How A Children's Picture Book Saved My Holiday Break With Family

I think we can all agree that 2016 has not been a "picnic." I can’t remember looking back on a year with so much disappointment. An escape from the daily grind was more necessary than it’s ever been in recent memory, but I as I flew out of LaGuardia airport heading to Colorado last week, a small bubble of anxiety was rising up that I could no longer ignore.

I have a large, loud Jewish family (which sounds like the beginning voiceover of a holiday movie, I know). Normally I’d pack my bags, touchdown in sunny California, and chill out for seven straight days during a well-earned break. But this year, The Family decided to convene all together in Colorado for a long overdue family reunion.

Now don’t get me wrong: I love my extended family dearly, and we get along better than most families of this size. But it was hard to imagine cramming 40 of us in my uncle’s house, the ratio of members over 50 and members under 12 greatly disproportionate to those of us who are within the 20s to 30s age range. So needless to say, there were some generational barriers to breach at the very least. Combine that with the "great political divide" (thank you, 2016 election) and the countless family feuds that have accrued over the years, I knew this situation was a time bomb just waiting to go off.

Combine that with the "great political divide" (thank you, 2016 election) and the countless family feuds that have accrued over the years, I knew this situation was a time bomb just waiting to go off.

Not generally content to await catastrophe, and as the self-appointed "fixer" in the family, I let my publicist brain take over and decided that I should try what I recommend to anyone who will listen to me: read a book! I’ve used reading to solve almost every problem I’ve ever faced— either imaginary or real. Why couldn’t a book a help calm tensions over the holiday break? I mean it certainly couldn’t hurt.

So what do you do when testing out a new product? You conduct market research on a sample group, or in my case: The Boodgies.  The Boodgies is the stand-in name for the youngest generation in the family at any given moment in time. At one point in my life, I was part of The Boodgies (my great-grandfather used this word to describe his grandchildren, my mom and uncles). By now, my tier of cousins has reproduced a whole new generation to wreak havoc, and their specialty is with each other.

I think it’s important to point out that all of them are boys. It’s easy to look over the horde of limbs and missing teeth and think to yourself that you could be in a wacky reproduction of Oliver! The Musical. They kick, they bite, they throw things, and they yell, all performed with a devilish grin imbued with magical powers that forces us adults to forgive them for even the most heinous of crimes— like pushing brothers into a frozen pond because "why not?"  Like I said, perfect market testers.

After an incident that involved a light saber and someone else’s eyeball, I thought it was time to test out the picture book I had brought (on day 2). Hug It Out! by Louis Thomas is a gorgeously illustrated picture book that tells the story of two siblings who are forced to hug until they stop fighting with another. Apt? I thought so too.

Once their respective fathers (my cousins) were through admonishing them for rough housing inside, again, I pulled the two Boodgies aside and told them I had a special project I needed help with. Reluctantly, looking daggers at each other, they followed. I showed them the book, opened it up to the spread of these two siblings fighting and then hugging, and told them that’s what they had to do: hug. They looked at me like I was nuts. "I’m not hugging him," one of them said, while the other grabbed the first and put him into a gentle chokehold. "I will!" He exclaimed, looking like the devil himself.

Obviously this needed some finessing, but eventually I got them to sit back to back and turned it into a game to see who could sit still the longest. They tied at 3 and a half minutes— a world record I think.

They looked at me like I was nuts. "I’m not hugging him," one of them said, while the other grabbed the first and put him into a gentle chokehold. "I will!" He exclaimed, looking like the devil himself.

Flushed with this success, I ran into the kitchen to boast of my parenting skills where my aunt and my mom were in a non-silent cook-off of "who makes the best latkes" (an annual ritual). I regaled the tale and showed them the book, not accounting for the fact that my entire family was huddled around the stove to witness the dueling latke show. Within a matter of seconds my anecdote became an instant joke for the whole family— to my utter delight.

For the next few days, every time an in-law rolled their eyes at a grandma, or an uncle made some inappropriate comment about our current political climate, or a sister or brother had a meltdown over the unfairness of their presents Santa brought, we referenced the book: "Just 'hug it out!'", someone would say (usually my uncle who is the jolliest of men and could give Santa a run for his money).

While sarcastic in nature, and used mostly for humor, the point remains that simply using the phrase "hug it out" calmed tensions for the rest of the week— I witnessed it; it worked.

I’m not foolish enough to believe that this picture book is the Holiday Miracle we were waiting for. I actually have to admit that my family was (for the most part) on their very best behavior. Maybe it’s because this year has been such a godforsaken drag, or because we have a few family members dealing with severe illness and we’re all suddenly very conscious of how we spend our time together, or maybe it’s just because we have so many little babies doing adorable things it’s impossible to stay angry for long.

While sarcastic in nature, and used mostly for humor, the point remains that simply using the phrase "hug it out" calmed tensions for the rest of the week— I witnessed it; it worked.

Whatever the reason, the sentiments that are right on the page of Hug It Out have never been truer or more relevant. Affection is the basis for healthy relationships, you can’t stay mad when someone gives you a warm, gushy hug or wet, sloppy kiss— even if they did just push you and your dog into a frozen pond full of slimy Koi fish.

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