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There’s a reason that Victorian-era parents made their children eat in the kitchen with the governess instead of in the dining room with the rest of the family. Maybe it was because children are loud and interruptive. Or maybe those parents didn’t want half-chewed bits of food smooshed into their carpets. There might even have been a few families who wanted to complete a conversation with their spouses rather than have half a dozen failed starts: “You’ll never guess who I ran into today…yes, I heard you say you wanted ketchup.” “The funniest thing happened at work…be careful with that knife! You’re going to cut yourself.” “Did you read that article in the Times this morning? People are saying…will you please stop bothering your sister? And would you like to explain why you’re out of your seat?”

“Experts” tell us that Family Dinner is the most important ritual we can establish for our kids. Indeed. Well. They do not live in my house.

Dinner-time for our clan is chaotic. Adding to the ebb and flow of our non-starting adult conversations are the kid interjections and announcements: “You forgot to pack a snack for me today.” “My pants are wet.” “I don’t like this.” “Stop talking, I’m talking!” And the attempts at family conversation: “How was school today?” “I had a great day!” “Yes, we’ll talk about your day in a moment, but I was talking to your sister.” “Why don’t you like this?” “I just don’t. Can I have dessert?”

I prepare mostly healthful meals; the kids eat mainly bread and butter. I can guarantee they’ll eat only if I serve chicken nuggets, spaghetti with meatballs on the side (no sauce), pizza, or hot dogs (no buns) with french fries. If they discover that I am making something to expand their pea-sized palates such as Caribbean lentil stew or even vegetarian lasagna, they’ll load up on afternoon snacks and whine through our meal. I tend to wine through these meals, too. Red works better than white.

The other night, Small wandered into the kitchen while I was chopping onions and mushrooms for chicken marsala. “Ugh,” he exclaimed. “Can’t we have chicken nuggets?”

I decided then and there that I was done with the clamor for compressed poultry products. “No! You will eat what is put in front of you. I am not a short-order cook and this is not a democracy.”

Large took up the fallen standard for his brother. “Actually, it is.”

“Not in this family, it isn’t.” I chopped fungus with vigor.

“Well, then that’s communism and you’re a dictator. Revolution, guys!”

“Rev-o-lu-tion, rev-o-lu-tion, rev-o-lu-tion…” The three of them crowded around me, chanting.

Victorian-era parents managed to eat a hot dinner in peace. If only I had a time machine.

I’d put the kids in it.

Piggy is our family’s mascot and Small’s near constant companion. She has become so threadbare that I fear it will not be long before Small literally loves her to pieces. I have patched her, re-stuffed her, and darned her to the best of my abilities. When I am outside of Small’s hearing, I refer to her as “Frankenpig.” I’m quite sure Piggy doesn’t mind; she cares only for her kid.

A couple of weeks ago, Medium went to Disney World. Without us. She didn’t go alone (obviously) but she wasn’t with any of her immediate family members. She accompanied our friends and their seven-year-old son, A, who are friends-like-family or “framily” to us. (See how I can make up words just like the media? Brangelina, what?) According to her own and eye-witness reports, Medium had a ball and hardly missed us. It’s possible that she didn’t miss us at all but I’m unwilling to consider that because I missed her terribly and couldn’t wait for her to come home.

We live about four hours from Boston, and she flew in and out of Logan International Airport. The day before she was scheduled to return, my husband and I drove to Beantown with the boys and painted the town Piggy-pink. We hit Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, the Boston Museum of Science, Harvard Square and the Hilton Boston Financial District. We rode the “T” multiple times, much to Small’s delight, and listened to a lecture on rockets given by MIT students. We also terrorized the staff at the Harvard Coop Bookstore but there’s no photographic evidence and some things are better left unsaid.

I put together a short movie of our trip as much to document our family’s experience as to record Small’s first love. Music is “Fall Creek” by Bill Hammond downloaded via Enjoy!

Piggy’s Adventures in Beantown from OINKtales on Vimeo.

Robert Frost meet Taro Gomi

I’m fairly certain that this is considered an inappropriate subject but I am going to talk about it nonetheless. This is one advantage of being a little-read blogger. Another is that you don’t have to send out the annual Christmas newsletter because your friends and family have been reading installments all year.

I want to talk about poop. Every member of my family has a poop thing. A few of us like to disappear into the bathroom with reading material and hang out for an indecent amount of time. One of us doesn’t check to make sure he has wiped well enough and so another of us is constantly finding skid marks on his undies on laundry day. Somebody has to be constantly reminded to flush. But when it comes to making Number 2, no member of our family can top the pooping rituals of our family dog.

I’ve explained previously that Paco is a runner. He is, therefore, leash-bound. I am thinking he has some beagle in him because his nose is permanently attached to the ground as soon as we step outdoors. Three seasons of the year, this is fine. Our neighborhood is close to wooded walking trails and in the woods, he is happy. His curly tail bounces, his mouth splits in a doggy grin. When he sees an evergreen scrub tree he circles it like a predator, pees on it several times and then, if the leash holder is lucky, one of his “marks” will turn into a three-legged poop. It’s bizarre. He balances his weight on his front paws (the same paws that he tends to pee on) holding one of his back legs out to the side while arching his back. If a scrub tree is not available, woe is the walker for Paco will only drop the bomb if he is backed up into something prickly. He prefers hemlocks over spruce and pine; he eschews all hardwood varieties. Occasionally, he’ll decide mid-spin that the setting is not quite right and will abort the poop by tugging his human companion to another tree, thereby causing him or her to complain loudly about how weird he is.

Winter has just begun and Paco has already decided that the fluffy white crystals covering his static prey have made them undesirable. The white stuff has so muffled the smells of the woods that it is taking him longer and longer to do his business. When his handlers’ fingers and toes are numb, they beg him to poop on something. When he doesn’t, they conclude he has had ample time to go and will trudge back to the house through the knee deep snow muttering obscenities. On these failed poop days, he will attempt to sneak away to a corner of the living room, release his bowels, and then frolic around in a happy dance. He is often successful. Once, he squeezed out a stealth poop on the cushion of our friends’ couch minutes after we arrived at their house where we were staying for the weekend.

I am at wits end. He is making me crazier than I already am. My children are no longer in diapers. I am done with other mammals’ poop. Is there such a thing as Metamucil for dogs?

The backpacks are packed and lined up in a row next to the front door, which is open so I can listen for the whine of the school bus’s brakes. The kids are up, washed, dressed and picking at their bagels like birds. They are too excited and anxious to eat. It’s the first day of the school year.

Large leaves first, pushing his glasses against his face as he trudges to the bus stop. He is nervous about riding a school bus full of high schoolers (“They’re animals, Mom. Some of them shave twice a day!). I reassure him. Then I tell him to find a seat in the front of the bus.

Medium goes next, after happily posing for first-day-of-school pictures with her younger brother. She can’t wait to get to her classroom and see her friends.

Brendan and I drive Henry to his pre-school. In no time at all, he is busy in the sandbox playing with another kid, whose name I didn’t catch even though I made him tell me three times.

I drop my husband off at work, nod when he reminds me to call the repair shop that is holding our other vehicle hostage, and loop home. From the couch, the dog acknowledges my return by briefly opening his eyes and twitching his tail a couple of times. He continues to nap as though I hadn’t interrupted.

The silence is deafening.

I take a deep breath. And then another. I do not turn on the radio. I do not turn on the television. I allow the quiet to envelop me and I revel in it.

Last week another mom said to me, “I’m so sad when they all go back to school. I miss them so much during the day.”

I managed to hold my tongue but my eyebrows hit my hairline. “Mmm.” I said.

I love my kids. I do. But I do not spend one minute of the nine hours a week that I get to be alone missing them.

Someday, I am sure that I will re-read these posts and remember my children when they were still children and I will, in fact, miss them.

But that time is in the distant future. Right now, this man’s joy is my own:

The kids and I spent the morning strolling the streets of Rockport with my father-in-law; mostly window-shopping but occasionally wandering into a souvenir shop (of which there were many). My mother-in-law and G.G. had wisely parked themselves on a shaded bench in the park and waved us on hours before. As the sun climbed higher in the sky and the kids’ blood sugar levels plummeted from salt-water taffy spikes, I suggested we head back. My father-in-law shook his head: “There’s one more store we have to visit.”

The kids took up the chant, “One more store! One more store!”

I sighed and assented. There is no persuading my father-in-law once his mind is made up.

He set off at a brisk clip down Bearskin Neck. Small, Medium and Large trotted after him like he was piping a tune on a magic flute. The gap between us grew larger and so he was 30 feet from me when I saw him reach his destination. I actually gasped in horror when I saw the sign:

He and the kids tromped in. I stood outside and took this picture.

You get what you deserve.

And I felt I deserved a moment to myself.

(In all fairness to my father-in-law, who is a wonderful man and grandfather, the House of Glass has a lovely toy store in the front of the building. While I might not have allowed the kids to walk past hundreds of dollars of breakable items just to get to some toys, in the end, nothing was broken. And as they say: All’s well that ends well.)

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