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Getting Along by Lawrence J. Cohen - A bi-weekly column in The Boston Globe

12/19/2002 Beat family stress, one dysfunction at a time

Welcome to Getting Along's third annual Dysfunctional Family Bingo game.

We all know that holiday family visits can be stressful, so a couple of years ago I developed a simple game as a way to make them more endurable, and maybe even fun.

Make a list of all the annoying and dysfunctional things that various members of your family (including yourself) are likely to do. Here are some samples that readers have written in from previous years: My son in college will come home with a new earring; all of the presents from my mother will still have the price tags on them (''Just in case you hate it and want to return it''); everyone will laugh at me for being corny when I suggest that we appreciate each other instead of just wolfing down food and ripping open presents; I will feel jealous of my sister when she shows up in her size 2 dress; I will ask myself for the 100th time how I can be so normal when they are all such a mess.

Take each of the items on your list, and write them out on a Bingo card, with as many rows and columns as you need. Keep a few squares blank for annoyances that you didn't think of in advance. Then, with your card in your pocket, you can just breeze through family gatherings, checking off each horrid thing as it comes up. Instead of getting upset, you're one step closer to Bingo.

As one Extreme Bingo player wrote, after using the game to help her manage the holidays spent with her husband's extended family, ''There have been Christmases when I literally had to leave the room and practice yogic breathing to get through the day. But now I have Dysfunctional Family Bingo and I can secretly feel like the joke is on them instead of feeling like I am an outsider.''

Martha Beck, in this month's O magazine, suggests playing Dysfunctional Family Bingo with a group of friends, which triples the fun: First, you get to laugh together as you all write up your cards at a preholiday lunch, then you get to check off each item as it happens, and finally you get to call everyone in your group if you are the first to make it to Bingo.

After last year's Bingo game, one reader wrote to say he had a perfectly delightful family but didn't want to be left out of the Bingo fun. So he decided to make a Bingo card using other annoying things about the holiday season. This year, he will get the pleasure of being one step closer to Bingo whenever he hears a parody of ''A Christmas Carol'' or ''It's a Wonderful Life,'' whenever he catches himself humming along with Christmas Muzak tunes even though he's Jewish, or whenever he hears someone say that overspending on presents is the answer to the country's economic problems.

Last year, I introduced a variation of Dysfunctional Family Bingo called The Undershirt Ploy, which is great if you have something you'd really like to say to your family, but can't. You just write it on a small piece of paper and pin it to your undershirt. When you get really aggravated, just rub your hand on your shirt and smile. Just make sure you do your own laundry!

This year's variation is called One to Ten. No, it's not the prison sentence you might like to impose on certain family members. It's a numbers game about those little things that ''pull'' at your attention. You know how those cookies just seem to pull you over to the table and make you eat them? Or perhaps you have decided that your brother is not going to get your goat this year, no matter what, and then he just pulls and pulls at you until you lose it. Maybe for once you would like to relax and enjoy the season, but you feel a pull to bake one more pie or put up one more decoration or rush out to buy one more present.

Well, when you feel that kind of pull, give it a number from one to 10, based on how strong the pull is. A score of one means you can take the cookie or leave it, a 10 means that if you don't eat it you just might die, no matter how many disapproving looks you get from your spouse (who has already watched you eat half the plate). Add up all your points, and the first one to 50 wins. If it takes you only a few minutes to get to 50, then play to 500 - but right after the holidays, it's probably time to start that yoga class or therapy or 12-step program you've been putting off!

This story first ran in the Boston Globe, page H6, on 12/19/2002.
Copyright 2002 Lawrence J. Cohen
Larry Cohen
Tel/Fax: 617-713-0568

email: larjack@playfulparenting.com

Larry Cohen
1680A Beacon Street | Brookline, MA 02445 | Tel/Fax: 617-713-0568

email: larjack@playfulparenting.com