There’s something wild about you child
That’s so contagious
Let’s be outrageous–let’s misbehave!!!
– Cole Porter
Just today, a friend, hearing an anecdote about my childhood (related to food), said she thought growing up with me would have been fun. I guess I do have a lot of stories about coming of age in the Laughlin family, and that some of them are pretty funny, especially in retrospect (although honestly, who tells the sad ones?).
A lot of crazy things happened in our house – particularly, for some reason, at the dinner table. Could be at home, to my parents’ dismay; could even be in a public place, to their embarrassment. Maybe it was because all of us were together at once, or perhaps it was just an attempt to inject some fun into an otherwise boring event. Even if the food is great, what, to a kid, is entertaining about quietly and politely gathering morsels of whatever on your fork, putting them neatly into your mouth, and chewing them – with your mouth closed, of course – while adults drone on about the price of tea in China? I know I rolled my eyes when an elder would mention that old saw about children being seen and not heard. Even more often, if my mother tried to guilt us into eating something we considered disgusting (like tongue, crowned with a nest of taste buds – ugh), by telling us about the starving children in Biafra, we had a quick and snide comeback: “So send it to them!”
We weren’t bad kids – we were just kids. With brains that raced a million miles an hour, restless legs, lots of energy, things to do, places to go, and people to see. It can be a lot to ask of kids to sit quietly while there’s so much going on in the world. Since there were six of us (children, that is) sitting around the table, that was six times the energy and brain cells. Energy in one kid percolates up, bubbles over, and bumps into the next kid, and it can be like an atomic or chemical reaction – suddenly, there’s chaos!
I can recall several times being stabbed (playfully) with a fork as I reached in front of a sibling to grab a bowl, and one occasion where a brother bit my ankle under the dinner table (this was a teenager, not a toddler), causing me to scream, and everyone else at the table to look my way, eyes wide with alarm.
There were also meals in restaurants that were accompanied by loud laughter and “funny business” (my father’s disapproving term), thankfully, not at high class establishments. With six children, our dining out experiences were more likely to take place at Howard Johnson’s all-you-can-eat nights (my favorite was fried clams), so although other diners may have looked askance at us, we never had to worry about a maitre d’ throwing us out due to the objections of a Thurston Howell the Third.
Reading this, you might think my parents gave up on ever instilling manners in their brood, that they threw up their hands, eyes raised hopelessly heavenward, and sighed, “Oh well… I guess we’ll send a herd of beasts out into the world.” But you couldn’t be more wrong.
They were not permissive and experimental parents. Quite the contrary, in fact – they were very strict, and we all knew what it was like to have our backsides “warmed”, to lose privileges, or be exiled to the foyer during dinner (sometimes multiple times in one meal).
These two saintly folks never threw in the towel. No matter what, they did their level best to civilize us, tame us, make us into gracious and sociable human beings. And on the whole, they did succeed. We could – and still can – be courteous, urbane – dare I say delightful – dinner companions when the occasion calls for it. But we still know how to have fun. And guess what? Now, when we’re all together, and a waiter tell us he’d love to sit down and eat with us while all this funny business is going on, my parents (who are in their 80’s) actually grin, and proudly say, “Yeah – these are our kids – we’re responsible for this gang!”