It was 8 p.m. on a cold Minnesota night, and my vision was obscured by flurries of snow and decomposing wiper blades. I was late for home. When I arrived, 11 sets of eyes turned toward me. (Twelve, really, counting my boxer Chocky Locky). They were sitting in the dining room, and the evening meal had just started. I washed quickly and took my seat at the table.
We have a large dining table that seats 12, but our current dish service—due to an unforeseen disaster—has only 11 settings. Thus, our service was at its maximum capacity. Tonight’s crowd included my wife and me, a grandmother, four offspring of various genders and a female teenager of unknown origin, a male preteen well-known to the household, and two young females who had sat at the table before.
As per standard operating procedure, each person at the table began to speak at the same time. Eventually order was established, though this was at best a transitory phenomenon. We received reports on each participant’s day, with highlights of lunch hour mayhem, recess riots, and general curricular boredom.
I began to question the unknown teen: name, age, place of origin, habits, and so on, but my history taking was interrupted. My younger son wanted to relay the results of an important test he had taken. He had passed and was now certified to use punctuation. I turned to resume my history taking, but made the important physical exam observation of intense eye rolling on the part of my daughter and her friend. This is a well-known physical finding in this age group and one that generally signals a pre-seizure threshold that I did not want to further induce.
After an intense nutritional session that included all major food groups and several minor ones, there were several short, unscheduled presentations. The grandmother gave a long and interesting family history with highlights of a great-great grandfather, who had been a freelance horse thief for both the Polish and Russian armies, and his son, who had been—alternatively—a gambler, a rabbi, a communist, and a union organizer.
After this history lesson, we received a fascinating report from one of my male offspring entitled, “proper placement of the hand and axillae, combined with repetitive flapping movements of the arm, to elicit an auditory stimulus similar to flatulence.” Much hilarity ensued.
It was unclear whose turn it was to clear the table. The schedule was not available, and several of the offspring cited work limits they would hate to see abused. Eventually the job was done with only minimal threats of withdrawal of privileges. As I prepared to resume my reading, a call went out for transportation services. It was time to discharge one of the visiting children to her abode. I was happy to decrease the numbers in house, though I would have been happier to see our numbers go even lower. Our length of stay seemed to be rising daily. As I attempted to initiate the transportation home, I realized we had to go through the checklist. Do you have your scarf, your gloves, and your shoes? Did you have a good time? I considered a policy of no readmission in 30 days, but it was voted down in a team meeting.
I returned from transportation duties, and I sat quietly for a moment and looked at the Times and the Post-Bulletin. These were papers I had been waiting to review—especially the comics. But something always seems to come up when one has papers to review. My youngest daughter and her friends needed my guidance on an art project. I had hoped they would see one, do one, teach one, but I had to repeatedly sketch the face outlines for them to color.