Harmony in Chaos

The following is a piece I wrote a while ago. It follows the theme of this blog, provides some exposition, and will  give you a taste of what to expect.

Dinnertime.

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The one time of day we all come together as a family and everybody gets along. Dinner time. The time when I am most tired and least patient, the activities in our family dining room are a schizophrenic assault to my sensibilities like Picasso’s later renditions of The Bull. Ah, dinner time.

 

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I breathe in garlic and tomatoes, look up, and offer a silent prayer to the plaster wall who mocks me with his old face veined with cracks and fissures, readying myself for what I know will come as four fresh faces look at me and then clamor all at once to tell me about their days. This lasts no longer than thirty seconds, after which they start one long conversation that lasts until dinner’s end, each child shoehorning their particular bits of information into the last child’s sentence.

Daniel, the only boy, tells us about his new teacher in fourth grade who yelled at a kid for not listening. He tips his chair; Maddie, sixteen going on twenty-six, yells at him and pushes his chair upright. Erica, never one to pass up an opportunity to get a dig in, comments on children not listening, cites the just witnessed example, and launches into a discussion of the “horrible” types of music they discussed in eighth grade music class.

My wife attempts to comment on the importance (I think) of being well-rounded as Maddie yells at Daniel to “Get. Off. Of. Me.” shoving him back over into his seat. I jest about her magnetic personality, Daniel mocks his lunchroom teacher in falsetto, Erica laughs, Linn crouches suddenly in her chair, a shredded softball of spaghetti hangs from her mouth, someone says it looks like a beard as my wife grabs the end of the noodles while pushing the six-year-old back down into her seat. This visual is too much for the boy who first coughs on his vegetables and then on his laughter as a mouthful of masticated vegetable matter hits his plate and a mouthful of mirth and merriment takes its place. The intensity of his amusement has his sisters soon laughing in kind—even Maddie, who is loath to encourage the boy in his antics.

Laughter fills the room except for the tiny space taken by the scrabbling of nails on hardwood as the dog noses under someone’s chair for a dropped bit of food she can’t quite reach. I shake my head then look at my wife as she slips her warm, calloused hand into mine.

Thank you, her eyes tell me. Thank you for my family.

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(Excerpted from Pencils Make Good Darts, Copyright © 2011 Dan Balman)

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