Mother sweeps in with a bright smile pasted on her face. The kitchen gets put to work, as hard as Mother can make it work. The refrigerator hums, the oven burns, and the stove sizzles.
Father sets the table with lightning speed. He sets each utensil down in its place and speaks to keep the task going.
“Okay, we’ve got a knife there, a spoon, and fork goes there. And then I’ll get six napkins.”
Brother walks in and gets put to work. He sets cups out.
The lights in the Family Room are dim. Candles flicker to give the illusion that we have elegant, put together dinners. Middle Sister sets out plates and takes over the table setting responsibilities. She gives orders to Brother.
“No, don’t put the cups over there! They go on the other side of the plates.”
“That’s cool!” Brother says sarcastically.
Middle Sister smiles, “I’ll fix them” she says with glee.
I stand in the kitchen making a salad. No dressing required for tossing. Bottles of dressing get placed on the table. Heaven forbid a spot of dressing dare gets tossed into the salad Brother and Little Sister would lose their minds. So this is the Fosterian way.
The smile runs away from Mother’s face as she puts the finishing touches on dinner. Father buzzes around from the Laundry Room fridge, where extra drinks are kept, to the Family Room table. He pours a few drinks. Then rushes back to the Laundry Room. He trudges up the stairs and hands Brother a gallon of milk.
“Would you and your sister finish pouring drinks please?”
Middle Sister gets to work with Brother in tow. Large glasses of milk and juice are poured, as Father steps outside to get the dogs. Silhouetted in the dark the neighbor’s dog sits proudly at the edge of her property, as our dogs bark in disapproval of her taunting ways. The boys work together to protect their family.
We hear Father call, “Major, Brodie! Come!”
The dark, crisp night gets quiet, but inside there’s continuous activity. Mother asks me to get Little Sister from upstairs. As I head upstairs to her bedroom, which I now share with her, Brodie lets out a few more barks. Hopefully the neighbor’s dog, Bella, understands now that she’s not welcome here.
“Brodie! Uh-Uh!” Father calls into the night, “Come!”
I walk into Little Sister’s room and sigh at the disarray that used to be my own space.
“Mom says come to dinner,” I tell Little Sister.
“Okay” she says, as she fiddles with something, “Close the door.”
I close the door. My task is done. Father stands in the Living Room, Alpha of the house, holding the door open for the dogs. The boys saunter inside. Major first, and then Brodie with head hung low.
Mother is putting dinner on the table. Middle Sister and Brother help, as they chat about their day. I come back to help put the last few dishes on the table. Father comes into the kitchen to feed the dogs before sitting down. With frenetic energy he puts the food into the dog bowls. One cup. Clang. Half a cup more. Rattle, rattle, clang. He rushes to the sink and runs water over the dry food. Then quickly mixes in a dry topping.
Then like good children the dogs come to dinner and sit as they are told. Father puts their food down and says, “Okay! Free dog!” The dogs begin to eat.
Mother calls in her professional, operatically trained voice, “Okay, guys! Up to the table.”
Middle Sister announces she has to pee and off she goes. Brother laughs at the timing.
Father asks Mother, “Alright, what can I do to be of assistance, Mom?”
“Would you get the chicken out of the oven please?”
Father does so, as Mother heaves a sigh and puts bread into a basket. She promptly sets it on the table. Brother walks away.
“Where are you going?” Mother asks
“I just gotta save and shut off my game. I’ll be right back!” He runs off.
Middle Sister comes back. Brother comes back.
Mother hollers to Little Sister from the bottom of the stairs, “You’ve been called to dinner!”
Middle Sister sits down at the head of the table. Brother and Father sit in their usual places. I see there is nothing else to do and sit at the other end of the table. Mother sits down at the table.
“Well…I hope it tastes okay.” She says, “I hope it’s warm enough!”
We begin to put food on our plates. Bread is passed around the table.
“Butter?” Father asks
Mother looks around the table, “Oh, sorry, honey! I forgot.”
“That’s okay.” Father says.
I jump up to get the butter. I get the tub of butter off the counter that sits open and waiting to be used.
“Thank you, sweetie.” Mother says.
Little Sister makes her way through the kitchen and sits in front of a plate of food.
“What are we having?” She asks.
“Chicken.” Mother says
Little Sister points to something on her plate, “What’s that?”
“Tomato” Mother tells Littler Sister
“Ew! I don’t like tomatoes OR salad!” Little Sister says
Father jumps in, “Just eat it! Quit your whining.”
Little Sister mopes and glares at Father. She stabs at the cut chicken on her plate and puts it in her mouth. Mother looks over at Brother.
“Please get your elbows off the table.” She tells him
He does. Middle Sister digs into the tub of butter and slaps some directly on her bread.
“Next time,” Mother says to Middle Sister, “Please put the butter on your plate and then onto the bread.”
Middle Sister looks at Mother, “Okay. Yes, Mom!”
Father notices Brother is leaning on the table again. He turns to Brother, “Get your elbows off the table” he says playfully and begins to tickle his son.
Brother giggles. His fork quickly gets dropped onto his plate as he squirms. He tries to get away and stay on his chair at the same time, but his efforts are unsuccessful. He twitches and flinches as Father’s strong hands continue to tickle. Father puts a bite of chicken in his mouth and Brother laughs heartily.
The liquid in our cups jump as Brother hits the table and Father chuckles in glee. Brother begs for this torture to cease. “Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad! Please, Dad! No! Haha! Stop!”
Father has one hand behind him, tickling his son, and the other hand holds his fork, continuing to feed himself. Brother is standing behind him and attempts to get to his chair without getting touched.
Mother winces, as glasses almost toppled over and serving dishes tip. “Guys, please!” She begs.
Brother is safe now. Mother has said her piece. Father keeps eating and so does Brother. The tickling has stopped. Middle Sister pipes up with an anecdote about her friends at school. Everyone turns to look at her, unsure of what she’s saying.
“That was a non-sequitur!” Father says.
Mother tries to understand, “What happened to your friend?”
“I don’t know” Middle Sister says, “It was funnier in my head.”
Brother chortles nearly spitting out his juice.
“Interesting.” Mother tells her
“Okay?” Father wonders, as he puts dressing on his salad.
Middle Sister smirks, “I know. Cool story, right?”
Father, Brother, and everyone laugh. It gets quiet for a few minutes. Then Little Sister tries to boycott the rest of her dinner.
“Mom, my stomach hurts! I don’t want this!” She says
Mother sighs, “Please have one ‘No Thank You’ bite of tomato, with your salad. Okay?”
“Ugh, but—” Little Sister tries to rebut.
Father puts his fork down and looks at Little Sister, “Do as your mother says!”
She obeys begrudgingly. Father asks Brother and Middle Sister to start cleaning the kitchen. Brother and Middle Sister begin to sing and devise their own chorus, as plates get carried to the kitchen. Father smiles at Mother.
“The twins!” He says
The dogs are finished with their dinner and have been for a while. Brodie lets out a grumble as he slides next to the ottoman.
“The Irish twins!” Mother agrees with Father.
Mother get’s up and begins to clear. Father clears his plate and glass. Little Sister sits at the table in great disappointment. Everyone swirls around her, taking dishes off the table, and clamoring in the kitchen. The chorus of the twins continues with some giggles and jokes.
Father returns to the almost cleared off table with a book. He sits on the leather couch in the Family Room and begins to read.
Little Sister asks for her freedom, “Dad, can I go?”
Father looks up from his book, “No. You can’t get up from the table until all the food on your plate is gone.”
“But there’s so much!”
“Eat your dinner please” Father says and returns to his book.
The piano in the Living Room begins to ring. Mother starts to practice her solo for Sunday’s church service. Her voice carries through the house. Brother goes to Father.
“Dad” He says, “Can you help me with my homework?”
“Sure.” Father says with his nose in his book, “Bring it to me. I’m not leaving until your sister finishes her dinner.”
Brother goes to get his homework. Little Sister cries. I finish the dishes and listen to the symphony of noise around me. The dishes clang, as Mother sings. Middle Sister can be heard as a one-person band upstairs. She tries to continue the chorus of the twins, without Brother. Father and Brother talk over the homework.
It’s just another day, I think to myself, as I clean the kitchen, just another day at the Foster house. Welcome to the Foster Circus!