Ask Helen

Dear Helen,
Every time my parents come to visit something goes kaflooey. It’s like we are cursed. I have broken out in severe attacks of eczema. My husband had a car accident. Our daughter needed an emergency appendectomy. The water heater died. The cat died. That’s not all but I want you to keep reading. My folks are scheduled to visit during Hanukkah. Honestly I’d prefer a quiet weekend at home with the doors locked and the phone unplugged over another catastrophe. I love my family, but my kids are beginning to think that their grandparents travel in a bad supernatural vortex. Can you explain this seemingly doomed confluence of people and events or make a suggestion about how to avoid another calamity?

Dear Yikes!
Yes, statistically you’re describing an unusually high frequency of annoying, even serious, events. “Calamities” are relative. I’d pick all of them over, say, a life-threatening diagnosis. Sometimes bad things happen to good people at exactly the wrong time. You’ve convinced me that there’s lots of stress when it’s time to get together. I’m curious if the same types of things occur when your husband’s family visits.

Also how do your parents feel when they come? Do they think they’re seeing normal life in your household? Do they act as though they’re part of the stress, politely ignore what’s happening or jump in to help and resolve what’s happening? Assuming you want to have your folks continue to visit, I’d recommend finding a way to bond over these disastrous visits. Try turning them into great family stories of the “Do you remember the time when …” variety. Once you all start laughing, the stress will abate and I’m betting the number of disasters will drop precipitously. That sure beats having your children grow up thinking they come from some accursed line. The alternative: meet them in some resort, but try to avoid zones known for hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes. (And warn the rest of us where you’re headed.)

A resident of Eugene since 1981, Helen is a member of Temple Beth Israel, where she studies and speaks on Torah. She claims to have black belts in schmoozing, problem-solving and chutzpah. She’s a writer and an artist ( Please email your questions to and check out the blog at

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