Award-winning columnist, Saralee Perel, can be reached at 

Her novel, Raw Nerves, is now available as a paperback and an e-book on

Saralee Perel

Our Family Trees Are Full of Nuts

Every time you read about dysfunctional families, don’t you feel that you could write the book on it?

During the holidays, our “issues” which is the therapy term for things we hate about people we love, come out in full force.

We also have obligations we think we can’t get out of. There’s too little time. Not enough money. Too many marshmallow chocolate chip Santa cookies with broken caps that we couldn’t give as gifts and ate instead. Just too much pressure all around!

It’s time to be more ourselves

Let’s fantasize. Can you imagine if, this holiday season, everyone in your family said what they were really thinking?

I thought of this when we visited my husband Bob’s folks last Christmas.

“I can’t believe we haven’t seen you for months!” I said to his mom. (It feels more like ten minutes.)

“Christmas is more special now that you’re in our family,” she said. (You’re Jewish. This is so weird.)

“Well, it’s special for me to be with you.” (Tell me you didn’t make chopped liver. It makes me want to puke.)

After serving the liver, she said, “Bob went to school with a Jewish person. He’s a dentist in Virginia. Maybe you know him.”

I took a bite of liver. “This is delicious.” (You’re supposed to cook it.)

When we’d visit my folks in Baltimore, Bob always developed a stress-induced flaming rash on the top of his feet. All through dinner, he’d scratch under the table.

“What’s wrong?” my dad would ask. (What is he scratching under there?)

“I have a rash.” (I’m terrified of you two.)

“You should see a doctor.” (Not only did my daughter marry a Gentile, he’s probably infesting the house with something.)

And why is it that no matter how old we are, we revert to acting like kids when we’re around our parents? And approval seeking? It never stops.

The worst holiday visit was when we spent Chanukah at my parents’ house after Bob had just been fired from his managerial position at the local TV station. We were scared to tell them.

“How’s everything?” my dad asked me.

“Fine.” (Everybody with a job, stand up. Bob? Sit down.)

“You look great,” Mom said to me. (You’ve put on weight.)

“Thanks.” (Can we borrow a lot of money?)

Bob proudly, though terribly, said the Hebrew for the lighting of the menorah. “Bo-ruch atah Adonai  . . .  .” (I wonder what the hell I’m saying.)

“Good job,” my dad would say. (What a yutz.)

“Mom, Dad,” I finally said on that fateful day. “Bob was fired. But it wasn’t his fault.”

“Of course not,” Mom said. (You’ve put on 10 pounds. Your hair looks like the slimy vegetable bits I keep trying to push down the garbage disposal. Your bra isn’t doing any lifting, if in fact you’re wearing one. It has finally become a blessing that you haven’t had children yet because if you did, you could only afford Spam and I don’t think Spam is kosher. And one more thing  . . .  I love you more than anything.)

Before Bob and I left, I hugged my mother. “Please don’t worry,” I said. (I hurt so much when you worry.)

“I won’t,” she said. (I’d rather bad things happen to me than to you.)

“Mom, Dad, I  . . .  .” (I love you more than anything.)

“Call the minute you get home.” (I miss you so much already, but I can’t tell you that or I’ll cry.)

“Bye, Mom.”


And so, as you can see, certain things should never, ever be left unsaid.

My wish this holiday season is this:
Let us be smart about keeping quiet when it would prove pointless to do otherwise.

Let us find the mettle we all possess, to say the things we should.

And let us dig deep into our souls to figure out which is which.