An eerie stillness

Since the kids are finally* back at school and therefore are unable to "help" we started taking the Christmas stuff down.

Every year since our first Christmas as husband and wife, we have had the same argument starting on or about Jan. 2nd...

Me: Why don't we start slowly putting stuff away? A little every day so that, by the 6th [the day after the 12th Day of Christmas] it's all put away with minimal stress.

Since every year the Christmas decorations have to come down in one gulp, there is every danger the kids will volunteer to help and the last time that happened we had to head over to the Emergency Room. Twice. (There is nothing like your wife and somewhat bloodied youngest child looking up at you and your somewhat bloodied eldest child with that "What are YOU doing here?" look.)

So, it all being put away in one mad dash -- TFBIM's Tax Season starts within the next week or so, at which point I go into SAHD mode -- we were able to reflect back on the whole Christmas season.

Here's what we discovered: We have to count our blessings, even if our sons reflexively attempt to self-immolate in the presence of glass Christmas ornaments. Three separate times friends of TFBIM were over at our house to "drop off** something" and asked, with some incredulity if "It's always this quiet in this house?"

We were thinking our kids were making a Hell of a racket, but we said it was always like this, yeah.

Stunned, amazed silence.


And we were inevitably regaled with stories of how at THEIR house children were often going at each other with machetes or conventional weapons, or were holding screaming contests to see which kid could scare the cat into psychotherapy, or were otherwise engaged in a sport which combined the more disagreeable aspects of yodeling and Peruvian kickboxing.

In the meantime, NOS was reading some book on the Incas and NTS was playing some fun-but-educational game on the computer. (I was trying to beg off the conversation myself, that I could get back to my reading, but meeting with little success.)

A hint as to why this might be came to me one late afternoon when TFBIM called me and said "D. and her kids are coming over to play."


Now, I like D. But her kids (ages 5 & 7) are a bit wearying. Within 5 minutes they are like two wildcats holding a grudge accidentally locked in a small cupboard. Then there's the matter of timing. Whenever a friend of TFBIM and her offspring show up around, say, 5:30ish it is clear to me (and to them!) they intend to sponge off some dinner from us.

That means TFBIM will demand we have to make a little more of an effort or, worse, we all have to pile into cars and go somewhere, which, after several days and evenings of eatfests (this being the Eating Until You Rupture Season) I am disinclined to do. So we feed them.

Now, on this blog, dear Internet, I present to you a true-ish picture of me. It's true because I really do behave pretty much as you see here. The "-ish" bit is because I don't behave the way I would prefer to and spend much of my life censoring my rather, er, unique views and wildly uncharitable and judgmental opinions.

But, to show you how much I care, I will let you take a peek at a little judgmentalism on my part. Now, I'd never in a billion years would dream of expressing this in person, but I am of the opinion that an excellent litmus test for parents is how their children behave at the table. So, for example, I believe Poppy and TSMSM are excellent parents on the strength of Master Buxom and Poppette pretty much behaving at mealtimes. Now, how Poppy herself may feel about her maternal skills is stingingly irrelevant to me. Her kids behave, she's an excellent mother, the end. If someone puts his children to sleep in an Iron Maiden or a Catherine wheel and then is dissolved with guilt, or whether she shouts a ceaseless torrent of expletives and zaps them with a cattle prod...none of this matters.

Anyway, at mealtimes we developed a simple rule for the kids eating: "Take what you want, but eat what you take." I spent enough of my childhood in the 3rd World, looking at GRINDING poverty and hunger and the idea of wasting food is appalling and inimical to all I believe. I don't make my kids eat more than they want, but they do have to eat all they choose to put on their plate. (I don't, I'm grateful to say, have too much of a problem getting them to eat their vegetables.)

So here come D. and her kids. In order to feed this crowd on short order, I decide on a roll-your-own fajita fest. Most of the stuff would be leftovers which I am recycling (but that's on a "need to know" basis and they don't need to know) that can be stretched by the very nature of fajitas.

So D.'s kids help themselves to a mound of stuff and everybody starts eating. D.'s youngest -- who had asked for The Works -- has two bites and immediately starts pestering his big brother. The big brother, besides the added burden of being pestered by his little brother, also has to shoulder the sorrow of Buyer's Remorse. He stares balefully at his plate, wondering "Sweet Mother of Mercy, what HAVE I DONE?" at the sight of all the fajita ingredients waiting patiently for his assembling.

The little brother will NOT be ignored and eventually decides to compare, for texture and seasoning, his fajita with his brother's right tricep. The big brother smacks him and, taking this as a golden opportunity to not eat dinner, stands up and wanders to play with some toys which were littering the adjacent living room's floor. He is recalled to dinner. His little brother, having apparently enjoyed tormenting his sibling, begins to laugh like Renfield. The big brother assembles his fajita morosely, takes two bites himself and then wanders away to go play with more stuff.

D. recalls him to the table in a way which signaled to me, in an unambiguously clear and inarguably unmistakable way, that he is NOT used to being recalled to the table at home. Then the youngest one started pitching a fit because he didn't want to eat the food he had served himself. D. herself attempted some half-hearted explanations along the lines of "I don't know what's gotten into them." or "They're not like this at home." (When in fact, they are probably JUST LIKE THIS at home...)

Eventually, after many turns of one of the kids wandering off or the other mewling painfully at the prospect of having to ingest something, dinner ended. The kids went back to playing, more or less quietly, and then D.'s husband, answering my prayers, said he was on his way home. The whole raft of them departed, but not without grumbles (or peals) of complaint on the part of D.'s kids to the effect they didn't wish to leave this, our most excellent home.

The thing of it is that we like D. and her husband. We think*** they are good parents. But I'll be hanged if I saw any attempt at discipline. My guess -- and it's only that, a guess -- is that at home she mumbles something ineffectual when the kids act up, then mumbles again, and then yet again and then, having reached her limit, explodes in a volcanic outburst of parental frustration.

Which is never the sort of approach which leads to good table manners.

-J., who enjoyed the calm immensely

*Amen! Praised be the Lord! Hosanna! Alleluia! [insert joyful bells here]
** This is widely held to be an excuse to leave the house and go to someone else's house for several hours
*** "Or used to," I muttered darkly to myself


BabelBabe said…
my children behave at the table or they are sent from the table and then made to eat by themselves (with a parent monitoring) after every other civilized person is finished. maybe not nice, but effective. at least as effective as the cattle prod (and I somewhat relieved to hear you won't hold that against me).
Joke said…
Was that a pun about the cattle prod?

Effective trumps nice ALWAYS.

Poppy Buxom said…
You seem to have forgotten Poppette announcing loudly "TOO MUCH TALKING!" and then disappearing under the table for the rest of the meal.

But I haven't.
Joke said…
That was before you discovered your parenting excellentness, and thus you have been absolved of everything.

In fact, the last time we had lunch with TSMYM and the offspring, they behaved exceptionally well -- although given how voluble she was, it was a rich irony Poppette had once said there was too much talking -- and as a reward, TSMYM rewarded them with a dessert which was nothing short of a cinder block of chocolate.


P.S. That was SIX years ago.
Poppy Buxom said…
Yes, but the scars still linger.

As for the purported good behavior that resulted in the chocolate anvil for dessert--remember, I wasn't there that day.

Isn't that always the way?
Joke said…
Are you suggesting you're the paragon of motherhood in absentia?

Joke said…
P.S. NOS has always considered that episode conclusive proof that Poppette is the brightest comic genius of her generation.
blackbird said…
If I may take a moment to it possible that D (whom I have no desire to defend AT ALL) was not comfortable 'disciplining' her children at your home?

Your post illustrates yet another reason we did not have our children two years apart.
Frogdancer said…
Hey Blackbird, I had four boys in five years! (I'm very goal oriented.... I was trying to make a girl. I gave up in disgust after the fourth male child and had myself speyed...) We now have a rule where we only have female pets.

When the boys were little, people we didn't know well were reluctant to invite us over,sure that we were going to be the travelling Frogdancer whirlwind of destruction. It was always really nice to have all the compliments at the end of each first visit. The boys are being raised under the firm philosophy of "I want them to enjoy their childhood, but I want everyone else around them to enjoy it too."
Joke said…
bb - It's possible...but I doubt that was it.

FD - There should be billboards emblazoned with your countenance, to show people "SEE? It can be done."

Stomper Girl said…
So if my kids behaved nicely at the table but were unenthusiastic about the food due to their being fusspots would that be okay?
We are still at the stage of constant - eat with your mouth closed, don't leave the table unless all have finished AND you have requested permission - etc etc.

Very wearing.

Presumably worthwhile.
Joke said…
I believe BabelBabe may have a cattle prod she's not using at the moment and with which she may readily part for a very reasonable sum.

h&b said…
"wildly uncharitable and judgmental opinions"

Hello, are we talking about me ?

Not saying I am proud, mind you, but it is me.

We are VERY big on table manners, and on behaviour here. I do not like wildcats, and I find it very hard to turn my lips into an upwards smile when confronted by such ( I manage a flatlining grimace at best ).

We eat politely, we finish our mouthful before speaking, don't make a mess or play with our food and engage in lighthearted and interesting conversation.

And no, I am not a shrew, the boy is just like me, and I think we were both born adults.

You so KNOW i'm in for it with the second, don't you ? I do worry.

I don't like the type of children that aren't like me & the boy ....

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