I would like to transcribe, as close to the truth as I can remember it, the conversation at our dinner table tonight, starting after the prayer over the food.
Dad: Alright, Sarah I know you had your eyes open for the prayer, so you are going to get served last.
Sarah: (Moan of disappointment).
Dad reached across the table and pulled the lasagna away from Sarah, placing it in front of himself. Suddenly his motives for punishing Sarah became all too clear. I reached across the table and pulled the lasagna away from him. Sometimes exacting justice becomes the duty of average citizens. I served myself and then passed it along to neither Sarah or Dad.
Joseph: I have been finding a lot of nibbled-on cheese sticks all around the house. And I don't, like, it.
Dad: (eyes bugging) Yes! Do you know who's doing that? (points accusingly at Sarah.)
Dad: Sarah, let me ask you something. Who is the one who takes a bite of an apple and then leaves it there?
Joseph: And, who took two bowls of macaroni and cheese and only ate half of one?
Sarah: (looks guiltily at her plate).
Jacob: And who eats all the Jasmine rice?
Sarah: ....that was you, Jacob!
Jacob: Oh. Yeah.
Dad: I have a solution for this. From now on, Sarah, you are only allowed to eat at mealtimes. No snacks for you!
Sarah's mouth dropped open in shock.
Mom: You know, Sarah did something really nice today.
She went on to tell a story about a conversation Sarah had on the phone with one of her friends. She had told her all about FHE and how our family does it. At this point in the story, everyone else had been served, so Sarah was allowed to get her lasagna.
Dad: (interrupting Mom) Hey hey Sarah!
Sarah: I know, Dad!
Dad: Only get how much you're going to eat.
Mom: .....So then, Sarah asked if we could invite her friends over for FHE and I said we could one time.
Sarah sat there, beaming. Finally, someone was saying something nice about her.
Joseph and Jacob: What!! No! (Cries of outrage.)
Mom: I think that was really nice.....
Joseph: Mom, NO. They are not going to invade our house again. They are always over here! They like, lived here last year!
Dad: Sarah, I have another thing I need to talk to you about. I think it's fine that your friends want to call you and talk to you. And I think that's nice that you talk to them on the phone. But I am not going to be your little answering service.
Sarah: Why is everyone being so mean to me tonight??
Dad: No one's being mean to you!
Sarah: No snacks, no friends, no phone calls.....
Mom (anxious to say something positive about Sarah): I think that was a really nice thing that Sarah did tonight. We can just have her friends over while you guys are at, Scout Camp. Or something.
Dad (anxious that his point has not been driven home): Ok! That's fine! But for now on, I'm not going to answer that phone anymore. When it rings, and someone's calling on that 2nd line, I'm going to let it ring. (Five more minutes of that. Mom finally cut him off.)
Joseph (for some reason trying to keep this conversation going): But! What if it's a stranger and they come and kill me?
Heather: All the better.
Mom: How about, everyone says something that they learned today.
Jacob: I learned, that I was constipated today.
Disgusted looks in his direction.
Sarah: What's constipated?
Heather: Do you want to know?
Dad: Alright now, I learned something today. Do you guys know what a current is?
A few people made some feeble guesses. Distraction quickly prevailed. I have no idea what Dad said next; it was something about electric currents. I started listening again when he said,
Dad: So, for the next 24 hours, no one in this house is going to use anything that requires electricity.
Mom looked at him sideways, quickly decided that this wasn't something that needed to be taken seriously, and went back to eating.
Julie: What! Dad!
Her voice strained as she listed off the things that she had to do in the next 24 hours that would require electricity. She alone seemed affected by this declaration. Everyone else continued eating in a distracted silence, having already decided that Dad wouldn't enforce his decision for even a half-hour. Maybe in a few months or years, when he'd had time to think it over, he would, but for now, it was an idle threat. Dad grinned, interpreting our quiet as tacit compliance.
Dad: Until you know what a current is. If you can come to me and tell me what a current is, you can use electricity.
He listed off two other words, but I can't remember what those were either. Julie argued with him a little bit more, just enough so that he felt powerful, but not so much that he got angry and really turned off the electricity.
Mom: Alright, can we go over the calendar?
Dad, who seconds before had been thrilled with the feeling of authority he had been building up all dinner, must have realized that going over the calendar would push him right off his new throne. He glanced around restlessly, looking for another mandate he could issue. The perfect opportunity was right at the end of the table, where Julie, who had just gotten up from a nap before dinner, was pushing uneaten hamburger meat around her plate.
Dad: Julie, you have to eat that. It's good stuff.
Julie's head snapped up, her eyes enraged.
Julie: Dad! I don't. Like. Hamburger meat!!!
Mom: Julie, can you go get the calendar.
Julie got the calendar. We made it through about a week and then everything dissolved again. Nothing can clear a room at our house faster than the promise of productivity, and we were whizzing through the calendar. By Saturday, May 21, the children had scattered.