Laura just barely ducked in time to miss the biscuit Joel flung at Tom at the dinner table. She couldn’t believe it. For an eight-year-old, Joel had a strong arm! The biscuit landed right on Tom’s jaw and sent him tipping back in his chair. If Laura hadn’t been sitting next to him, she wouldn’t have been able to straighten his chair in time, thereby stopping him from falling to the floor. Who knew what mess he would have made if his feet had hit the table?
“Joel!” Mrs. Larson gasped as she bolted to her feet. “What is the meaning of this?”
“He was looking at me funny,” Joel said, pointing to Tom, who was rubbing his jaw and moaning in pain.
With a groan, Sally glared at her little brother. “You threw food at him because he gave you a funny look?”
“He does it on purpose,” Joel argued, crossing his arms. “He sits over there for every meal and looks at me as if I have something stuck between my teeth.”
Laura glanced from Joel to Tom. The two sat on opposite sides of the table and diagonally from each other. Sally had told her that their parents had chosen this particular arrangement because it meant the two couldn’t kick each other under the table or touch each other. But it seemed no matter where they placed them, the two brothers still found a way to get in trouble.
Mrs. Larson looked at Mr. Larson, silently begging him to help.
Mr. Larson placed his napkin on the table and gave both boys a pointed look. “If you can’t sit at the table and eat the meal in peace, you can go to bed hungry. Now, are you going to finish the rest of this dinner in peace, or are you done?”
“He started it,” Joel said.
“Did not,” Tom replied indignantly.
“Did, too,” Joel argued.
“I didn’t ask who started it,” Mr. Larson intervened. “I don’t care who did what or when. All I care about is stopping this right now.”
After a moment, both boys relented and turned back to their meals.
The above is what I pretty much go through every night when I’m having dinner with my family, and I decided to capture this ongoing drama in The Marriage Agreement.
Two, in particular, are notorious for doing and saying anything and everything to antagonize the other. These are my 10 and 12 year olds. I’d say the 12-year-old is more like Joel, and the 10-year-old is more like Tom. The oldest (now 13) pretty much stays out of the whole thing, which is similar to Dave. The 11-year-old likes to point out who is causing all the trouble, but he has a bit of Joel in him because he’ll kick different people under the table and blame it on one of his brothers.
And do you think a warning works with these kids? Well, let’s see how this scene from The Marriage Agreement continues….
Sally shook her head. “We’re sorry you had to witness this, Laura. Brothers are the worst. And you’d think since Tom’s sixteen, he’d know better.”
“Whoa,” Dave, the thirteen-year-old, piped up. “I did nothing to get in trouble.”
Sally’s eyebrows rose in a way that meant to challenge him. “You’re just as bad as Tom and Joel. I’ve heard you competing with them in your burping and farting contests.”
Eleven-year-old Jenny gagged. “I’m trying to eat.”
Sally smiled as if Jenny had just proven her point. “See? Jenny is disgusted by it because she’s a girl. I swear, boys have no redeeming value at all. Sometimes I think I’d be better off living my life as a spinster. Who needs all this to deal with for the rest of her life?”
Mrs. Larson waved her fork at Sally. “It seems to me you were prettying yourself up last Sunday in hopes Jimmy would notice you at church.”
“Ha!” Joel cried out and stuck his tongue out at his sister.
Sally’s face went red, but to her credit, she refused to admit had a weakness for members of the opposite sex. Instead, she said, “I’m no longer concerned about Jimmy.”
Joel smirked. “Because he asked Annie if he could court her.”
“No,” Sally began. “I got close to him and realized he smells awful.” She turned her gaze to Laura and added, “That’s another thing about living with a bunch of boys. They never wash up, and they often wear the same clothes for days. Sure, it saves on laundry, but it smells worse in here than it does in the barn.”
“That’s enough, Sally,” Mr. Larson said. “You’re eighteen. You won’t be living here much longer.”
“You’re father’s right,” Mrs. Larson added. “Whether you want to admit it or not, soon you’ll meet someone and fall in love with him, and then you’ll want to marry him and start a family of your own.”
“I can only hope he knows how to change his clothes and manages to keep his farts and burps to himself,” Sally muttered.
Mrs. Larson let out a heavy sigh, and Sally took that as a warning to stop complaining.
Laura found the whole thing fascinating. She’d been an only child, so she had no idea what it was like for people who had brothers and sisters. While the boys were definitely a source of frustration to Sally and, to a lesser extent, Jenny, Laura thought the family was a happy one.
Everyone felt free to voice their opinion, and even if others didn’t agree with it, there was still the underlying sense of love in the group. Laura hadn’t realized such a thing was possible. Too bad things weren’t the same in her family.
She wondered if she might have this kind of thing with Jesse. Granted, she and Jesse weren’t marrying for love like Mr. and Mrs. Larson did. Theirs would be a marriage in name only. But she thought he was a good friend, and she felt they got along well enough to make a happy home for Elliot. Elliot wouldn’t have brothers and sisters like the Larsons did, but she and Jesse would treat him differently than the way her parents treated her. And that right there was a big improvement.
From next to her, Tom crossed his eyes at Joel. This, in turn, led to Joel pointing his finger at Tom and shrieking, “He’s doing it again!” in a pitch so high that only a young boy could manage it.
Laura’s ears rang, and she blinked back the water filling up her eyes. Thank goodness she was sitting next to Tom instead of Joel. She could only imagine how much worse it’d be to have to deal with that shrill tone when it was directly in her ear.
“Both of you, out,” Mr. Larson told Tom and Joel.
Tom gasped. “I didn’t even look at him.”
“I don’t care if you did or not,” Mr. Larson said. “I’ve had it with you two. It’s bad enough when you do it when it’s just us, but we have company.” He gestured to Laura. “The least you can do is be on your best behavior for her sake. Apologize to her then do your chores.”
Tom and Joel both apologized before leaving the room. From there, the rest of the meal went along peacefully.
The script pretty much plays out the same every single night of the week in my house.
So are authors ever inspired by real life events when they write their books? Oh yeah. Remember A Husband for Margaret? Those kids were based off my own sons when they were younger. I write this all down so I don’t forget. Someday when my kids are grown up with kids of their own, they’ll claim they never acted up. All I’ll have to do to prove they did is pull out the book and show them how they were as kids. (Sometimes being a writer has its perks.) 😉