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As part of his school’s curriculum this Spring, Large has the opportunity to take foreign language classes – French and Spanish. He chose to start with French; I suspect largely because some of his north country friends are bilingual and it has always fascinated him that they-along with their parents-can carry on entire conversations “in code.” I thought I fully understood his desire to crack the code having spent many a meal at friends’ houses where my conversational contributions were “Oui,” and “Je ne comprend pas.” But, non.

A few weeks ago, one of these French speaking families was visiting ours. We were eating lunch at the fabulous Burlington institution, Al’s French Frys (if you haven’t been, you must – your arteries will not thank you but your salt-and-grease taste buds will). Liam was graciously pumping ketchup into little paper cups for the group when I remembered to mention it to his eight-year old buddy.

“John*, did you know that Liam has started taking French at school?”

“Yeah, I know,” John replied. “He asked me earlier how to say ‘stupid idiot’ in French.”

“What did you tell him?” John’s mother and I chorused in stereo.

John shrugged and picked up a vinegar-drenched french fry.  “Stupide idiotte.”

Quelle fantastique.  Liam’s French teacher must have loved that one.

*Not his real name.

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We are eating lunch. Henry picks at the PB&J he requested. I am devouring a freshly-made garlic and herb turkey wrap that I impulsively procured from a gas station deli. It tastes like manna from heaven. I am too busy stuffing my mouth to make conversation.

“Mom?”

I freeze, mid-chew. Oh no. Here it comes. Had I insisted that he try some, he would have refused. But when I’d rather not share, he decides he wants some.

“Can I have yourth?”

I hand him half my sandwich in silence, selfishly hoping he won’t like it and will hand it back. This is a good bet since it is stuffed with banana peppers, red onions, chopped lettuce and tomatoes.

He takes a bite, then nods his head vigorously. “It’th good.”

“Really? You like it?”

“Yup. Did you know dere’th bacon in dere?”

Why, yes. Yes, I did. Damn that delectable smoked swine.

I relinquish my meal with only the slightest hint of a grimace. “Good for you for trying something new.”

On the bright side: Less sandwich now means more Girl Scout cookies later…

Periodically, I order the kids to do household chores but I don’t do it with any consistency. One day, I might tell them to put away the plethora of toys in the toy room (a.k.a. our basement); two weeks later, I might beg them to strip the sheets from their beds. Is it any wonder that they aren’t tidy?

Feeling grumpier than usual after our daily recitation of insults and injuries (a.k.a. family dinner conversation), I put Medium and Large to work clearing the counter and putting dishes into the dishwasher.

A little while later, passing through the kitchen, I overheard the following exchange:

“There are no monsters living in this house.”

“There are too, Nora. I’m telling you. Haven’t you heard them bumping around at night? I’ve met them. I know.” Liam’s voice rang with eye-witness authority.

“I don’t believe you.” Her shaking hands knocked one of the dinner plates against the faucet. “Whoops.”

“Believe it. They’re really scary. They have these big eyes and you know what else? Wh-what was that?” He spun around, pretending he heard something. Facing his sister, he lowered his voice and said, “They don’t like me talking about them.”

Nora froze, cup in hand. Her five years of experience with Liam’s practical jokes warred with the delicious possibility of living with an honest-to-goodness monster.

“I’ll tell you their names in case you run into them. They’re names are—and don’t blame me if you’re terrified,” he paused dramatically and then grinned, unable to keep up his charade. “Frank, Earl and Carl!”

Together, they laughed so hard they hardly made any noise.

She caught her breath first. “Frank!” she said. “Get to work!”

I had spent the afternoon repurposing leftovers because I am the only person in our family who doesn’t mind reheating and eating meals in their original form.

The ham bone was simmering in the dutch oven on top of the stove when Liam opened our side door and started kicking off his boots. He sniffed the air.

“Mmm. What’s that great smell?”

“It smells good, doesn’t it?  It’s pea soup,” I answered.

“It can’t be pea soup; I hate pea soup. Seriously, what’s that delicious smell?”

“It’s still pea soup.”

“Yuck,” he grumbled. “What’s for dinner?”

“What do you think?  Soup!”

“Can I have leftovers?”

My family is no more (or less) dysfunctional than others—like most, we have our secrets and quirks. However, on the holidays, we drag out our best behavior along with the good china and we gather together. Each of us strives to avoid the hot button issues that we know will ignite old arguments and we all uphold the small traditions to which we are accustomed, at least obligingly if not effortlessly.

As a teenager, I was far less accommodating. I would sulk in corners and make disparaging remarks, then disappear before the dishes were cleared from the table. I’m not sure how my parents withstood my insufferable attitude.

Now, with every passing holiday, I appreciate my family’s particular flavor of dysfunction a little more. Although I cannot dispute that we are an acquired taste, it is one that I prefer over any other.

My husband and I, along with Small, Medium and Large, celebrated Thanksgiving day with my parents, my sister, and my brother and his family. Our blessing went like this:

“BlessusoLordforthesethygifts,whichweareabouttoreceivethroughthybountythrough
ChristoLord,Amen.”

“Give food to the needy,” my mother added her normal intercession.

“And world peace,” my husband said quietly.

I shot him the Not Now look.

“Oh, yes,” said my mother, gathering momentum for a longer prayer. “And bring our troops home safely and….”

“Yes, yes. That’s fine,” my non-Catholic father interrupted. “Let’s eat.”

Driving home after feasting like Kings—an incredible meal that I know took my mother all week to prepare—I asked the kids what they were thankful for.

“Family,” said Liam.

“Yeah, family,” said Nora. “And for the stars.”

Pleased, I turned in my seat to look at our littlest angel.

“What are you thankful for, Henry?”

“I am thankful for….mythelf,” he said smugly.

I guess he hasn’t acquired the taste as yet.

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