House rules

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There are rules here. Every household has them, some stricter than others. Without them, there’d be confusion, chaos, maybe even war.

Some rules are big, like “We don’t call each other names – ever.” And “When one of us needs help, the rest of us show up.”

But even the seemingly small rules are important when it comes to keeping the family peace. For example, this rule is wordy but worthwhile: “In this house, we put the new toilet paper roll on its dispenser because Mom is not the only one around here with working thumbs, and she is sick of finding a new roll sitting on top of the empty roll, as if we weren’t taught how to change it. (Because we were.) When we replace the roll, the paper goes over the top (because we are not animals).”

Pesto pasta.There are also rules here about food. Here’s a big one: “For a minimum of 24 hours, restaurant leftovers belong only to the person who brings them home.” We set up this rule after surviving what became known as The Great Pasta Theft of 2018. That was the year our then 11-year-old daughter brought home the rest of her favorite pesto pasta dish from her favorite Italian restaurant, and then one of her older brothers ate the leftovers without her knowledge or permission. There was a lot of finger-pointing and yelling that day.

The crime was so personal that from that point on, Kate wrote her name on her restaurant leftover container with an added note: “No Jack allowed,” just to make it extra clear which brother she was keeping her eye on.

In the past few years, we’ve amended the leftover rule by combining it with the tried-and-true “You snooze, you lose” philosophy. The rule now states that if you haven’t eaten your restaurant leftovers after 24 hours and have let them languish too long in the fridge, anyone in the family is free to pounce on them like a rabid squirrel. And we usually do. It’s totally fine as long as we’ve honored the customary 24-hour hands-off waiting period.

Food from the grocery store and farmer’s market is considered communal property. That system was working just fine until we realized we had a Snack Stealer in the house.

In this house, if you have a favorite snack that you leave out in plain view, there’s a good chance a certain family member (who shall remain nameless to protect the not-so-innocent) will try your snack food. If he doesn’t like it, consider yourself lucky. If he loves it, watch out. Your snack supply is now in jeopardy.

If your snack contains chocolate and/or ice cream, the problem gets worse. On a stressful day after 9 p.m., our resident Snack Stealer has been known to obliterate a snack food in its entirety, regardless of whether you were hoping to have some tomorrow. As anyone who has ever experienced a stress-induced snack frenzy knows, there is no such thing as “tomorrow.” There is only the next chip (or cookie or fun-size Snickers bar).

Sometimes, the Snack Stealer realizes he has a weakness for a particular food. So, he tries to prevent future snack carnage by asking me to stop buying it at the store. I pointed out that a complete household ban isn’t fair to the original owner of the snack. It’s not that person’s fault he fell in love with one of their favorite foods.

Thankfully, we were able to reach a compromise, which gave birth to this new rule: “If you have a snack food you know the Snack Stealer also loves, hide it somewhere he’ll never look. If he sees you eating it, he’s not allowed to ask where your secret stash is.”

Some rebellious readers will argue that rules are made to be broken. But isn’t that like saying noses are made to be broken? Legs are meant to be broken? Because if someone takes my secret stash of fun-size Snickers bars, there’s a good chance people are going to get hurt.

Don’t like it? Too bad. As a wise man once said, “them’s the rules.”

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at gwenrockwood5@gmail.com. Her book is available on Amazon.

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