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SALT LAKE CITY — It’s Sunday night. The impending stress of a new workweek lurks around the corner a scant seven hours away. And all around us, the aftermath of hurricane Sarah and her seven cousins, 10 aunts and uncles and assorted extended family members indicate that weekend decompression is still a serious cleanup away.
During the long and pleasant days of summer, the chaos of our traditional Sunday family dinner is shuttled to the back yard. The shade of the 40-year-old cottonwood trees and a half acre of grass easily absorb the clamor of loud voices, the crush of 40 footprints and the scatter of a million toys. With the cooling temperatures of autumn, however, the pandemonium moves to the confines of our simple split-entry interior.
Loud becomes deafening. Cluttered becomes confusing, and finding spaces to comfort a couple of dozen “fannies” becomes an art form.
Such is the weekly challenge of keeping together a burgeoning family, which started 38 years ago with my wife and I staring goo-eyed over an altar at each other. Who knew then what the future family would resemble?
Years ago we tried our hand at being dog owners. We started with the cutest puppy ever known to mankind, only to learn one immutable fact. Puppies invariably become dogs. Size is less a matter of breeding than time. If care is not taken, more puppies follow and you’re faced with the formidable task of finding suitable homes for them.
Families evolve a little differently. The cutest babies on the planet become toddlers, then teens, and all along the way to adulthood they drag chaos in their wake the way a whirlwind drafts weeds. Before you know it, your babies get big and more babies replace them. The difference is that finding suitable homes for them is a little more difficult. You hope they’ll find their own and leave, but you pray they won’t go so far that they can’t come back.
We were blessed with a daughter, a son and three more daughters. Fast-forward, and five has become 10 that has become 20. I’m still trying to do the math and keep Sarah and Silas from dancing on the dining room table and Ryan from restructuring the remaining glass within his range with a baseball. Annie has her own agenda, and Emma plays accompaniment on the piano in the living room while would-be parents have questionable discussions on the various configurations of “poo” and what trouble William will find when he learns to walk.
When exactly did we lose control? And, for crying out loud, where is the operations and maintenance manual that goes with this game of life? Once I complained to my father-in-law about the demands of parenthood.
It takes effort and patience, hard work and forgiveness to hold a family together when it grows beyond the comfortable level of one child per hand.
“Well, they know what causes it,” he replied. Helpful input, but a little late.
Recently, our youngest daughter, Mary, who had bounced back home for a time with her husband Ben, left us for the excitement and social fulfillment of Orem, Utah. Unfortunately they took with them their daughter Ellie and a large piece of my heart.
After a year together with them, Ann and I thought we might be grateful for the return of our empty nest. What we discovered was an empty corner of our souls that had stretched to make room for them and is now vacant and lonesome for the former inhabitants.
It takes effort and patience, hard work and forgiveness to hold a family together when it grows beyond the comfortable level of one child per hand. It takes a sense of humor and sometimes a blind eye and a deaf ear to withstand the “G” forces of second-generation terrible twos.
I vowed never to change another diaper when my children’s children began filling pampers once removed. That lasted until a trip to Disneyland when I stayed behind to hold Emma while her parents took a thrilling break, and I discovered the wonders of “family” restrooms.
At the end of the evening, when all the toys are put away for the third time and the pile of dirty dinner dishes has been reduced enough to allow access to the sink, when the front door closes and the last set of headlights turns down the street, the silence settles around us. In the afterglow of the three alarm fire which is our weekly family home evening, I am touched by the words of Emma’s 14-year-old voice when she closed our night with a prayer thanking God for the blessing of being together.
And I sigh as the front door bursts open with a gust of chilly air. Hurricane Sarah has returned to get her forgotten “banky” and to say, “ni-nite poppa.” She blows me a kiss with a chubby hand and is gone, and I can’t wait for next Sunday.
An unabashed fan of outdoor humorist Patrick F. McManus, Ed Smith is a freelance writer, golfer and flyfisherman. He resides in West Bountiful with the love of his life, Ann. Ed can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org