return of the festive teen-monster

Joanne Brill is a sophisticated grown-up. So why did she spend her family Christmas sulking, and watching 'This Is Your Life'?

Lunchtime on Christmas Day: my father stood, knife poised over the turkey, while my mother fretted nearby. "Is it cooked? Is it cooked?" She's panic-stricken and chewing her top lip - a habit that horrifies me all the more because I've recently inherited it. He carved a sliver. "It's pink, it's pink!" She was almost shrieking. "I knew it - ruined, ruined." My brother rolled his eyes at me and we both stared dispassionately out of the window. "For chrissakes woman, it's fine. Can't you see it's done?" my father said, dangling a chunk at her.

Panic over - she smiled, and expected my brother and me to share her relief. We're so inured to this ritual we barely bothered to raise an eyebrow. Perhaps we would have if the drama had differed at all from her performance over the last two decades. Instead, you could have set you're watch by the pre-lunch exchange.

Probably the single biggest let-down about Christmas with my parents is myself. I despise the inevitability of my 48-hour regression into a monosyllabic, stroppy teenager who, once settled in the family bosom, can only communicate in a series of grunts, whinges and cynically negative put-downs. Whereas my parents always stay the same, I alter quite drastically.

Staying with them at other times, I can just about keep a grip on my adult persona, but at Christmas the infant takes control. It kicks in around the second day with a point-blank refusal to put up any more Christmas decorations. "What about some tinsel round the pictures - like you used to do when your were at home?" entreats my mother. "No, Mum, the room looks better without them," I say, slumped on the sofa, eyes glued to This Is Your Life. "Would you like a gin and tonic, dear? I'm having one." "Yup," I reply and surprise myself by saying Please.

Four hours later and my mouth is set into a perma-scowl; one hand welded to the remote control, the other to the gin and tonic. I'm catatonic, deadened by a lethal cocktail of predictability. The Morecambe and Wise repeat: "Wasn't the big one lovely?" and "You forget what a good dancer the little one was." The Two Ronnies repeat: "Never as funny as the other two." Everything's a repeat at Christmas, including my own childish responses. Partly, it's because spending concentrated time with parents in your early thirties seems somehow unnatural. When you're not yet a parent it's harder to act like a grown-up in their presence. It's not a role they expect from you, so you resort to one that's taken 15 years to perfect; the whingeing adolescent.

Christmas Eve, I break with tradition and offer to cook my mother a meal - as long as she stays out of the kitchen. Within five minutes she pushes her head round the door. "Mum," my voice is a petulant whine. "I can manage on my own." "I just wanted some mineral water. I wasn't going to interfere," she says, walking to the fridge. She hovers, scrutinising my gloopy-looking cheese sauce bubbling on the hob. "Look," I snap. "Please let me get on with this myself." I feel her eyes on me as I hack through an onion. "There's a sharper knife than that on the draining board. It's much easier than that blunt old thing." "I'm absolutely fine with this one," I snap, reaching for the sharper knife without her noticing. She leaves me to it and I feel churlish that I can't accept her advice gracefully.

Later on we sit down as a family to watch TV and my mother, mid-laugh, glances from the TV screen to me. Her look implores, "Isn't this hysterical? Why don't you laugh along with your father and me?" Ignoring her attentive stares, I grit my teeth and look deeply bored. My brother flicks to Reeves and Mortimer and my parents look acutely baffled. I affect a raucous laugh. "Don't know what the fuss is about these two," my father mumbles, leaving the room closely followed by my mother.

Later on, my brother and I slink out to visit friends, lighting up cigarettes on the doorstep as we go. "That's it," I say firmly, in time-honoured tradition. "The last Christmas I'll ever spend at home - next year I'll be doing something completely different." If only it were true. Instead, I chew my top lip and resign myself to being more predictable than my parents.

The next day there are fond embraces when I leave. The relief that Christmas is finally over sinks in as I shut the car door and watch their smiling faces diminish in the rear-view mirror. The taste of freedom may be swiftly tainted with guilt, but for a few seconds the journey back to adulthood seems blissful.

What the parents say ...

Dorothy Morris, 74, retired teacher, and husband Albert, 76, retired solicitor: Michael is 36 and he's come home every year since his wife left him. He arrives on Christmas Eve and leaves on Boxing Day, and it's three days of misery. He's got a good job, but he just feels sorry for himself all the time. It's terribly hard making jolly conversation with someone who's determined to be miserable.

Susan Baxter, 43, shop assistant, and husband Stephen, 45, builder: Louise has been at art college for two years now. She came home again this year and in some ways we weren't looking forward to it, even though we love her very much. We're not trendy, we're middle-aged people who like our home comforts. Louise has got all these wild ideas about decor and taste and always goes on about how the house is done out. It really annoys me and we always have an argument about it, especially over the decorations.

Dorothy Samuels, 53, office administrator: It's not so much my daughter as my son-in law who's a problem at Christmas. He lets the kids run riot, helps himself to the remote control and the contents of the fridge, and completely ignores the fact he's staying in my house. Because I'm a widow there's no man to put him in his place. I can never understand why my daughter married him - her father was never like that.

Janet Moodie, 58, painter: My children are all adults nearing their 40s but when they come home for Christmas they revert to being teenagers. All the squabbles they used to have 20 years ago come back and old gripes resurface like they'd never been away. I've moved on and I expect them to have moved on. They expect me to make an effort at Christmas because I always have, but I find the catering financially and physically stressful. Yet pride won't let me fall by the wayside.

Patricia Stowe, 62, receptionist, and husband Brian, 63, retired police officer: This year, two of my three daughters settled back home after living abroad for years. The third joined the Royal Navy this year and she came home for Christmas, too. It was weird because we're so used to being on our own. As you get older, you get set in your ways and the girls are used to running their own homes. We all had to adapt - not easy.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

    £18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

    Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

    £40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

    £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

    £20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

    Day In a Page

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future