By Saralee Perel

This season, certain relatives we haven't seen since last Christmas (because we kept making excuses) gather together. During festive meals, we sharply elbow loved ones sitting next to us. This is to discourage them from snapping back at innuendos that loved ones sitting further away are spewing.

Sibling rivalry is a brief adolescent phase that ends at age 92. It stems from the fact that most kids have distinctively different ideas as to what their parents are really like. And we each know our perspective is the RIGHT one.

Back when my parents were alive, the whole family met for holiday dinners.

My folks doted upon on my perfect/skinny/refined/rich brother Michael.

Dad to Mike at supper: "How's the government (meaning high paying) job going?"

Me, interrupting: "Bob makes money too." Bob sharply elbows me.

Mom, assuming I'm on a diet because – well, I should be, dollops skinny Mike's potato pancakes with sour cream. And me? I had to dollop all by myself. Can you imagine the hurt?

Me to Bob: "Tell everybody the things we buy . . . the really good things like . . . we have a car."

Mom to me, with a look of compassion I always detested, because I would have truly preferred a fight: "Is something wrong, honey?"

Me: "Hah! As if you don't know."

Mike to me: "It's wonderful to see you. I've missed you."

Me to everyone: "Mr. Perfect here is obviously trying to start something," I say victoriously as I dramatically exit in my "Sarah Heartburn" (as mom always called it) style.

Bob has two older sisters, Dottie and Lucy. His parents doted on him. The girls hated that, but Bob sucked it up. The girls show this resentment differently. Dottie is sarcastic.

Bob to Dottie at a Christmas dinner: "Do you like your school nurse job?"

Dottie: "I love it. It gives mum and dad a WHOLE LOT of time to ask me to do a thousand things for them and NEVER call you for anything. Not that if they did you wouldn't have some stupid well-rehearsed excuse. How's your job?"

Lucy is attention-seeking and – oh boy, timeout - Bob won't let me write an example. He's afraid if I do, she'll come over and steal silverware.

All right. It's Christmas for heaven's sake. The time of miracles. Let me role-play my fantasy holiday dinners.

Mom to me, while piling whipped cream on my sponge cake: "Don't you eat? You're just skin and bones!"

Me to Mom: "Poor Mike. With those hips, he's got to diet." I turn to Mike. "But not tonight, OK?" I spoon all my whipped cream on his cake.

Dad to me: "When I die, I'll die peacefully because I know how stinking rich you've made yourself." My parents toast me. But I add, "Mike's here too!" We all raise our glasses.

At Bob's family dinner, Dottie affectionately turns to Bob: "I want to do everything for the folks. I know you're busy, what with a dog to walk and all. But if you wouldn't mind just showing up only for special family occasions the way you do now, then you'll stay in the will and that would make me so happy."

Lucy picks up a sterling silver spoon and does not put it in her pocket.

And so, the holidays are the time bombs of the dysfunctional (like there's somebody who isn't). But I know 4 things:

1. I don't think this is the best time to bring up our issues. When is the time right? I don't know. Probably not at a once-a-year holiday dinner.

2. I love Mike.

3. I loved my parents.

4. I'm missing 7 sterling forks.

Award-winning columnist/novelist Saralee Perel can be reached at [email protected] or via her website: 

Her novel, "Raw Nerves," is available on Amazon: