My wife, Elisheva, and I were on our way to stay with my folks for Rosh Hashannah. It’s a six-hour drive from Chicago to Cleveland, but we knew it would take longer this time because we were bringing our newborn and our puppy.
The other thing that would be different this time is that both of my grandmothers, now widowed, would also be staying with my parents.
So my wife, who was driving, expressed her concern to me that this holiday would be nothing but a stream of criticism aimed at her. She listed the topics she was sure she would be criticized about.
Maybe it was being on the road, but I flashed on the idea of Car BINGO. You know, the game to keep kids busy in the back seat before they had individual DVD players for them built into the car. Car BINGO is played by the kids looking out the windows and checking off, on a card, things they might see— a cow, an oil truck, a campground billboard— instead of a caller yelling out “N-34!” First one to fill their card and yell “BINGO!” wins.
So I said, “Why don’t we make a game out of this criticism thing? Every time you get criticized on one of these areas, we’ll call out the corresponding letter. First one to BINGO wins.” Here’s what we came up with:
B was for Baby. When a grandmother criticized Elisheva for how she cared for the baby, we would each try to be the first to call out “B!”
I was for Injury. My wife had complications from her C-section including a poorly-healing incision, a wrenched shoulder, and nerve damage in her leg. Any criticism on how she was managing the pain, or dealing with doctors on the subject, would result in us calling out “I!”
N was for Nursery. Elisheva works from home but does intensely detailed financial work. She is also on the road several days each month. So she put our two-month-old in day care, which was sure to elicit some “tsk”-ing from my bubbies. Were that to happen… “N!”
G was for Good-for-Nothing— i.e., the dog. Any negative comments on the fact of having a dog, or the danger a dog could pose to the baby, could trigger us racing to call out “G!”
O was for Obesity. My wife gained a perfectly normal, healthy amount of weight during her pregnancy, but was unable to work out to get rid of it— see entry “I” above. Still, she expected to hear about how she had not lost the weight a full two months after the baby was born. If she did… “O!”
We had prizes, too. If she tallied a full BINGO from one grandmother, I was to buy Elisheva any and all snacks she wanted when we went to the roller derby for her upcoming birthday weekend. If she won the coveted “Double-Bubbie BINGO,” and racked up full BINGOs from both grandmothers first, I also had to take her to a movie on her actual birthday.
If I called out a full BINGO first, she was going to bake me cookies for my upcoming birthday. If I “doubled,” then I got a cake.
Both of my grandmothers wear hearing aids, and had no idea we were doing this. My parents never asked about it either, if they even noticed.
As it happened, my grandmothers surprised us and largely kept their opinions to themselves. Yes, we were each able to call out a few letters each for each of them. But not a full BINGO from either.
Elisheva did rack up more letters than I did, so we declared her the winner, and I am still taking her to a movie. Poor me.
Reframing the oncoming criticisms as a game and contest made the whole ordeal much more bearable and even enjoyable. When a sensitive topic came up, instead of bracing for impact and readying our defenses, we instead tensed like game-show contestants clutching our buzzers in eagerness. And instead of cursing under our breaths, we giggled to ourselves.
I highly recommend “Bubbie BINGO” to any and all couples visiting relatives, or having such relatives visit them. It works for in-laws, too, and whether or not you have kids.
Come to think of it, you might even need the game because you have no kids.