Today is a warning for people who don’t do well in small rooms of packed humanity. People like me.
There are a number of accepted scientific words for this misunderstood condition, including agoraphobia, enochlophobia or demphobia.
None of those is accurate. My condition is more appropriately called “gthoomf,” as in “get the hell out of my face.” Sufferers of this malady have a hard time coping with small, compressed riots.
Sadly, two of the largest and most family-intensive holidays occur during the coldest season of the year, which means that they’re held inside.
It’s a math problem. As the average family ages, it becomes larger. Marriages, babies, grandchildren, adopted friends — over the years the number of people undermine what was once a relatively manageable holiday gathering.
But as the number of people increases, the family or dining room stays the same size. For example, we started out with six. In order of importance, they were my wife, three daughters, a dog and me.
Today there are 21.6 of us — my wife, three daughters, three sons in law, 8.6 grandchildren, two family-adopted friends, three dogs, and me — all sitting around the same tables in a room designed for the original six.
Note: I include a partial grandchild in the mix not because the fetus takes up room, but because every pregnant woman brings at least a couple of alternate personalities to any gathering.
With 21.6 of us around the tables, it gets really cozy. Packed that close means that someone has to step outside in order for my wife to take the turkey out of the oven.
Along with the increase in size is the increase in noise. Where we once complained about being able to hear each other chew, now we can’t even hear ourselves think.
For some reason human beings never talk around each other. We talk over each other. At our house the volume just grows until no one notices that a dog got its tail shut in a door 10 minutes ago.
In addition to the loss of space and the increase in noise, there’s confusion. The average family of grown children doesn’t have a boss. Smaller children know this and go nuts until the room becomes a centrifuge, with kids running on the walls.
I know what you’re thinking: “You should just be glad that all your family is close enough to visit.” Wrong. At the end of one these gatherings, my family should be glad that I don’t own a wood chipper.
Another note: Keep in mind that’s just my condition talking. I wouldn’t really dispose of my wife or any of my grandchildren that way.
Christmas is also tough for gthoomfer sufferers. It’s one thing for 47 people to gather around a table and another for them to gather against a tree.
Most Christmas trees really only have one side because it’s typically placed in a corner or against a wall and braced with a mountain of gifts.
In my family we gradually scaled back the size of the Christmas tree. We went from the full, ceiling-scraping, sap-dripping one that occupied half the room, down the size chart to a small imitation tree that stood on an end table.
Last year, we had a picture of a Christmas tree taped to the wall. When the grandkids came over, I shined a flashlight to make it appear festive. Next year, we’ll just spray some pine scent in the house and pretend.
Or not. With the birth of the next grandchild in March, we might not have room enough even for air freshener.
Robert Kirby can be reached at email@example.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.