Thursday, June 22, 2017

Toilets, Dating, Little Brothers

There’s nothing quite so beautiful like a clean toilet.

If you’ve lived with little boys, you know what I’m talking about. I’m obsessed with sparkling white toilets. To the point that when I’ve visited friends, if I use their bathroom and their toilet is dirty, I’ll clean it. I’m that neurotic about it.

Sometimes I talk about this with friends who didn’t grow up with little brothers or any brothers at all and they have no idea what I’m talking about. Sure, a clean toilet’s better than a dirty one, but…? Obviously they’ve never lived in a house where they regularly had to clean the toilet before they could use it. Their toilets were never permanently yellow-gray and sticky.

I’ve survived four little brothers (I’m the oldest and only girl) and sometimes people say to me, “Wow! You’re really prepared for marriage!” which is a horrifying thing to say to a single young woman. On my list of “Top 10 Things To Say To Guarantee Nina Becomes a Spinster,” it’s at least #3 and just barely above “women tend to marry men like their fathers” and “you’ll spend the rest of your life with them!”

Nobody ever qualifies this statement, so I’m left to stew in fear. Hopefully, they meant, “Wow! After four little brothers, living with anyone would be an improvement!” What I’m worried they meant was, “Wow! Your spirit has already been broken and you’re ready to live with a part-man, part-monkey beast that eats all your food, communicates in grunts, smells like a middle school locker room, and leaves dirty underwear lying around!” Excuse me while I look up directions to the nearest nunnery.

(WikiHow has an article on how to become a nun. Did you know that? I’ve looked it up many, many times. True, I’d have to be baptized a Catholic first, but there’s no part where you have to renounce your Mormon membership, and to be honest I think God understands these things.)

Whatever these well-intended people meant, they were right. Dealing with little brothers has prepared me for life. It makes up 80% of the reasons why I know I’ll be a great nurse - someone’s bleeding? No big deal. Clean it up and get on with life. Gotta change diapers on the elderly and clean them up? Also no big deal. It’s just the wrinklier version of stuff I’ve already seen. (Unfortunately, little brothers don’t prepare you for the older gentlemen who, uh, prefer female nurses to help them bathe and clean up. You’re already clean, sir, I’m not wiping you again. Let’s get your pants on. Ugh.)

Not only that, growing up with little bros has played into my dating life as well. Take, for instance, my one and only Tinder date: (I only lasted a week, so stop judging.)

He seemed nice enough on his profile, so when we met up at Jamba, things seemed ok at first. About twenty minutes in, I knew I wouldn’t date this guy ever. I try to give men a chance - say yes to the first date, don’t expect rainbows and butterflies, don’t judge them by first impressions, etc. But this guy was way too Utah-y for it to work. We didn’t have much in common and he was super Mormon (I’m not talking about core Mormon beliefs. I’m talking the unwritten, cultural rules that are stupid but everyone follows and then judges others for not following. YES THOSE GIRL’S SHORTS SHOW HER KNEES, AND WHO CARES, THEY’RE JUST KNEES, SHE IS NOT SEDUCING ANYONE WITH THOSE KNEECAPS, SO CALM DOWN, JANICE).

But he didn’t pick up on that. He thought I was great. I thought I wanted to be done with this date, and then I was going to go home and delete my Tinder. (I did.) I finished my smoothie. He finished his. I waited for us to get up and leave so I could go home. But he kept talking and talking. I lasted for maybe ten minutes of conversation while giving subtle signs I needed to go, like throwing away my smoothie, picking up my bag. He didn’t notice. I knew I needed to take drastic measures, so I subtly changed the conversation.

Him: So, what are your plans this summer? Are you going to visit your family?
Me; Nope. Which is a good thing, too, because my brothers poop.
Him: ?!?!?!?!?!?!?
Me: Yeah, I grew up with little brothers. It was so nice to go to college and live with girls, because maybe they’ll be gossipy or catty but at least they won’t poop on my stuff out of spite, you know?
Him: ……...I guess?
Me: Oh man, the stories I could tell.

So I started sharing random childhood stories about my brothers being weirdos when using the bathroom. I figured it’d freak him out, you know, make him think, ok, maybe not this one, she’s a little unbalanced, who talks about poop on a first date? But after being thrown for a few seconds, HE JOINED IN. That’s right. HE LIKED IT. He thought I was “down to earth” and “funny.” NO, MAN, I’M CRAZY. TAKE ME HOME. So I tried other topics. I shared my cockroach horror stories from my time spent in Houston. Unfortunately, he’d lived in Louisiana, and he had better ones. What finally got him to realize I was crazy, in the end, was my story about my job as a nude model. (Technically, I’ve never been a nude model, but that’s a story for another time.)

You might think that’s an extreme example. It’s not. It’s actually the third best date I’ve ever had. Not because I’ve only been on three dates, but because my dates are spectacularly bad.

A woman in my church who’s a theater professor at a nearby university wanted to set me up with one of her students. She got us free tickets to one of her plays (Noises Off, 100% recommend), and when the guy came to pick me up, he let me pick the music on the drive up and it turned out that we had the same taste in music. Pretty great so far, right?

So we’re asking get-to-know-you questions during the drive (the play was an hour away). We talked about where we’d grown up, school, favorite things to do, the usual. One of my favorite icebreaker questions is “What animal would you reincarnate as? So, I asked him.

Him:.....(long pause)....Well, I’d have to say anything that was cannibalistic.
Me: (laughter) I’ve never gotten that response before!
Me: (continuing to laugh because it was pretty funny)
Me: (looking over and not laughing anymore because I just realized that he hasn’t laughed at all.)
Me: Uh, that was a joke, right?
Him: No, I think cannibalism is actually really cool.*

So all I can think is, OF COURSE I would go on a date with a serial killer. Hey, there hasn’t been any news about girls going missing, or being eaten, so maybe he isn’t a murder. OH SWEET HOLY CHEEZE-ITS ABOVE, I’M GOING TO BE THE FIRST VICTIM. THEY WILL FIND MY BONES YEARS LATER, THE FLESH PICKED CLEAN OFF. THEY’LL IDENTIFY MY ROTTING SKELETON BY THE TEETHMARKS HE’LL LEAVE ON MY BONES.

Here’s the thing about brothers (well, this applies to siblings in general): you learn to fight. And you learn to fight and hurt them as quickly as possible, because you’ve maybe got only a few seconds before Mom separates you. So if you’re going to fight, and you’re both going to get in trouble, you might as well do as much damage as you can. Sure, maybe you’ll spend extra time in your room, but nothing can take away the smug satisfaction of knowing you won, and they’ve got the scratches and bruises to prove it. Saying sorry will not negate a black eye. And when you’re the oldest and only girl, and you have four boys under you, you have to maintain that pecking order at all times.

So I looked over at him and calmed down. He may have had thirty pounds on me, but I had two inches on him and I have grown up with brothers. I know how to fight, and I am excellent at fighting dirty. I am prepared. So instead of freaking out or texting 911 or sending up my last prayer to Heaven (ok, I will admit I was sending up a few choice words), I looked him over and assessed him for weak spots. He probably thought I was checking him out, but I was just mentally preparing myself to bite.

(Tangent: the next person to bug me about my love life is getting dragged along on my next date. This kind of crap happens regularly. We’re not gonna talk about the guy who wouldn’t shut up about his love for The Notebook, the guy who told me I was “cool” but he was gonna date this “cute girl” he really liked and if it didn’t work out he “might get back” to me, or the guy who already had a girlfriend.)

I guess those people are right, brothers really do prepare you for life in a different family. Arguably, they’ve prepared me to see men as gross, impulsive creatures that I’ll be stuck with forever, so thanks for that trauma. The good news is, if they can at least aim when they go to the bathroom, I think I can live with it. For now, I’m just glad my roommates don’t hold farting contests.

*These are direct quotes. They’re burned into my brain and will probably stay there for all of time. Unfortunately, dating therapy isn’t a thing.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Sometimes I Like To Run Away

I have a gift for you today.  I'm about to make you feel soooooo much better about your Unfinished Project list.  If you do not have an Unfinished Project list because you just never have time for projects, then you will feel better because you will see how much you really didn't have time for and is not now clogging up your life.  If you do have a massive Unfinished Project list, then you will still feel better because yours is not nearly as wildly absurd as mine. If you do not have an unfinished project list because you always finish all your projects, and promptly display them in your home with coordinating decor and finishing touches, you need to go volunteer somewhere.  You have too much time on your hands.

My gift to you today: here is a partial list of the unfinished projects randomly strewn around my house, along with the amount of time said projects have remained incomplete.  (My definition of incomplete project: these are projects I have purchased supplies for and begun actual work, not just an idea floating around my head or one item I might have bought somewhere along the way intending to add more elements later.)

The List:

A fish/pond themed quilt to match the other fish/pond quilt (completed) for the west bunkbed.  14 years.  The boy for whom I was making this no longer abides in that bedroom.  Or fits on to a bunkbed.

A leaf/forest themed quilt to match the other leaf/forest themed quilt (completed) for the east bunkbed.  Also 14 years.  Ditto on the boy.

A new valance for my family room window in a fabulous soft red satin tapestry with dragon flies embroidered on it.  Three years.

A lovely birch shelf for my son's bedroom, to be stained a dark walnut to match the chair rail.  7 years.  (I think the wood for this has became part of a trebuchet scouting project, so this one might be off the list by default.)

A scrapbook of my daughter's high school years.  8 years.

A scrapbook of my oldest son's high school years.  6 years.

A scrapbook of my second oldest son's high school years.  2 years.

A scrapbook of my third oldest son's high school years.  Graduated last week.

My wedding scrapbook.  28 years.

My college scrapbook.  30 years.

(I'm beginning to think I'm a TERRIBLE scrapbooker . . . )

A sci-fi book series (three books planned as of right now, first book 3/4 written) based on the fourth dimension of our world -- time.  3 years.

A fantasy book series (four books planned as of right now, first book 1/2 written) based on human existence after death, interaction with the living world.  7 years.

A fantasy children's book series (indefinite number, 2 written, 3rd planned) based on my mother and her siblings as children interacting with a magical world in the forest.  10 years.

So the quandary I always find myself stuck in the middle of is this: do I actually have ADD or am I just an erratic non-finisher?  Is that the same as ADD?  Because it kinda sounds like it.  Not being able to stick to one task through to the end because you keep jumping to a new project is the definition of a deficit of attention, I am thinking.  Being unable to stick to a task for three decades has to win some kind of award for deficit longevity.   But the thing is, it gets worse.  Add to the Unfinished Project list my normal day's To-Do list:

Dinner (Needs to be healthy but something everyone will eat.  And isn't spaghetti again. Where can I hide the spinach?  Do I already have some thawed meat I need to use?  What else needs to be used up in the fridge?  Gah, that's my grandmother's catch phrase.)

Laundry (Finishing all the laundry today isn't really possible, gotta get at least three loads of towels done out of the boys bathroom, need to wash all the kitchen dish towels since the boys used them to floor surf, oh and I have no clean pants. Minimum of 5 loads then.)

Vacuum the stairs.  (What are those marks?  Is that mud?  Oh please let it be mud.  But I think Jeff did go out to the cow field earlier today. Uuuuggghhh)

Call the Billing Office at the Pediatrician.  (Pretty sure I paid this.  Didn't I pay this?  Maybe that was for the other kid.  Hmmm.)

7 trips to the middle school.  (I swear, I am enacting a law that items forgotten at home stay forgotten.  Even shoes.  I mean come on, how did we get all the way to the school without noticing you weren't wearing shoes?!)

3 trips to Walmart.  (I WILL make a list this time.  Good grief.)

Exercise (Only 42 days behind.  No problem.)

Do something with the garage (Like maybe burn it to the ground.)

Drop off bag of boy clothes at the local shelter.  (Do NOT let them rattle around the back of the car for another month!)

Download last 7 of Jonathan's WA State History assignments (Which means de-bugging the scanner and figuring out why it's not on speaking terms with the computer.  Again.)

Email the school photographer to order copies of all the school/team photos Jacob forgot to tell me about all year long. (They want how much for one 8x10?  But the download is three times more?!  Ugh.  Well, kids only graduate once.  Thank goodness.)

Call the Health Insurance carrier AGAIN to figure out if they've determined if we actually exist yet. (Don't even ask.  Seriously.  It's ridiculuous.)

Finish one project.  (Yeeeeaaaahhhh, probably not.)

It's always a tie between getting depressed over the length of the daily to-do list, including the number of things that get rolled on to the next day's list week after week, and getting depressed over the number of things I didn't finish because I completely forgot to put them on the list.  Because that's a whole separate category to consider: Crap I Completely Forgot About That Sometimes Includes Picking Up My Kids From School/Practice/Scouts.

So I decide to quit and run away into the world of books.

I tumble into the world of Amelia Peabody Emerson, Victorian-era archeologist and early champion of both women's rights and owning up to your own absurdity.  Amelia discovers tombs, solves capers, catches criminals, thumbs her nose at people telling her what she should and shouldn't do, runs a large house, and manages her family.  I could do this.  I think I would make a fantastic Victorian female archeologist.  I KNOW I would be fantastic at flouting convention.  I begin to feel a little robbed of my true calling as a crime-catching, world-traveling, adventure-journaling suffragette.  Amelia never had to deal with clogged toilets, she got her house staff to do it.  She never toiled over a dinner only to have her son declare it to be "disgusting."  The cook got that honor.  You know, the one that wasn't even allowed upstairs.

Hmm.  I think I have solved part of the problem.  Obviously my housekeeper and cook got lost in the mail.  Soooo many of my issues would just go away if I had my designated housemaid and cook.  This is a whale of an oversight.  Who do I call for that?  The postal service?  Is that just FedEx?  Is it Health and Human Services? But no.  No, the person I need to call is my SHRINK who can remind me that Amelia Peabody is MAKE BELIEVE.  Fictional characters don't have to worry about all kinds of things that weigh down real people.  It's part of the "Doesn't Really Exist" package.  Maybe if Elizabeth Peters had written about the full glories of pooping in the 1890's, detailing the wonder that was the Victorian London (nonexistent) sewer system, in a multi-layer dress including serious hardware, and without the help of modern day tp, I would be less tempted to pine for the fictional.  I mean really, that's just kind of a baseline for me.  Flush toilets and tp.  Call me spoiled, but there you are.

All thoughts of pre-public sanitation life aside, I begin to see the actual answer.  It's not me.  It's the LIST.  The list is too bleeping long.  I might actually be ADD, but there's no way of really knowing because NOBODY can actually remember and accomplish the quantity of necessary crap on my list!  I've read studies before that delineate how no one can mentally multi-task more than about seven things in their brain at a time.  That is to say, process, consider, solve, ponder, remember, sort, etc.,  seven things.  If you add something to your already-full plate, something is going to get pushed off the side and in to the abyss of forgetfulness.  That's just how the brain works.  It really isn't me.  It's my list.  And it's really isn't you.  It's your list.

It would be nice to say, "So burn the list and run free in the wild!"  But we come back to the whole "well, I actually do like living indoors and eating hot food, so I'd better remember to pay the bills," aspect.  We have to live with the list, but we don't have to be ruled by the list.  We are the writers of the list and we can decide what goes on it.  The new valance for the Family Room can go.  It's neither necessary nor fueling my creative needs anymore.  Sorting out the health insurance fiasco has to stay on the list or it's going to exponentially suck up my life's energy.  Dealing with the garage can wait.  Really.  There's a door there, I'll close it and voila!  No more messy garage.

And thus, I manage the list.  Yep it's still long, yep it's still there.  But I let go of the guilt and stress it tries to slather over me by prioritizing both my real world needs (the health insurance) and my own personal needs (creative outlet through blogging, for instance.) One trick I have learned along the way is to add awesome stuff to my list each day, stuff I really do want to do that is more important than we generally credit:

Take a nap
Bake cookies
Read for an hour
Watch funny videos with boys
Paint toenails bright green
Try a new brand of chocolate bar

See?  Add a few of those to your list and you'll feel so accomplished at the end of the day!  The list generally stinks but it can be a help as we take charge of it.  It doesn't just have to be a list of what we failed to do.  It can be a gauge of what we did accomplish, which is almost always way more than we give ourselves credit for.  Spending time laughing with our families is vastly more valuable than having clean towels.  Resting your mind and body so you can not only function as an adult but also enjoy your tasks is way more critical than vacuumed stairs.  The towels and stairs will get done, but remembering their relative importance is vital to our sanity and happiness.  The day/week/month is going to pass no matter what.  Let's fill it with cookies and toenail polish, along with the laundry and dishes.

I still think the universe owes me a maid, though.  Somebody get on that.

Monday, June 12, 2017

I Could Have Been A Queen

It's the forty-seventh argument today.  I can hear the muted bellows and roars coming from downstairs, through the closed door and the floor joists.  I have no idea what it's about, but I can't take anymore ibuprofen for another hour, so the squabbling needs to STOP.  I sigh, heave myself up off my bed where I've been trying to re-route an impending migraine, slog to my bedroom door, and swing it open.

"William and Alex!  Knock it off!  Seriously, what is the problem?!!"

Absolute silence ensues.


I lean over the railing to look down upon my offspring and unleash the Glare on them.  They look back at me with . . . anger.  And it's anger directed at ME, not at each other.  Are they serious?  How dare they!  They will toil in the depths of . . . oh wait.  I know why they are glaring at me.  The two combatants are not William and Alex, neither of whom have actually lived in this house for quite a very long time-- almost two years in one case and SIX in the other.  They are Jonathan and Matthew. And they are smoldering with ire. I have committed THE sin.

The sin of calling one of my children the wrong name.  In full disclosure and fairness to my boys, I NEVER get the names right.  I mean ever.  It's really quite ridiculous.  The one daughter really does get preferential treatment here, but only by default: there's only one of her.  We tried to acquire more, we really did.  Hence the reason there are so many boys in the house.  I cannot give you an accurate number of how many times my poor daughter looked at me, eyes full of tears, and pleaded "Just try one more time, Mommy?  Maybe this time it will be a sister?"  (cue wobbly bottom lip.)  After the last brother was born, I said to her, "Sweetheart, I have no idea how we managed to make you.  We only seem to be able to make boys.  So you need to ask yourself, how many brothers do you really want?"

She stopped asking.

It's not like naming those boys was easy, either.  We really slaved over the process, coming up with something we both agreed on AND fit said baby.  We don't fully decide on names until after the baby is born.  It's a thing I have.  I have to see the baby before I can commit to a name.  When our first son was born, it was going to be William or Alex.  The big bundle of (loud) baby was born and I knew, when I looked at him, that he was not an Alex.  This was definitely a William.  We didn't finalize it for three days and the hospital lady in charge of birth certificate . . . oh wait.  This is a funny story.  Quick tangent (kinda.  It actually is on topic).

It took us the full 48 hours of hospital stay to settle on a name for our oldest son.  But after much deliberation and googly-ooing at our beautiful (and, as I mentioned, remarkably loud and active) boy, we decided on William Rich Davis.  It's a very  meaningful name.  For three generations, the oldest daughter has named her oldest son William. (My oldest son, my mother's oldest son, and my grandmother's oldest son) And before that, the oldest daughter's father and grandfather were named William.  It's family name with a lovely history.  Rich, the middle name, is his paternal grandmother's maiden name.  It likewise has a long and noble family history of courageous pioneers and community leaders.

Having a heart full of sentiment and love, I sent my husband down to the birth certificate lady's office to officially record our son's cognomen.  Five minutes pass.  I hear footsteps thudding along the hallway.  The door to my room swings open widely and the birth certificate lady stomps into my room, waving a form in her hand.  My husband is behind her, grinning.

"He says the name is Bubba Leroy and I am NOT putting that on this certificate!"

Ah ha!  I'm having an epiphany!  My husband angered the child-naming gods with his shenanigans and this is why I can never (really never, it's a bit stupid) call my sons by the correct name!  Ya, that makes total sense.  The more I think about it, the more I am certain of my correctness!  Other names he has suggested for the kids include Skippy, Francois (wait, no, that's what he renamed his college roommate),  Actinomyces (a bacteria), and Tularemia (a disease).  And there were more suggestions like this, lots more.  I blocked them from my memory. Yep. Allllll his fault.

Seriously, it's not like we've given our kids super similar names that would be hard to keep straight no matter what.  People with identical twins who name them matching names are just masochists. They already look alike, WHY would you do that to yourself?

A number of years ago I thought I had stumbled upon a solution.  Why bother with names?  I should have just NUMBERED my kids!  To some extent, the teachers at school have sort of done this.  One of my boys has earned the nickname Cuatro, as in "Four."  As in, you're driving us so nuts, we're not even going to bother with your first or last name.  You just get to be #4.  After some thought, I realized, however, that a number would end up still being just a name.  AND I would have to keep track of birth order as well as actual names.  Waaaaay too much for me to deal with.

Honestly, they should just be glad I holler boy names at them, even if it's not the right name.  As one of five girls, I was very accustomed to being called Emifer.  And the sister just after me was Jemily.  And that was fine.  I could even deal with being called Offie (short for Ophelia III) our (girl) cat.  But when my dad called me "William" (see above for lovely family provenance of that particular name, which regularly goes missing from my brain), I kinda lost it.

"Dad.  I have FIVE sisters.  At least call me a girl's name!"

(I should not have whined.  A certain husband used to call our daughter 1) Rachel (his sister), 2) Daisy (the family dog) and 3) Betty (the name he gave to the mass of FLIES he used in his research class.) Her name is none of these.)

I really felt I had a decent case for righteous indignation, though.  Not only did have I have a nice selection of other female names he could choose from and thus summon me, I have a SUPER common name.  I believe the US census shows that exactly 102% of female babies born the year I was born are named Jennifer.  Those numbers might be a little high, but not much.  My dad didn't even have to think creatively to come up with my name.  He just had to holler the first name equivalent of "Smith!" Sheesh.

My freshman year of college, I found there were SEVEN Jennifers on my floor of our dorm.  Not one of us looked alike in any decisive way.  To me, this indicated that Jennifer did not suit me. I decided (in all the energy and genius that comes with being 19) that I was going to change my name!  Another Jennifer and I did an informal survey, asking random passersby what they thought each of our names were, to get a feel for what name might fit each of us more naturally.  And to fully demonstrate to all the world just how solidly "freshman" we were.  In the end, not one alternative name was suggested more than once, several people simply gave us pained look and walked around, and neither of us changed her name.  We're still both Jennifer.  I asked my mother once if they ever thought about naming me something else.  She said, "Oh yes.  In fact, the other name was our initially our first choice.  Victoria."

I could have been a queen.  But no, I am a commoner.  Sigh.

My pathetic woes aside, I came across an article recently that addressed the issue of parents calling their children by the wrong name and it turns out that no, I am not mean and thoughtless towards my children.  In fact, it is the opposite.  Calling Child A by Child B's name is the same as saying "I love you all equally!"  So take that Jonat, er Matth, er, you over there, glaring at me from the couch!  When a parent struggles to come up with the right name for the being of his or her own creation standing right in front of them, the name they struggled over for nine months and embroidered on towels and backpacks and coat collars, the name they command in sonorous bellows when discipline is required, the name that completely escapes them and gets replaced by the younger sibling's name at the moment of pronouncement, that act of blunder actually reflects equal love for all of the children.  There really are no favorites.  We swap one kid's name for another's because truly, they are all equal in value and importance to us.  In our moment of stumble, we genuinely demonstrate our profound attachment for all of our children.

SO THERE, you little stinkers!  I love all of you smelly boogerheads equally and I really do not have favorites and I really do not have to call you the right name because SCIENCE.

(Well, among my own children anyway.  Because once grandbabies come along, everyone else is a distant, distant second place!)

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Studies in Ethical Considerations 3.0: The Ping Pong Table

Recently I made a mistake.  Obviously this is not the monumental occasion that sentence seems to indicate.  I make mistakes fairly often.  At least once a year. Or maybe an hour.   Something like that, but who's counting. (No lie, one kid used to keep a list on his phone of every mistake I made.  That phone "went through the wash." Ahem.) On the infrequent odd cycle of the rising moon or whatever, I make a whopping doozy of a blunder.  This happened recently.

The set up goes like this: one husband, three teenage sons, an open checkbook, and an available, used, full-size ping pong table.  And, one of the key factors, I am not in attendance.  How could it be my mistake, you ask, you weren't even there.  But it was my mistake, dear reader, because I sent along the checkbook and the hint that the boys might be interested in the ping pong table.  I was thinking, "if we get the ping pong table, then the boys will have to clean out the garage and then I'll get both a clean garage and fewer boys in my house!"

I can't believe I was that stupid.

The ping pong table was purchased for an OUTRAGEOUS sum, but it was being sold as part of a fundraiser for our church youth program, and I'm generally ok with spending ridiculous amounts of money at these because I will end up spending that amount either way -- I either pay the full cost of summer camp per boy or I spend the same about at the youth fundraiser and acquire fun stuff as well as covering the cost for camp.  The boys wanted the ping pong table, I wanted a clean garage and for the boys to stop using my house as a romper room for large, smelly teen boys.  It seemed like a win for everyone.

Here is where it all went wrong.  Apparently the amount of space needed to set up the ping pong table is exactly the same amount of space that my kitchen table requires.  So, yes, instead of cleaning my garage and setting up the ping pong table in there, they shoved my kitchen table to the corner of the family room and set up the ping pong table IN MY KITCHEN.  You think I'm kidding.  I have pictures.

Initially, this obviously seems like a "well of course not" arrangement.  But let me take a moment to consider the ethical considerations of a ping pong table in the friggin' middle of your house.

1.  We live in house, not Chuck E Cheese.  Living in a Chuck E Cheese is every parent's idea of hell.  WHY would I set up my house like this?

2.  Because our house is "chuck" full (like my little pun there?  Heh heh heh) of giant children referred to as teenage boys who treat my house like a rec center anyway.  Might as well give them something focused to do so they don't throw the smaller boys around like pinatas.  This is not hyperbole.  It has happened.

3.  Where the heck are we supposed to EAT?  If the dinner table is over in the corner, where are we going to eat dinner?!  Let's be reasonable!

4.  Well, a ping pong table IS a table.  And the same height as a dinner table.  And bigger than the kitchen table.  More people can fit around it.

5.  Are we seriously having this conversation?  We are not having a ping pong table for a dining room table! It's a PING PONG TABLE.

6.  See how all the boys are consumed with ping pong?  And not fighting?  And setting up tournaments? And even hubby is in favor of the ping pong table and laughing with the boys?  It's really, really hard to argue with boys and dads all getting along and laughing.

7.  But it's easy to argue against teens blowing their cool because of losing a game and slamming their paddles on the tables in frustration.  And throwing ping pong balls all over the house.  And at each other.  And the decor.

8.  Notice, however, they aren't slamming the walls and the doors and the windows.  No repairs needed!  Well, maybe to the paddles, but that's just a little glue and waaaaaay easier to fix than drywall. And there are still far more nerf darts all over the house than ping pong balls.  Not even close.

9.  Ok, but anything that creates a situation where the boys are going to get competitive and angry is just asking for trouble.  Basically, you're just waving a red flag to these testosterone-laden males and encouraging them to fight.  You're creating the problem.

10.  Are you kidding?  Not giving teen boys a healthy outlet for their natural aggression is like sticking your finger in a lit cannon and expecting it not to explode.  That cannon is lit whether or not you stick your finger in it.  Pretending it's not going to go off is just dumb.  Of all the things they could be doing, playing ping pong is easily one of the most benign options.

11.  Wait, I can hear something.  (Looks at clock.) It's 4 am!  Someone is downstairs.  We have burglars in the house! (Peeks over the stairs)  No.  No, we do not have burglars.  We have teen boys who don't live here (auxiliary teens, if you will) consumed with an hours-long tournament.  The teens who do live here went to bed hours ago.  Let's review.  Teens who don't live here are in my house at 4 am playing ping pong like their lives depend upon it and waking me up.

12.  And aren't you glad they have a safe place to be?!  You've provided a fun, safe activity off the streets for your sons' friends.  You are providing a service to the community.  You are just like Mother Teresa.  Ok, that might be going too far, but still.  This is a service.


14.  And?  It's going to be 4 am whether or not they're playing ping pong.  What's your point?

15.  My point is it's like living in a warehouse with all this large furniture everywhere and large people everywhere!  We can't move for all the tables!  And eating is still clumsy!

16.  What, did you cement the ping pong table to the floor?  No.  And those boys, both yours and the auxiliary boys, how long till they graduate and leave home?  Three months tops?  This is a temporary situation.

17 . . . three months?

18.  Well, not all of them.  But a lot of them.  And we know what happens after they graduate, don't we?  They finally get over themselves and become pleasant and then they LEAVE.  They leave home and only visit a couple times a year.  You've done this three times already, remember?

19.  That's not fair.

20.  I know.  It stinks.  But until then, just enjoy watching the boys have fun with the ping pong table.  It's crowded but it's temporary.  Just like parenting.

So yes, I have a ping pong table filling about one-third of my entire kitchen.  It's not optimal.  It's not what I was planning and I still have a messy garage.  But dang it, it's FUN.  And for a little while, I can live with the real table being smooshed in the corner, all covered with stacked chairs.  It's inconvenient and not too pretty, but this isn't about me or how my kitchen looks.  It's about having fun in our home and having other people have fun here as well.

It's difficult to quantify exactly how important it is to me that not only my own kids but also all of their friends know our home is a safe place to be and they are always welcome here.  It's definitely in the top three on my list of Stuff That Really Matters.  Even at 4 am.  Kids of any age need to know where the safe places are.  If that means having a ping pong table in my kitchen for a while, then I'm buying more paddles and a better net!  And a reeeaaaalllllyyyy big box of ping pong balls.  Game on