Ten Best: Clarey House rules
Eat your dinner: There’s got to be rules, particularly in a house where three young children sleep and eat and play. Rules in a family household are the duct tape that keeps the whole thing together. And at the top of the list is the dictum that dinner, prepared more or less nightly by one of the adults, must be consumed before post-prandial sweets, snacks and treats are dished out. The simple reason is this: I hate wasted food even more than I hate wasted effort. We cooked it; they’re gonna eat it and like it. Also, dinner should fill them up enough so that they don’t gorge on junk food before bed.8 p.m. bedtime: Children hate to go to bed, probably because they believe that the adults in the house are just waiting for them to drift off before doing all kinds of fun stuff. And they’re right, of course. But the 8 p.m. bedtime still holds – during the school year anyway – mainly because the little buggers need like 11 hours a night or else they are harder to deal with in the mornings than… well, then their daddy, who is a notorious snooze button abuser.No eating in the car: When I was a kid my parents had a few rules that I felt were ridiculous at best and draconian at worst. One of the dumber ones, I thought, was the prohibition against eating – particularly ice cream – in my father’s Cadillac. What the hell? I thought, full to bursting with pre-teen angst and anti-authoritarianism. What’s the big deal? Now, of course, I know what the big deal is. A single child is messier than a whole litter of puppies and a 2-year-old eating… I don’t know, say one of those oatmeal cookie sandwiches with cream in the middle… can irreparably destroy the upholstery of the entire back seat. As for ice cream in the car: no freakin’ way.No coloring on the walls: Spontaneous artwork on the household walls – be it in pencil, magic marker, crayon or (gasp!) mommy’s make-up – will not be tolerated, no matter how good it is. First offense is punishable by one minute in the corner for every year the offender has been alive. Repeat offenders will be very, very sorry.No crying during a fight: Physical combat is inevitable when two male children share a bedroom, especially if they watch too much television. We realized a few years ago that there would be no lasting peace in our household, so when the young fellas want to go at it we just let it happen as long as it’s consensual. But, we warn them, don’t come crying to us if you get hurt. Pain is a natural byproduct of fighting.No hitting in the face: This is a corollary to the last rule, which had to be enunciated after the younger one learned to make a decent fist.No smoking: I don’t care if daddy does it, it’s not good for you and you can never do it. And never mind why daddy does it, just know if I catch you with cigarettes you will suffer a punishment so brutal and humiliating you’ll still be explaining it to a therapist when you’re an old man. Also, I will steal them and smoke them.No water fights until after the lawn is finished: This is just plain common sense. I can’t cut the lawn when the backyard has been reduced to swampland because the hose has been running for an hour. The wheels of my mower get mired in the muck and the blade gets clogged, causing the motor to stall. Just wait until I’m finished and you can squirt the crap out of each other to your hearts’ content. I may even join you.No cursing at school: We’ve gone over this one before. Yes, there are words in our language that some people feel are “bad” for whatever reason. Your mother and I don’t share these compunctions, so if you want to call your brother a “little crapweasel” or describe what your sister did in her bed during the night in coarse vernacular, it’s okay with us as long as you’re in this house. But you can’t do it anywhere else, especially at school where you’ll certainly get sent to the principal’s office and might even get your mouth washed out with soap by an elderly substitute teacher who still holds with the old ways of doing things. Also, I’m pretty sure stuff like that goes on your permanent record.Do not attempt to fill an inside straight: You’re never too young to learn one of the cardinal rules to the game of poker – quit chasing those gutshot straights, unless maybe you’ve got a big pair or a flush draw to back you up. Face it, kid: You’ve got a measly four outs, and I can’t blame you for wanting to see the turn, but if you don’t make your hand by then, there’s no excuse to hang on until the river. You’ll thank me for this one day.