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Getting Along by Lawrence J. Cohen - A
bi-weekly column in The Boston Globe
– Beat family stress, one dysfunction at a time
Getting Along's third annual Dysfunctional Family Bingo game.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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!
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.
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
This story first ran in the Boston Globe, page H6, on
© Copyright 2002 Lawrence J. Cohen