Have a knuckle-cracking Christmas

"Winter break" provides family units with such a prolonged period of intense togetherness, it's a wonder we don't all kill one another.

The kids are home from school for what seems like 17 weeks. Adults who normally would be busy with work get some free days for relaxing and reveling and gaining weight together. Because it's cold outside, the whole family's under the same roof much of the time.

Everything feels a bit off. Routines are disrupted. Social calendars are full. Thoughts are scattered. The kids are antsy. People keep tripping over the dog. The TV is too loud. What's that smell?

Different energy levels bouncing around in the same space create friction. Some of us are slobs; some want to decorate the Kleenex boxes. Some see a vacation and want to go, go, go, while others see it as time for lying perfectly still. We're like cars on a busy street, all going different speeds. Bound to be a few fender benders.

All the togetherness reminds us that even the nicest people have annoying little habits that could wear on anyone, given enough exposure. Repeated sniffing, say. Clearing one's throat 2,309 times per day. If you're stuck in a house all day with a knuckle-cracker or a gum-snapper or a Twitter user, your thoughts might turn to ho-ho-homicide.

Take something as harmless as a Christmas carol. The song gets stuck in a person's mind, like a jumbo thorn, so he goes around singing it all the time. Except he doesn't really know the words, so it sounds like this: "Joy to the WORLD, la-da, la-DAH." Over and over. For two weeks. Until -- snap! -- someone makes a headline.

Minor vices, such as leaving the cap off the toothpaste or the newspaper in disarray, can be ignored for days, but eventually someone will speak up, and the new year is welcomed with fireworks.

(The Murphy's Law winter break guarantee: Whether you prefer the toilet seat up or down, it will always be the wrong way. Mention this to the others at your peril.)

As the winter days of togetherness wear on, we start to see loved ones' quirks as being intentionally annoying. We start perceiving motives.

"She knows she's doing that," he mutters. "She could stop any time. But no, she keeps doing it, because she knows it drives me crazy. She's just getting even because I--"

From the next room: "What's that, dear?"


But it's not nothing. It's the beginning. Pretty soon, the couple is locked in an escalating passive-aggressive loop: If she's going to crack her gum, he thinks, then I can pop my knuckles and sniffle as much as I want. She counters with an impressive symphony of tuneless whistling, trying to drown out his honking nose. Which, naturally, forces him to play Neil Young on the stereo, because she HATES that reedy voice. So she runs the vacuum cleaner. He gets a wrench and removes the toilet seat altogether and--

Whoa, whoa. Take a deep breath there, partner. It's always like this at winter break. It'll be fine once we get out of the house, and we're all exposed to smaller doses of our mutual foibles.

The adults go back to work, where our nervous habits can annoy our colleagues instead of our relatives. The kids go back to school and annoy their teachers. The dog gets some rest.

Soon, we're back in our well-worn ruts. Ready for another year.


1 comment:

Ivan Toblog said...

The first time I saw the title to this post I thought is said Knuckle Dragging.
I gotta quit speed reading!