The picture caption read, “Elder Boyd K. Packer and his wife, Donna, hold family home evening in 1970.” (If you aren’t Mormon, Family Home Evening means a family time in which we usually learn about God, sing and pray.) All of the air came out of me. I drooped. There they were, the whole family including 9 children, pressed and coiffed. The girls had their ankles crossed and the boys had great posture. Was the tween actually wearing panty hose? They all smiled big enough for a LIFE magazine cover.
I folded the magazine up and put it away on the back of the toilet. It was wrinkled because I found it crunched under the couch.
I thought about that family for a few days. What kind of Wild West, pig sty, Gremlins after midnight operation was I running around here?
It takes us 45 minutes between breakfast stragglers, a shirt that had to be ironed, and cleaning up last night’s living room tornado to round everyone up for scriptures this morning. My 8 year old boy is in charge and is going to read to us about prayer. But he doesn’t want to get off the couch and join the family at the table.
Dad is sitting at the table with a fan plugged in letting it blow on his face because we are adjusting to the sponge cake -thick humidity of our new town.
“I can’t hear you if you are on the couch. Come over here, son.” He says.
My son can’t really hear him because the fan is too noisy. “Why do I have to come over there?” He whines. “I want to read on the couch.”
“It doesn’t matter why! Just listen!”
“What?” My son squints and lets his gopher teeth show.
The 2 year old grabs a handful of dog belly and the dog nips at him. I threaten anyone and everyone that if that dog bites one more person I’m taking it to the pound. My husband rolls his eyes. He loves that dog.
It takes a few minutes to decide what song to sing. We settle on Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam, hoping to engage the 2 year old. Oh, he’s engaged alright. Every time we sing the word sunbeam, he stiffens, and screams, BEAM! His eyes bulge. The veins on his forehead and neck stick out. All of the kids egg him on to scream louder. Nobody is crossing their ankles or sitting up straight. In fact, I don’t even have pants on.
We get everyone settled down. My 8 year old reads the title of the article.
The two year- old falls off of the bench and hits his head. We take a few minutes to get him calmed down.
My son begins reading again.
My 6 year old daughter begins tapping a spoon on the table. I don’t bother to tell her to stop. She can’t listen to directions for more than 11 seconds before she starts doing it again, so I make her get up and go put it in the sink.
My son starts to read again.
My 2 year old finds a coin and begins dropping it on the table. I take the coin.
My son keeps reading.
My 2 year old finds a car and pounds it on the table top. I take it the car. He screeches in protest and gets up on the table to crawl over and take it back. My husband intercepts with the deftness of an NFL quarterback and pulls the baby onto his lap.
My son keeps reading.
My 6 year old drums her fingers on a calendar in front of her like she’s playing a piano. Passionately.
I ignore this one. My husband and I look at each other. We wordlessly communicate, “This is all worth it, right? Right? Sweet corn please tell me it’s all worth it.”
The baby gets off of my husband’s lap and scoots on his butt down the length of the table and climbs on my lap.
My son keeps reading.
The baby wraps his arms around my neck and gives me kisses so hard I feel his teeth through his lips. He’s smiling big enough for LIFE magazine. And so am I. He gives me ten more like that, then crawls back on the table and scoots back to Dad.
My son finishes reading. My husband shares a few feelings about prayer and my 11 year old daughter comments. I hear the baby whisper, “Prayer.” My hear skips with inspiration. I know my children are listening. At least a little bit.
If the scriptures had a Book of Larkin, one verse might read,
“And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ. We sometimes come to the table not all of the way dressed. We make noise. We yell at dogs. We roll our eyes. We don’t cross our ankles or wear pantyhose. But we try. And we know the Lord loves us.”
Dear parents. Be kind to yourself. Drop by drop, day by day, verse by verse you are builders of human beings. You are builders of yourself. And I bet before that picture was taken in 1970, Sister Packer was crying in the bathroom and Dad had to bribe everyone to smile and sit up straight for the photo with ice cream and no TV for a week. At least I’d like to think so.