OPED: Rushing, dodging relatives? Cheers to us

Tribune News Service
In this Friday, Dec. 4, 2015 photo provided by the Ritz Carlton, Dove Mountain, family members dine inside a gingerbread house at the resort in Marana, Ariz. The 19-foot-tall "house" has been operating for the past month as a private dining room. There's no cost to walk through. But for $150, you can reserve the whole thing. (Ryan Hammond/Ritz Carlton, Dove Mountain via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

The holidays are here. Act busy.

Have you noticed that we now treat December like an emotional triathlon involving the completion of continuous and sequential endurance disciplines? The term "holiday" as in "a time to relax, kick back and take it easy" no longer applies. Counting down to Dec. 25 has become one of our more stressful national pastimes, like watching "Homeland," "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?" or the presidential debates. (And can someone please conflate these shows? I'd like to see politicians explain why sea urchins are not fish or how they would handle hostage situations in the Middle East. Answering either question would help voters decide.)

In their most popular and traditional form holiday triathlons involve: 1. Preparing meals for a group of people who can no longer even agree on what form of grain product will be shared, let alone what form of protein may be offered; 2. Gathering together family members whose most cherished hobbies include "Dredging Up The Past," "Vying For Envy" and "How To Create A Crisis Over Whether My Pet Can Come To Your House"; and 3. Hide-and-Seek.

Hide-and-Seek at the holidays is the section most particularly designed for experts only. My brother, an expert, for many years brought work with him — crucial projects demanding completion by the end of the week, and these necessitated his finding a quiet, diversion-free environment, usually my husband's book-lined upstairs office. It was there, and only there, that my brother could focus on his task while his three small children, large dog and perky wife all made lively, noisy and happy contributions to the actual business of celebration with the rest of us downstairs. Work is one way to hide.

Reading the newspaper is another way of hiding out. It's not quite like digging a bunker, but it's close. It can offer a historically respectable way to say, "I am in the room but entirely unavailable because I am engaged in a thorough review of the world situation, which will make us all more informed citizens. Please bring me coffee, if possible, so I do not lose my place in this important paragraph regarding a sighting of what was quite possibly an albino skunk in a nearby 7-11 parking lot. It is fascinating." If hiding out is why you're reading this newspaper right now, I apologize for bringing it up and I promise I won't tell.

But there are people who hide behind newspapers the way they might hide behind a brick wall, so impervious do they become to anything happening beyond their line of sight. This remains true even if the newspapers appear on the tiny screens of electronic devices.

I'm not only talking about other people, of course: I also hide at the holidays. But I do it in plain sight. I'm impressively, if not majestically, busy when I'm in the kitchen and this means that you have to do everything I ask while staying out of my way. What's not to like? I get to boss people around and yet pretend I'm doing everything for them and that I'm just a victim of my own generosity.

In the kitchen, I'm empress of all I survey, but in no way am I approachable. For one thing, I am tense and surrounded by knives. That's enough of a volatile combination for people to leave me physical and emotional space. Plus I run my kitchen the way that Alan Alda ran the surgery tent in "MASH": All I need is a face mask and someone to wipe my brow while expressing deep respect.

Yet there are even better reasons to come out from hiding and celebrate the holidays: We can emerge for the sake of good cheer. This is when we can put the busyness away and realize, during these darkest, briefest days and these longest, coldest nights, that beacons of love and laughter await us in the coming year if we look up and outward and allow ourselves to see them. When we come out from hiding, we can glimpse the strength of our invisible bonds and we see gratitude, playfulness, acceptance and welcome.

Here's to us! Now, can I get somebody to help with my brow?