When life hands you lemons, toss them in the trash and eat cake

Holidays on Eggshells, Cast of Characters

I awoke in the middle of the night, in a cold sweat. I was having one of the worst anxiety attacks of my life. An anxiety attack no amount of Xanax could temper. One week from today, I will be waking up 1,200 miles away from here, in my parents’ house. Thus, the anxiety.

What did finally temper the middle-of-the-night panic was David Sedaris. I started rereading Holidays on Ice, which is a yearly tradition for me. If you haven’t read it, I beg you to do so. And if you have, reread it. Mr. Sedaris can pull me out of the deepest, darkest rabbit hole. He is Xanax in book form, and he made me laugh myself silly at 3am. He also makes me strive to be a better, funnier writer. (I’m still working on that. A lot.)

Anxiety, you ask? It’s the holidays — it’s all about decking the halls and fa-la-la-la-ing and family and all that shit. Well, Norman Rockwell certainly did not paint a picture of my family. And while I love ’em to death, the word dysfunction should be on the family crest. Christmas forces us to all sit in the same room for hours on end, which can sometimes be a recipe for disaster (while providing excellent writing material).

So in the spirit of the holidays let me present to you the cast of Holidays on Eggshells. This “family” is not my family, per se (cough), but my real family did provide a teeny-tiny bit of the foundation.

Holidays on Eggshells

To be presented for a limited one-night engagement at the Sigmund Freud Regional High School gym. Free admission, but donations kindly accepted to pay for family’s mental health care.


Mavis (family matriarch): Gives religious-themed Christmas gifts freely. Once told Anna that she wanted her to attend mass every Sunday so “I won’t be in heaven alone without my children.” Great cook, good hugger and horrible driver (Anna does sign of the cross when Mavis puts the key in the ignition). Loses sleep over the fact that her daughters are not married. After being a scarily iron-fisted mom, she has loosened up significantly in the past decade, probably due to mild dementia and Chardonnay. However, one must never, ever discuss politics with her, because the iron fist rears its ugly head. Trust Anna on this.

Dick (family patriarch): Has not spoken much in several decades because Mavis has done most of the talking. Good listener. Kind man who loves his kids and would do anything for them. Cannot tell his wife that he voted for Obama, as she would probably divorce him. Works as a neurosurgeon, but when talking to him about his job, he makes it sound like his lot in life is about as important a job as a janitor cleaning toilets (humble guy, really). Disappears to his room quickly after any family dinner and goes to bed (smart guy, really).

Allan: First child, only son. Sisters call him “Golden Child” behind his back, as he can do no wrong. He has a wife and two kids, which ticks a lot of the boxes for Mavis and Dick. Not close with any of his sisters, but will occasionally call one of them and say “When are you getting married?” Anna thinks he wants his sisters to be miserable like he is. Goes through periods of depression (not unlike other family members) that mostly goes untreated. (Doctors make the worst patients). Once drove Vanessa out of the house mid-Thanksgiving dinner after fighting with her about the virtues of Glenn Beck. Like Mavis, one must never, ever discuss politics with him if you are not super-duper conservative.

Anna: Second child, first daughter. Has probably not turned out like Mavis wanted. In late 30s and never married; in medieval times, she would have burned at the stake for this tragedy (which Mavis likes to remind her of). Mavis, in fact, asked her if she was a lesbian back in 2008. Does not want children, doesn’t even really like them (another tragedy for Mavis). Instead, likes four-legged furry creatures who love unconditionally. Moved across the country several years ago, and will be attending Christmas with the family for the first time in two years. First holiday without her long-term boyfriend and she is sad. Hoping the trip home will do her good, but what is the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?

Vanessa: Third child, second daughter. Puts the “black” in black sheep. Somewhat unreliable. Anna respects (and is slightly jealous) that’s she been able to live locally but has cut off the entire family with what appears to be very little guilt.  Will probably show up at Christmas dinner an hour late and be the first to leave. Like Anna, she is disappointment to Mavis: She lives with her partner and is planning a wedding in Massachusetts in the Spring, which Mavis will not attend. (She thinks those gays can be “cured.”) When she intermittently interacts with her family — particularly Anna — she is a kind and generous person. And then “poof,” she’s gone again.

Elise: The baby of the family. Anna would probably describe her as her best friend. Is perhaps the only reason (along with Dick) that Anna is coming home for the holidays. Skillfully navigates the tricky map of her dysfunctional family, much to Anna’s shock and amazement. Close with Mavis, which is good. Mavis needs a daughter, and Elise fits the bill. Also unmarried, but looks like she’s the most likely to get married and have kids…her ovaries haven’t shriveled up yet, unlike Anna’s and Vanessa’s. Got her and Anna out of attending Christmas Eve dinner at the SIL’s house, so Anna owes her a big hug (and perhaps a monetary payment).

Kristie: Married to Allan, SIL to Anna, Vanessa and Elise. From Russia and even though she’s been here for 12 years, she seems to get lost in translation when convenient. Her English is perfect when she’s asking for money from Mavis and Dick, not so perfect when she’s insulting Elise or trying to stir the pot by telling Anna that Vanessa hates her. (The excuse is that she didn’t “phrase things right.” For instance, telling Elise her hair looks like shit REALLY means, when she hones her English, “I love your hair.” Huh.) Is a freelance eye-brow threader and body-piercer in her free time. Has previously had other “non-traditional” jobs, including sending Levis jeans bought at TJMaxx to her sister in Russia, for sale on the black market. Anna is really looking forward to seeing her at Christmas.

Peter: Son of Allan and Kristie, 7 years old. First-born grandkid. Spoiled rotten. Only eats white bread, cookies and diet coke. Anna almost got poked in the eye with a fork after offering him a taste of her standing rib roast at Christmas 2009. Hates being beat at Wii and will beat you with the controller if you even look like you might win.

Karolina: Daughter of Allan and Kristie, 4 years old. Competes in local beauty pageants and enjoys winning (although when she loses, there are no Wii controllers around with which to beat the judges). Wears a full face of make-up and high heels, even when she’s at home playing. Suri Cruise is her idol. Looks like a minature Miss America, which freaks out Anna. Spoiled, too. (Like anyone’s surprised.)

Lana: Mavis’ sister and the energy that dilutes the insanity of the holidays. Has been chronically ill for years, but doesn’t look it — Lana always has a smile on her face. Travels two hours to visit the family every holiday. She is always a sight for sore eyes (and iron fists).

Various dogs: Everyone brings their dogs, which pisses Dick off to no end. He gets antsy at dinnertime and locks the dogs in another room, where they howl and beg to be fed scraps. Provides a nice holiday soundtrack. Anna is happy the dogs are there, as they cannot talk.

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3 thoughts on “Holidays on Eggshells, Cast of Characters

  1. Awesome. That just made my day!

  2. I love this … Christmas would be so boring without a dysfunctional family!

    • Thanks, it was fun and therapeutic to write the Eggshell posts. Someone asked me the other day: If you could change anything about your family, what would it be? I laughed and said “Nothing, otherwise, I’d have no writing material.”

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