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There is three feet of snow on the roof and medium-sized icicles hang from the edge. The three-day forecast includes temperatures above freezing.

With a heavy sigh, I reach for the following:

Wool socks
Long underwear
Ski pants
Fleece hat
Insulated gloves
Snow shovel

Oh, the joys of being at home during the day.

“Nora, I’m going out onto the roof. You know the drill, right?” I say, my hand on the doorknob.

“Yes!” she yells from inside the hastily constructed “fort” in our family room. “No! Wait!” She sticks her head out. “I forget. If you fall off, do I call 911 or am I supposed to check on you first?”

You’ve gotta really love Vermont to live here in the winter.

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!”

Once a year, my husband tries to grow a beard. He has not succeeded mostly because his facial hair tends to sprout in patches, which, as it grows longer, looks remarkably similar to the coat of a dog afflicted with mange. Being the supportive wife that I am, I mock him endlessly when he makes these attempts. I don’t know why he puts up with me.

It’s funny how differently things look to a four-year-old.

Small was on the toilet, doing some deep thinking. “Daddy?” he called, “How come you got-th hairth on you fayth and arm?”

My husband grinned at me and wandered into the bathroom to talk to his son. “Well, buddy, that’s just the way God made me.”

“Huh,” Small said, disappointed. “Den God made me pwain.”

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:


“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.

Walking into a department store, I admonished the kids: “Now remember, we don’t need any more toys.”

“But what about Christmas?” Nora asked.

“Oh. Hmm. Well, I guess that’s different,” I responded. “Santa and the elves need their jobs.”

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