I get to play ringmaster to the Greatest Show on Earth – my own personal family farm circus with at least three rings of fun going on at any given time, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The circus varies a lot in size (I recently overheard myself saying that it didn’t matter how many people came to a celebration at my place, that I can perfectly well cook for 40 as well as 20, which is actually correct), with a baseline population of 8 (Me, Eric, Eli 13, Simon 11, Isaiah 9, Asher 7, Baby Z. 8mos and Phil-the-housemate) plus N additional members provided by foster care. I’ve come to realize I don’t think our family “big” unless we’re over 7 kids.
Add in goats, a cow, chickens, ducks, rabbits, cats, dogs and visiting friends and family, and it really does closely resemble a circus. You’ve got your acrobatics here (usually done on the sofa or a bunk bed), your barely tame monkeys over here (any of the kids on a bad day), your brass band (marching around the living room), your roustabouts (Eric and me, packing diaper bags and lunches on a morning we’ve overslept), popcorn on the floor (often), feats of derring-do (See Sharon take two foster children to two separate doctor’s appointments, while dragging along the other five bored children during school vacation week, and then taking everyone to the grocery store to pick up the prescriptions…) and costumes (our gigantic costume box has been outgrown, and Harry Potter robes, viking helmets, fake beards, funny hats, plastic swords and hook-hands, pirate clothes and a giant chicken costume have a bad tendency to cover a good chunk of the living room.
I LOVE it. Yes, it is crazy, but it is my crazy, and so much fun. Still, there do have to be some rules to make it operate, and it can be a challenge to explain those rules to people whose lives do not resemble a circus. So here they are – if you come to my house you will find that:
1. You probably don’t want to leave your food unattended for long. There are sharks here. They start circling within minutes if you leave food on your plate, negotiating, “Can I have your pickles…did you want that melon?” Yes, we do feed them. Regularly, even. They just REALLY like pickles. Holding your fork over someone else’s plate, however, is kind of rude.
2. You will be pressed into playing kickball, Sorry, Scrabble, Calvinball, Chess, Chomp, Red Rover, Dominoes, Go, Battleship, Tag, Connect Four, Rummy, Mahjong, or something else almost immediately. Hope you didn’t have any other plans for the rest of the afternoon.
3. If they are both socks, they are a pair (Got this one from the wonderful Kathy Harrison.) Mommy matches socks only during the Jubilee year.
4. Transportation is a limiting factor in our household. We are a one car family who choose not to spend all our days in the van. Particularly if at the end of the drive, Mommy has to sit in any kind of meeting.
5. If you are doing something that cuts into Mommy and Daddy’s sleep or special alone time, you’d better have a REALLY GOOD REASON.
6. Yeah, they are really big dustbunnies, aren’t they? If you throw them some lint, though, they’ll usually let you through unharmed.
7. We do not change clothes every time a little mud or dirt touches them. Unless it is freezing or you are mud from head to ears and your caseworker is here to visit you, you can finish getting wet/dirty to your heart’s content and then we’ll change your clothes – when you are ready to do something else. Towels that have had brief contact with the floor get hung up again, and if by some miraculous act of the divine, the clothes you are wearing are clean, you ‘ll wear them again tomorrow.
8. Everyone helps. Period. It is wise of you to volunteer to do a job you like and are good at, because Mommy can think of several SHE doesn’t want to do.
9. Do not mess with Dad before he’s had something to eat in the morning. It can get scary.
10. Bickering is done outside under the bickering tree. Especially in February.
11. Ideally, don’t run with scissors. If you do run with scissors, try not to poke your eye out and don’t do it near the baby. Not real near, anyway.
12. A little spit up is an accessory on your good shirt.
13. You get what you get and you don’t get upset. All actual needs will be met. Your desire to drink out of the green cup is not a need.
14. Do not ride Mac (our Great Pyrenees dog). Yes, I know he’s as big as a pony, but you still can’t ride him. Because I said so.
15. No playdough in the house – ever.
16. Yes, it is loud, isn’t it.? You get used to it after 5 or 6 years.
17. Why do you ask if I was going to freeze it? Don’t you make 12 quarts of soup at a time? You mean you have pots that don’t hold 16 quarts at a time?
18. No livestock in the house. The porch is kind of a grey area.
19. Sometimes we all have to stop talking about Hobbits RIGHT NOW and sit VERY QUIETLY for a little bit so Mommy can breathe.
20. You’ll have to narrow it down a little more than “What’s that smell?”
21. We are gentle with the cats, dog, goats, chickens, ducks, rabbits, cow and your siblings. There is no such thing as being “gentle with the broomstick.” The words “I think he likes it” are always a bad sign.
22. You will never, ever get a television in your bedroom, a tv over 16 inches, a WII or any other video game system at our house. No child has ever died from this. Even if you think you know one that did.
23. You do not have to be tired. You do not have to go to sleep. You do have to go in your room and stay there at bedtime, because if your parents don’t get a couple of hours of quiet time in the evening, they might run away from home.
24. Everyone is allowed two things they don’t eat at all. Everything else you have to have a little of. Ok, ice cream is entirely optional.
25. You may choose – justice for your erring sibling who has mistreated you, or mercy. The catch is that next time YOU are at fault, you get the same one. Think carefully.
26. Meanness is not allowed. Hiding Mommy’s tea in the morning is mean.
27. No playing the drum set (yes, we have a drum set, and yes, it is terrible idea) while the baby is napping.
28. Stuffed animals can come with us wherever we go, however if they misbehave or lead others to misbehave, the stuffed animals will go into time out. All children are responsible for the behavior of their own stuffies.
29. No saying “yuck” or “I hate that about the food.” You can say “No thank you” or be quiet. Food is a gift and a blessing and we are grateful we get it. Yes, beets too.
30. Just try to be bored! I dare you!