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Judge Mommy Goes Home For the Holidays


And it looks like judging runs in the family.

Oh Joy! Oh Rapture! It’s that time of year again.

Time to be spend long hours with your family.

And I swear, sometimes being with family for the holidays is like being an ant squirming under the rays of a magnifying glass.

You know what I am talking about: when you’re with company and you can sense that someone (meaning your mother-in-law) thinks you are stupid — or bad, or frivolous, or clumsy — and you are so busy focusing on not looking stupid that you can’t concentrate on what you are doing. So then you do something really stupid — or bad, or frivolous, or clumsy — proving them right.

(If you’re taking notes, in psychology this is called the Pygmalion effect. In essence, you are living down to the low standard set for you. In order to remember this new vocabulary word, it is helpful to imagine yourself screaming it while throwing dishes, “I’M JUST LIVING UP TO YOUR LOW EXPECTATIONS, PYGMALION!” I also like to imagine saying it, quite composed, with a pipe in my hand, “What you are creating here, dear Watson, is a Pygmalion effect. The reason I keep throwing your dishes is because you expect me to throw your dishes.”)

Since I am trying to sound smart (see Dr Evans Im not as stoopid az u thaught?), I’ll tell you that the Pygmalion effect is defined in psychology as a type of reactivity. And reactivity is our natural tendency to act differently when we know we are being observed. With family, reactivity is defined as our natural tendency to parent chaotically because we know our parenting is being scrutinized.

Like, for example, lots of times you discipline your kids less in front of extended family. Partially because you don’t want your in-laws to know that you usually drag the kids outside by their ears to pick their own switch. And partially because you think that you are saving all the old people from hearing your kid scream, for an hour, at glass-shattering decibels. But also, on top of that, you are paralyzed with fear of doing the wrong thing in front of everyone.

Will they think you are too harsh? Will they think you are too soft?

You feel like every decision is taken to high court and  as soon as you turn your back. Whichever route you choose is wrong. Too lax: “You’re spineless.” Too harsh:  “It’s the holidays. Cut them some slack.” If you say, “No artificial coloring,” they say, “She’s nutty.” If you give up and let the kids eat whatever they want, they say, “She’s making them obese.”

You try to find some safe ground in between. “Time out,” you say, like you’re giving your kids a brand new puppy.

The judgers, who last parented a toddler in 1847, sit by and say amongst themselves (very loudly because they can’t hear anymore), “Did you see that? She doesn’t even discipline them and she let them have pie for breakfast.”

They are forgetting that they were the ones eating pie at 7 a.m. in front of all the kids. And the only other option was a package of fossilized Sugar-Snack-Heart-Attack Cereal that (hopefully) had very bad retro 1980s packaging. (You just closed your eyes when you thought you glimpsed a picture of Mary Lou Retton on the back.) These were your two options, pie or ancient cereal, and you thought,wasn’t it better to give them freshly made pie?

Now it is 8:30 a.m., and you are trying to figure out how to be a good parent while your pumped-full-of-sugar kid — who was just told “No running in the house!” — is swinging from the rafters.

“WHAT? I’M NOT RUNNING!” he screams when you give him the I’m gonna kill you look. You are pulling him down from the ceiling when your other kid comes running at full speed around the corner, SMACK right into your legs. Great-grandma’s dentures PLOP out of his mouth.

He is walking in circles — stars and birds flying around his skull — while you scramble to hide Gran Gran’s teeth (Why are they not in her mouth?).

“Go put this back where you found it,” you hiss and push him, still wobbling, back in the direction he came from.

Even from behind, you can feel your ant skin frying under the magnifying glass. They are all staring at you with daggers in their eyes. What will she do? What will she do? Their judgment is hanging in the air so thick you can barely move.

And they wonder why you drink two bottles of wine before Christmas dinner. “She must have a drinking problem,” they whisper/scream. (You, dear Watson, are my drinking problem.)

So you turn to them and you lift your glass and say, “Cheers to you this holiday!” Then you murmur, “Welcome under the looking glass!”

Now that you have poured brandy into your coffee and have just canceled your holiday plans, don’t forget: 1. Accept love in the form that it comes, and 2. Stick with the misery that you know.

Meaning: Some people show love in unconventional ways. Rather than trying to change the way they show it, try to simply accept their love. Secondly, if you had to choose the craziness of your family versus the craziness of other peoples’ families (if you actually knew the truth about everyone else’s families), you would probably still choose the craziness you already have.

Thank you to everyone who  their family stories to this article. I promise to hide your identities for eternity, and no, Grandpa, those were not your teeth!

Published inPen Name Jane

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