overseas tour in 2011, I thought it would be easy hosting parents and in-laws who had aged significantly while we were overseas. I mean, how hard could it be? Change some sheets, scramble a few eggs, make a dinner or two, do a little sightseeing, right?

But I soon discovered that roasting the perfect prime rib for Christmas supper is the easy part. It’s learning to keep my cool when my mother-in-law looks at me and says, “Your pants are so tight, if you break wind you’ll blow your shoes off.” It’s taking deep cleansing breaths when my sister-in-law shakes her head at my home decor and declares, “It’s so ... so ... you.” It’s not reacting when Pap blurts that his granddaughter “dresses like a streetwalker” while at a fancy restaurant. It’s feigning concern when Grams tells us she’s worried Father Benedict has the hots for her. It’s playing along when Uncle Ron revises history and claims he’s a direct descendent of the Vanderbilts. It’s taking it on the chin when Aunt Marjorie accuses me of stealing the silver tea set she gave to charity five years ago. It’s trying not to burst out laughing when Grammy points to the flowering vine growing on my porch rail and says, “I see you have chlamydia.”

In addition to mental preparations, I also prepare my home for our special visitors by cranking up the heat, turning on our television’s closed captioning and purchasing lots of puppy training pads, Tylenol, extra blankets, snacks, tissues, Febreze, coffee (which they drink with everything), booze, and an elevated toilet seat unless I want my towel racks torn out of the wall.

Most of all, I try to convince myself that my old relatives are just like cute little babies: they have no filter, they’re fussy, they get hungry every two hours, they don’t sleep through the night, they get confused and they wet their pants. This realization fills me with the nurturing compassion I need to survive our family’s holiday visitors without hopping the next flight back overseas.


Read more at the website, and in Lisa’s book, The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com. Email.

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