(This post was written by De Kenyon, who’s my middle-grade kids’ book persona/pseudonym. You can find more about De Kenyon books at www.DeKenyon.com.)
Holidays can be a very stressful time for kids. Yes, there’s Christmas with its promises of presents, but there’s always this threat hanging above your head: be good or Santa will throw your presents in a fire and stamp on them until they turn into coal, which he will then put into your stocking to torture you. Even Thanksgiving, where likely all you’ll be called upon is to “be good” for a while then eat, is fraught with peril. The entire holiday season has low-level background music playing: one false step and you’re grounded, kid.
Worst of all are the Unwanted Relatives.
The two-year-old with sticky hands and a passion for ripping pages out of your comic books.
The bossy girl who is two months older than you are and who continually justifies her rudness by saying “…because I’m older than you and I know better.”
The adult who thinks you are still that sticky two-year-old and talks to you in the same squeaky tones he uses on his pet chihuahua, which proceeds to wee on your blankets (the dog, not the adult…).
The horror never ends!
And so let me present to you a list of ways to entertain these terrifying intruders, distracting them from your most precious possessions, tricking them out of excessive baby talk and other belittling behaviors, and entertaining yourself in the process:
- Identify your safe area. This will be the place you will hide if events become entirely too much for you.
- Identify your stash. These are precious possessions that you cannot afford to lose, have destroyed, see in the grubby hands of Cousin Dork, etc.
- Place your stash in a safe area, if possible. DO NOT place anything you wish to hide under the bed. This is the first place anyone under the age of fifteen will look (the first place anyone over the age of fifteen will look is in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, incidentally). Try the top of your closet, behind the most boring possible books on the bookshelves, in the garage, inside of socks in your sock drawer, taped to the bottoms of shelves, or any other difficult-to-get-to location. Do not hide anything in a place that would make a good hiding spot in a game of hide and seek, and never hide anything in the trash!
- Identify your most annoying targets. Are they young or old? Tall or short? Full of energy or really just wanting a nap?
- Now that you have a profile of your targets, write down a list of five things they are likely to be interested in. For example, young children might like candy, small dogs, running around in circles for no apparent reason whatsoever, playing hide-and-seek, and eating crayons. Older teens might like video games, snacks, saying mean and sarcastic things, talking on their cell phones to their friends, and avoiding adults.
- Now the fun begins. Take any two or more items on your list…and combine them to inflict maximum distraction on your targets. For example, you might fasten a wrapped piece of candy onto a small dog’s collar, then turn it loose in the back yard in order to run pointlessly around in circles. Or you might set up a video game with a pile of snacks next to it in the basement for two teenagers, who will keep themselves amused by saying sarcastic things to each other instead of to you.
- Take advantage of the distraction. At this point, you do not need to hide. It is only once the distractions have worn off that you may need to retreat to your safe area.
Emergency tips in case your original ideas are not distracting or are not distracting for long enough:
- Get in so much trouble that you are sent to your room (alone). You may regret this later, though.
- Find a slightly less annoying guest that you can hide behind/hang out with–and who can protect you. A buddy next door or a cousin you like can also work.
- Cough or sniffle a lot, or fake throwing up. Nobody wants to catch a cold from you.
- Insult them in a secret code. Hint: don’t use pig latin on anyone over six.
- Using actual itching powder is rarely as much fun as mentioning all the baby spiders you found in your room yesterday. When asked to describe them, say, “Small and black, like a big pile of pepper, and with lots of little legs, and they crawl on you just…like…this…” and then gently tap your fingers on the backs of their necks.
- Burst into tears and refuse to explain why. Note: Only do this if you can really burst into tears; fake tears will just get you more torture.
- Bring a whoopie cushion into the bathroom with you and squash it every time someone knocks on the door. Then say, “Just a minute” and whine softly.
- Start helping with kitchen cleanup. I know, I know–this is torture. But if we’re talking about a true emergency, this can work. If you are helping out, then you can’t be dragged off by the teenagers. Stay in visible, well-populated areas to avoid the really serious bullies and creepazoids.
- Scream and blame it on the excess sugar, if necessary.
- Hide in your designated safe area. You’ll probably be found, but sometimes you just need a breather. Note: Do not do this if you’re dealing with a creepazoid or bully; they’re probably hoping that you disappear somewhere quiet…so they can pick on you some more in secret. In that case, hang out next to the adults.
Remember, the holidays are supposed to be a time of rest, relaxation, and enjoyment, and with a little forethought, you can avoid the torture of having unwanted relatives foisted off on you, just because your parents were obligated to invite them. If your plans work out, you can even earn some additional brownie points–because believe me, the adults want them to be distracted as badly as you do.
If you enjoyed this useful article, please check out my short story “The Secret of the Cellar,” about a very clever girl who plans ahead for her annoying cousins…by setting up a haunted house in the basement. You can find it at B&N, Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords, iBooks and more.