Family Dinners, A Father's Horror Story.
Jim, opening the bedroom door and sticking his head in asked, “Michael, did you do your homework? It's almost time for dinner.”
Michael, sitting cross-legged on the carpet floor, attentive only to the video game he was playing answered without stopping his button pressing fingers. “But, Daaaaaad, I'm on level 14. I can't quit nowwwwwww!”
“You should be doing your homework instead of playing games,” his father’s voice grew stern. “Pause it, clean up for dinner, and then hit the books afterward...first...and please don’t make me ask again.”
Hitting the pause button, Michael answered, “alright dad,” and tossed the controller on the floor at the front of the tv. Spinning to the side, he picked up the carelessly tossed aside textbook and put the adjoining notebook and pencil on top of it. The door closed.
“Dinner's almost ready!” Michael heard his father’s voice call out, obviously passing his sisters’ bedrooms toward the stairway.
“I will..." Maria’s voice faint. "...just as soon as I finish uploading this song to my mp3 player.” He listened for his older sister to answer out too, but she didn’t.
Jim went down the stairs wondering what his seventeen year old prima donna was doing. She might just happen to be trying on clothes or putting on make-up, he thought. She might be chatting on some social networking site or reading the latest teen novel, he considered, all with those latest teeny tiny headphones in. Of course, he didn’t dare open her bedroom door without adequate and prior notification. The last time he walked in unannounced he received a tongue-lashing that would rival a losing high school football coach during a halftime locker room rant and he wasn’t about to endure something like that again...ever.
Entering and making his way through the living room, a squeaky little voice caught him midstream, asking inquisitively, “can I finish watching Spongebob first?” He glanced over, saw his youngest daughter lying on her belly, head propped up on palms, glued to the tv. Before he could answer a commercial came on and she rolled over to look back with pleeeeese written all through her eyes.
“No," he retorted. "Get ready for dinner. It's a repeat anyway.”
“Awhhhh,” her protesting voice blurted and she banged her heel on the floor once." Jim ignored the mini tantrum and continued on to the kitchen.
He heard the television turn off, but instantly suspected there would probably be an extended search later to find the remote control. Of course, he thought to himself, it would also depend upon who was in last possession. Presently being his youngest would mean it had been inadvertently kicked under the couch and for him to get to it, he would have to navigate around a plethora of stale snack pieces, toys, lint, maybe a shirt and who knows what else.
However, on the other hand, if any of the others were to use it, it would mean that it could be anywhere else, including but not limited to, tucked in between the couch pillows or underneath the various teen or game magazines scattered across the coffee table.
Oh, he would find it, but it would require a time consuming single person search party.
Of course, that wouldn’t be the end all solution. The next potential problem was sure to raise its ugly head. Would the remote control actually work, or had someone taken the batteries to use in a handheld game or an mp3 player or an who knows what else.
Normally the solution was easy, that is, provided the battery gnome hadn't found his secret hiding spot at the back of the junk drawer. If it had, there would be nothing but an empty clear and crinkled plastic container, a product of having been crushed during drawer openings and closings.
In the kitchen, he picked up his aimlessly lying on the counter cell phone. It was on twenty seven percent, but he thought it was enough to shoot his oldest daughter a text, since she hadn’t answered his upstairs call out. Being permanently attached to her body at one location or another, her cell phone was the only surefire way to contact her. Yelling from the bottom of the stairs did not good. She would use the normal excuse that she hadn't heard him. Whether or not she had was certainly open for debate, but it was never worth the subsequent ensuing never a solution argument. After all, she knew everything. That's why he hadn't bought a set of encyclopedias.
He never could understood how the next county could hear him, but she never could. Of course, she could always hear that barely audible faint little beep of a text message coming in though.
Thus, tonight he would save his voice and let his fingers do the walking. Which, in itself, would be an undertaking of some small expenditure and probably take a good five minutes by the time he hit backspace more than a few times fixing fat fingered mistakes, but would eventually type “Dinner’s ready.”
Mere moments later he would have her answer, usually before setting the phone back down. Sometimes it would include a combination of actual words that he understood, along with some jumbled together letter gibberish that he would not. None-the-less, the goal was completed and he could assume that she would join them all at the dinner table.
However, Fridays or Saturdays were different. Those were days having no school to wake up to and, with exception to the youngest, he'd typically only seen them when they needed to raid his wallet.
Setting the table, he chuckled to himself after fantasizing about shutting the entire home’s electricity off. The smile left quickly after realizing that had he resorted to such measures, he would then require someone under the age of fifteen to reset, with the exception of his personal wind-up alarm clock, all the home electronics. He wasn't about to endure that blue twelve o'clock flashing on the vcr just below the tv, not to mention the kid wraith he would certainly be subjected to.
But he did secretly enjoy the thought.
Sure, he could enact ultimate parental powers, but then a certain amount of simmering anger would permeate the dining room and a meal would be eaten in silence.
It was a normal daily enigma that he never failed to ponder. All he ever wanted was universal time together, at least an hour a day. Was that too much to ask?
He was beginning to feel the pangs of loneliness when they started trickling in to take their pre-claimed seats and he felt better, thought he could tackle the whole new set of conflicts.
“What’s this?” and “I don’t like that,” would be the beginning and it might just progress to “I’m not eating much. I’m dieting,” usually from the oldest, which meant she either didn’t like what we were having or that a new boy had just began attending her school.
Then there would be a bit of silence, and he would barely savor before the next situation came...the general dinner discussion.
No matter how hard he tried, this never seemed to change. Normal conversations were simply out of the question. When mouths are full, sentences are nil and the interaction usually consisted of a single word blurted out between those bites. Many times, "mmmhe" was the uttered word, a word that isn’t even a word to begin with, yet was completely understood by everyone at the table...except him.
Then there was the next standard constant. It was the one thing that would, almost like a miracle, stop them all dead in their tracks...that the faint little beep of the incoming text message. Yes, every single night, when that sound would faithfully ring out, each child, with the exception of the youngest who had yet to be the proud owner of a cell phone, would, in unison and with the speed of a cobra, stop chewing, drop their forks and reach for what was meticulously hidden from view. One would begin to type and the others would continue where they had left off...at least, until the next would chime in.
Then, suddenly, almost as quickly as it began, dinner would be over and each would dash off, back to the electronic gizmos and gadgets that drew them like a magnet. And Jim would be alone with the mess.
Patiently he would sit, finish eating and wish times were slower. His conclusion was always the same though, that other than the child’s birth, there was but two other times when a father obtains full undivided attention. The first would be during those few short years right before understanding the television remote control, and the second when the teenager exits their bedrooms’ just in time to leave the home with dad’s wallet in tow.
As many other parents do, he to would visit the question...when did they grow up? but that would be a tomorrow undertaking, for before long favorite television shows would be on and he would yet have another opportunity to be together.
And, he wasn't worried about the remote control either because, and every parent knows this, every child has that special, built-in television remote control finder when they’re shows were coming on.
Stay Scared, The Prof.