Full House


The plan was to completely relax. After a semester of university, students, bosses, responsibilities, and the grind of day to day life, the beacon was the Christmas holiday: ten days in the loving, carefree bosom of my parents’ house in Langhorne. But, as we all know, these plans are never clear cut.

Several things are thwarting those plans. First, there was the travel, always tiring, and combined with jetlag, which is like getting your hands on slightly-tainted hallucinogenic drugs. Then there was the last minute rush of Christmas shopping, which is all part of the enjoyment of Christmas time, but also develops a worrying tendency in which I imagine other shoppers being eaten by dogs and ravens.

Additionally, I have a large, intense family who I love more than anything on this planet (sorry Bela). However, as you know, family time can get overwhelming and exhausting until you just want to hide in a bathtub with a bottle of Irish whiskey.

But today, a few days after the big man slid his pre-diabetic rump down our chimney, my plan is to put on my pajamas and stay in them. The plan is to read and relax and maybe partake in an afternoon drink or two. My plan is to forget everything, my plan is to simply lounge around my parents’ house in a way reminiscent of Christmas break in my college days, or last August.

Unfortunately, my morning duties include the DMV and an annoying and exasperating bureaucratic experience at the hands of a useless airline, whose name I can’t disclose (thank you, SleazyJet).

When these duties are over and I have slid down the meter from apocalyptic to moderately irked, I put on my pajamas and make coffee. I pick up my book and head to the couch.

I have created a quiet life for myself. I am a happily unmarried, ecstatically childless man. I live in a flat with a cat who sleeps a lot and in a building whose residents mostly keep Czech, which means quiet and to themselves. Most of the human interaction or excitement in my life outside of school is under my control. I alone choose to go out for drinks or dinner with friends or politely refuse invitations; I invite guests over when I want and yet spend much of my free time alone writing or reading. I take care of my cat, stay out when I want and come home to a flat that looks the same as when I left it. This is beautiful for a man for whom the Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel is a power ballad.

So being in a Full House is a bit overwhelming. And it is something straight out of a sitcom. Starring in this sitcom and inhabiting this big old country house are my parents, my sister, and her two kids (aged 8 and 6). This episode features the visit of the son/brother/uncle who is used to living a quiet life of university teacher, who, at the very least, is used to pooping without having to field a number of questions being fired at him through the door.

And there have indeed been some very sitcomy sitcom moments. There have been my sister’s hilariously-vain pleas for her children’s compliance, I have stepped on forks and Legos, had squabbles with my quirky family as I surreptitiously nip my brother’s homemade limoncello that punches like a double bourbon. Kids stomp recklessly through the house as if on cue. My mother’s refrigerator resembles an edible jenga game and one can tell when my dad loses this game by the number and volume of his curse words coming from the kitchen in odd hours. I have been squinted at by motorists as I ran garbage down the driveway, my pajama pants tucked into my socks and my overall state resembling extra in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

My parents are the most well-meaning and generous and wonderful people in the state of Pennsylvania. But my dad’s bad knees (and tendency towards medical melodrama) mean that he grunts like a wounded bear with each step he takes. This is heard through the house. My mother has long sighed deeply with each and every step, so that she sounds like an extra in an internet video of ill-repute. The house is filled with sounds. If it’s not the step-groans, it’s my dad asking my mom about food. Always food. When is dinner? When is lunch? where is that meatball sandwich? Their gastronomically-themed conversations ring through the house already filled to the brim with kiddie noises and the ubiquitous overtures of Law and Order, MSNBSC, or a forgotten classic remembered only by Ted Turner.

This week, my father and I place bets on as many football games as we can, and since there are about 60 games during the holidays, this means a few per day. But today, as I occasionally eschew watching football for reading on the couch, I am privy (as is everyone else) to the vocal updates coming from unseen locales within the house, as if on a broadcast system. Dame, 22-7 Wake Forest. UNC fumbles on the 5. Hey, we’re going to overtime!

My mom, accustomed to 40 years of being drowned out by kids and husband, possesses a phone-voice which sounds as though she is trying to transmit her message the physical distance she is from her interlocutor. We’ve told her that the other person can hear her fine at a normal volume, but we gave up years ago. And today, when her quiet-time-seeking son is immersed in a book on the couch, she decides that her chat venue with Grandmom is on the armchair next to him. The discussion is loud and aggressive and, since my grandmom does have trouble hearing, features oft-repeated phrases. Very, very oft.

I close my eyes and try to breathe my way through to relaxation. But a voice from an unspecified locale brings me back: Dame, Temple recovers a fumble!

As so often happens with my meditation sessions, I dive into a nap. It’s in this meditation-nap that little truths sometimes slip through and make themselves known like bruises after a slip on the ice. And today that truth is this: I love it all. I am a demanding son of a bitch when it comes to my free and quiet time, but a visit home wouldn’t be the same without a bunch of noisy kids, siblings, and parents running around this house. Ostensibly, their voluble antics aggravate and annoy me, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Perhaps it’s my break away from the quiet life I’ve made for myself. And so, the sitcom reaches its touchy feely realization: the visiting son/brother/uncle enjoys the madness that he gripes about. (NB: this is your cue to feel warm and fuzzy).

When I awake, my mother is gone and there are animated wolves on the TV screen, at which my niece is howling. Despite my grogginess, I join her. This is the second language she has been teaching me this week. The first is called “Meow” and features a surprisingly multi-syllabic and advanced vocabulary. I am a bit unsure of Meow’s grammatical rules, but Quinn assures me these will fall into place. “Howl” is much easier, as it seems to be based more on tonal varieties than vocabulary and I can pull that off just fine. We stop when my nephew comes into the room. He is carrying a purse.

Fred’s newest hobby is burrowing into the corners of rooms and the backs of drawers, finding things he shouldn’t be touching (scissors, medicine, my mother’s passport), putting them in one of my sister’s purses, and carrying them around. I ask to see what’s in his purse, he opens it immediately to produce a square fuzzy box.

“What is that?” I ask.

“It’s a football player.”

I see that, but there seems to be an alternate use for this. “Yes, but what is it?”

He squints at me. “A guy carrying a football.”

Checkmate.

My mother comes back in the room as I’m helping him stuff chocolate pretzels and a Lego foot into his purse.

“What is that?!” my mother shouts. I can’t blame her, since several personal items have been smuggled out of her room and distributed throughout the house by this purse-wielding bandit. I run interference as Fred makes a ducking escape through the doorway and just beneath the grasp of his apoplectic grandmother. As if commemorating this short battle for the purse and its contents in song, my niece lets out a long, low howl, in whose final defining notes, I join.

From somewhere in the house, a voice informs us that UNC, though favored, have given up the ball on the 3 yard line, with a minute left. No timeouts.

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