Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Peaceful Disquiet


Last night I was awoken by the dulcet tones of my children bickering in the kitchen.

This was not a new phenomenon. What was new, however, was the way I reacted to it. Rather than getting up and shooing them away (because I’ve learned the hard way that laying in bed and yelling at them is pointless—the yell without the glare has no real power), instead I lay there smiling to myself. Even when the argument carried over into my bedroom, and therefore within glaring range (there has never been a “no fly zone” when it comes to the airing of grievances in my family), I still reacted favorably. Why? Because listening to them argue with each other made me realize that they were both home, and safe, and I knew that when I finally settled the argument (“you’re both wrong”) and shooed them out the door, I would sleep much better for knowing that. And besides, I knew that if I could hear them arguing they couldn’t be getting into that much trouble.

What can I say? When it comes to my children, silence is not golden; silence is suspicious. And it always has been.

The only time they have ever felt the need to be quiet is when they are trying (usually unsuccessfully) to get away with something. Crashing, banging, and shouting? All good. Deathly silence? They’re in the middle of painting a catsup masterpiece on the wall. Or worse.

The same is even more true now that they are teenagers. Bursting through the front door in a cacophony of dropped backpacks, kicked off shoes and shouts of “I’m starving: do we have any food?” means there was a normal day at school. Slinking in and actually hanging up the backpack and putting away the shoes? Probably something bad happened, maybe even so bad that I should expect a phone call in my very near future.

But as much as I appreciate the fact that a noisy child is typically a guilt-free child, there is more to my love of a noisy house than that. There is also the feeling of contentment that comes from a house filled with noise, or rather, as I like to think of it, with life.

Think of all the times you’ve stood outside a house and heard the susurrus of conversations, the gentle clink of cutlery against china, and the sharp sound of the occasional laugh spilling out of an open window. There is just something comforting about it, whether you are a member of the party yourself who has just stepped outside for a breath of fresh air or a stranger passing by on your way to somewhere else. In the same way that the glow of a campfire still soothes something primordial in us, the sound of other people—especially other people enjoying themselves—quiets our deepest fears of being alone.

But wait a minute, you say—how can you liken listening to your children argue to listening to strangers have a good time? Well, for my children, arguing with each other is having a good time. At the very least it is comfortable, like the ratty old shirt you put on after a hard day at work.

Because the nice thing—and sometimes the awful thing—about families is that we don’t need to be polite. We don’t have to couch our complaints in compliments and platitudes, or even take the office route and hang up passive aggressive shaming notes. When we are displeased, we let each other know. Sometimes loudly. Almost always rudely. And, very frequently, in the middle of the kitchen in the middle of the night.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Uno is Coming


In my house, the Uno cards are kept in a special bag, one with the words, “Shut Your Whore Mouth,” written on the side. My friend Mari brought the bag back for me from a trip to Vegas, and while I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the use she originally imagined for it I can’t help but think that she (and all of Vegas) would be happy with where it ended up. After all, Vegas is a town known for cut-throat card games, and in my house, nothing gets more brutal than Uno.

Let’s start with the rules—or rather, the lack thereof. When we first started playing Uno as a family, one member of the family (who shall not be named, but his initials are D.A.D.) tried to insist that we play by the “rules.” The rest of us scoffed at him, first because we didn’t believe that Uno actually had rules, and then, after he went out and bought a new pack of cards just to get a copy of the rules, because the rules were dumb. Not all of the rules, mind you, just the one that says you can’t lay a “Draw Four” on someone if you have an alternate card to play. That rule just seemed like unnecessary interference into the Free Trade Free For All that is a healthy game of Uno. It’s a Nanny State rule in an otherwise Libertarian game. The whole point of Uno (I think) is that, one, it teaches children that the world is nothing but formlessness, chaos and void, and that the only order that exists is the order we impose upon it, and two, that life isn’t fair. Sometimes you get a “Draw Four” card slapped down on you over and over again for no other reason than the fact that your sister is sitting next to you and she is still angry that you took the last grape popsicle.

Which brings us to the second Uno “rule” that my family has chosen to disregard: it turns out that some people, apparently, insert their own rule into Uno decreeing that you never have to draw more than four cards at a time, no matter how rotten your luck is. The reasoning behind this rule is that making children suffer is upsetting for them. To which I answer, well, duh, of course it’s upsetting. That’s the whole point of Uno—to piss other people off. What, you thought it was a game of skill? It’s a game of schemes. A pack of Uno cards should be on the banners of at least half of the houses in Game of Thrones.

Which brings us to the final rule that my family regularly flouts: the “no cheating” rule. True, this isn’t an actual rule listed in the rulebook, and also true, most families don’t even feel the need to spell this one out (like the “no murder” rule, some things are just assumed), but in my family cheating is just considered another strategy.

Leave your cards visible? Expect to have your hand looked at. Hesitate for even a nanosecond to perhaps clear your throat or even breathe before you acknowledge your single card status? Expect to have shouts of “UNO!” rain down on you. And finally: get up to go the bathroom, take a phone call or engage in any “non-Uno” related matter and expect to find your hand liberally stuffed with extra cards upon your return. Smart enough to take your cards with you? Then expect to have the deck stacked against you when you get back. (Quickly stacking a deck is something we all learned to do in our Candyland days. If you never learned this then that means you either never had kids or are still playing the last game of Candyland you started. I hope for your sake it’s the former.)

Some families, I’m sure, pass on other, healthier traditions to their kids. They volunteer at the food bank for Thanksgiving, or adopt a stretch of highway to keep clean. And I’m sure the children in those families all grow up to be happy, healthy and productive members of society—benefits to mankind each and every one.

God help them if they ever sit down to play a “friendly” game of Uno with my kids.

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