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Guests Who Wear Out Their Welcome

It doesn't take long for visitors to take the 'happy' out of holidays.


Right about now the temptation is to make the most unimaginative of New Year's resolutions: no more holiday house guests. Because the holidays are stressful enough without having people in your house undergoing apparent orange juice withdrawal.

No problem, you say to your holiday house guest, you have cans of Minute Maid in the basement freezer. Huh? Your holiday house guest does not drink orange juice with frozen-can lineage? He offers to go to the store and get some fresh-squeezed. You give him directions to the store. Why no, you tell your holiday house guest, you are not 100% certain they carry organic orange juice at that store. But come to think of it there is a GNC two towns over that may have it, and so you begin writing those directions, which are complicated, and you can't remember some of the street names and so you say, "I'll go."

Holiday house guests. For the year 2002 you could issue a ban. You could say, "No more!" Does it matter that it's family? Does it matter that most of the people who have come into your home and stayed overnight are in some way related to you? No, it does not. Because you can love your brother more than life itself, but that does not mean you want his hair clogging your drain.

It always starts out well. When holiday house guests arrive, you almost always get one entirely happy first day. You are so glad to see these people you rarely get to see. They are so happy to be here, not to mention to be off the airplane or train or freeway that brought them to you. You have a nice dinner. You tell stories. You may even sit around the fireplace and sing holiday songs. You go to bed thinking this is all such fun.

And then something happens. No known person in the history of holiday house guests has ever figured out exactly what happens. There is research to suggest that time itself stops. That a kind of vacuum takes over, sucking you into a whirlpool of tension and anxiety. There's a lot that goes into it. There are toothbrushes everywhere, and odd teeth-cleaning devices. There is more than you want to know about the bathing habits of your loved ones. There's everyone needing to check e-mail on your poor computer, which hasn't been acting right lately, anyway. There are the cans of abandoned Coke everywhere, all of them three-quarters full of warm, flat Coke.

There's your sister's boyfriend, who has not said a word to anyone, a grown man sitting for days in the corner playing Ms. Pac-Man on his PDA. There's the father-in-law who wants to cook chili but you bought the wrong beans. There's the cousin who brings her dog. There are the bad combinations, the corporate muckety-muck uncle unable to tolerate the social worker brother-in-law. And vice versa. There are the college kids who bring their friends, including that poor darling who dropped out to have a baby, but she has a new boyfriend now, thank God, and is it OK if he comes, too?

But you will forget all of this. All of it. When everyone is gone, you will sleep for many days and many nights, and there will be only happiness left in your heart, a feeling of gratitude for family and peace and togetherness.

So forget that particular New Year's resolution. Instead, take the palm of your hand, turn it inward, slap yourself on the forehead and ask yourself: "Why do you think they call it the Holiday Inn?"

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