Rule No. 1: Follow the Rules

Fifteen years ago, I took on the role of stay-at-home mom with determination to go above and beyond the call of duty. I wanted to be one of those strong women who could handle just about anything, and for the most part, I was. I cooked, I cleaned, I nurtured, I maintained complete control. Nothing could faze me.

That worked for a little while, and then, strangely, my children started to think for themselves. No amount of time outs, gold stars, yelling, grounding or wooden spoons would make my children obey me every time. No matter what I did, they chipped away at my power, worming their way into my captain’s chair.

My breaking point came during a family camping trip. Ever the idealist, I envisioned us having hilarious family game nights in the cabin, meaningful talks on the docks under dappled sunlight, delicious barbeques, and gooey chocolate smiles after eating s’mores by the fireside. 

It rained for four days solid.

Thankfully, our cabin was equipped with electricity, and the sedative affect of the television was the only thing that kept us from going mad. On the fifth day, the clouds parted, and I was determined to have a happy family barbeque to salvage our experience. 

Without dry wood, we lit a smoky fire with damp sticks and charcoal briquettes. While the kids ran around the muddy perimeter of our cabin squealing and fighting, we cooked a few sad hot dogs on the smoldering fire.

I covered the slimy algae-stained picnic benches with blankets, set the table with our sad hot dogs, and called the kids to our happy family barbeque. Channeling June Cleaver, I bellowed, “C’mon kids! Time for din-din!”

Five minutes later, no one was at the table, so I started to count, “One, Two….” Lilly appeared, splattered with mud up to her knees. A few minutes later, I stormed off to find the other two, physically escorting them to their seats.

 “I don’t wanna eat it – it’s cold,” Anna said, staring down at her mac-n-cheese and singed hot dog. “I can’t find my shoe,” Lilly mumbled, just as I noticed her purple Mary Jane embedded in the mud a few feet away. I swatted the gnats and tried to maintain my composure.

I planned s’mores for dessert and hoped that this would be a sure fire hit. We held the marshmallows against the metal grill in order to get heat from the nearly extinguished briquettes, but in the end, the sugary confections were stiff, and tainted with smears of black soot and hot dog residue. The kids were too busy fighting over the Hershey bars to notice. 

Finally, my husband and I gave up and ordered everyone inside. The “electronic nanny” (ie, television) lulled the kids into a catatonic state, and we collapsed onto the couch. Frustrated with my lack of control, my mind raced.

Just then, the proverbial light bulb blinked on in my head. I leaped off the couch to find the art supplies I had packed for happy family crafts that never took place, and grabbed paper and colored pencils. I scribbled and sketched furiously like a mad scientist writing an ingenious formula. After an hour or two, my masterpiece was complete: The Molinari Family “Rules” were born.

A few days later, we were back home and I was determined to set a new standard.

“Ahem. I hereby call to order the first official Molinari Family Meeting. Please take a moment to write your name at the top of the four page agenda I typed up this morning.” I pronounced while pushing in Lilly’s booster seat.

I unveiled “The Rules” in dramatic fashion and asked everyone to read them aloud with me. Lilly, not yet a reader, mumbled as she watched our mouths, trying to imitate what we were saying.

After 30 minutes, the kids were slouched in their seats. After an hour, their heads were on the table. I closed the meeting sometime into the second hour, ending on a positive note – something about how much we loved them.

After the meeting, I felt refreshed, rejuvenated, armed, and in control. I was convinced that I had taken back the reigns and was going to steer the family on a straight course.

A year later, there I was again, furiously typing up another long Molinari Family Meeting agenda. About five such meetings have taken place since that ill-fated camping trip. Before each meeting, I ask everyone to recite “The Rules” together, in an attempt to reclaim order and civility in our little tribe. And after each meeting, I always feel so much better.

Recently, when things started spinning out of control, I immediately knew what I had to do.

Another agenda, recitation of “The Rules” and two hour meeting, always ending on the usual high note – something about how much we love them. As always, I felt so much better.

The next day, as I picked up the umpteen things left lying around the house, I realized that absolutely nothing had really changed. It occurred to me that perhaps the meetings were only for my benefit. Was everyone in the family simply sacrificing a couple hours of their time so Mom could regain her sanity. 

Embarrassed by this realization, I contemplated making my futile meetings a thing of the past. But then it dawned on me — In a twisted sort of way, my family’s sacrifice was sorta sweet, and besides, such behavior was exemplary of “Rule #1: Be kind.”

Feeling justified, I hung “The Rules” back on their nail to await the next Molinari Family Meeting.

I wrote and posted this article last year, but it was recently published in my weekly column in The Indiana Gazette. For those of you who have been long-time readers, thanks for tolerating the reprint – I wanted The Gazette readers to be able to come to my blog to see the photos related to the story.  And besides, “The Rules” still apply!

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Comments: 9

  1. Charleen Coulter April 4, 2011 at 12:59 pm Reply

    Lisa, I love to read your columns. You really have a gift. Being on the gray side of motherhood, I would suggest adding 1 rule to the list. To prepare them to be good adult children, always remind them to “call your mother”. Love you, Aunt Char

    • Lisa Smith Molinari April 4, 2011 at 2:31 pm Reply

      Funny you suggested that because I am on the phone with Maz as I type this!

  2. Sharon March 27, 2011 at 10:36 pm Reply

    How about no meetings and only one rule – Be kind?
    Meetings and rules never worked for my kids either. I thought I was the world’s worst mom. But, you know what? They are fantastic adults.

  3. Patrice March 27, 2011 at 6:24 pm Reply

    I knew you were always jealous of our family meetings! didn’t you learn anything from watching me squirm my way through them?
    Great writing! Keep it up! Best of luck these next couple of months….I expect lots of material from this move!

    • Lisa Smith Molinari March 27, 2011 at 10:00 pm Reply

      The Frankovich Family Meetings were a big part of my childhood, even though I never attended one of them! I had to live them vicariously through you! I was usually more nervous about them than you were! Thanks for reading Mon Ami!

  4. Jeff Silvey March 27, 2011 at 5:06 pm Reply

    I like the picture, and the list of rules. I also like that “Be kind” is number 1. Is there an accompanying list of what happens if the rules are broken?

    • Lisa Smith Molinari March 27, 2011 at 9:57 pm Reply

      Good point, I never made a list of consequences, but you can be sure that being “kind” would not have been one of them!

      • Serenely Rapt April 1, 2011 at 4:54 am Reply

        Yes I guess, Be Kind cannot be included in possible list of consequences. Dilute the whole thing I suppose. :D

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