What follows is a completely unprompted, unedited (from what my memory and scribbling notes can recall), and unsolicited (is that the same as unprompted?) response to tonight’s dinner topic of choice. Courtney was with friends, so it was just me, the three kiddos, and an 18 inch pizza.
As the oozing mozzarella and pepperoni settled swiftly to the bottoms of our welcoming tummies, Nate posed a suggestion:
“Let’s play, ‘What do you miss most about Africa?’”
Ethan and Evelyn were clearly game. I knew this could be gold, so I ran for a scrap of paper and a pen – our dining room table is a good spot for those. It usually houses our family’s version of a haphazard, starving artist’s studio. As I was about to grab a naked brown crayon, I spotted a ball-point hidden halfway under an unfinished coloring page. Success.
Dashing back to the kitchen, I entered just as the negotiation of turns was ending. It came as largely unchallenged that Nate should be allowed to answer first, since he came up with the idea. This is standard procedure in the world of dinner conversation amongst our band of under 8’s.
My attempt at narration below [italics inside of brackets, as here] follows no known protocol for recording conversation. Do not attempt to match it to MLA or APA writing formats – you’ll be sorely disappointed. I simply hope to provide the most accurate picture of what took place with a ‘minimal’ level of commentary for your comprehending pleasure.
NATE: “I miss working with Jesse [our outside worker], I miss Tyler [Nate’s Kindergarten buddy], all my pet chameleons [‘pet’ is used here in the loosest sense of the word; he catches many and keeps none for longer than a day], my bunk-bed, my pre-schoolers, and my room. Also my toys and Ben…”
DAD: [interrupting for clarification] “Wait, Ben who?”
NATE and ETHAN: [almost in unison] “You know, big Ben? Our neighbor with the trampoline?” [How could I overlook our 9th grade next-door neighbor? Duh, Dad!]
NATE: [continuing] “…Titus [another buddy, Nate’s age], the trampoline, and Caroline [Ben’s 11th grade sister]…but mostly Tyler.”
DAD: “Ok. Ethan’s turn.”
EVIE: “No, my turn!”
DAD: “Evie, let Ethan go first.”
EVIE: [ignoring me completely] “I miss Haley and Elisey and my bed…”
DAD: “Evie, let’s let Ethan go. You can go next.”
ETHAN: “I miss my toys, my room. School… yeah, I guess I miss school. [pause] Oh! Pinewood Derby! Coke date, drive-in movie, carnival and corn flakes”
NATE: “Yeah, corn flakes!”
EVIE: [fed up with being the only girl, the youngest, and always getting the short end of the stick during turns negotiations, which aren’t really negotiations at all, but rather pre-determined conclusions that the boys will always go first]: “No, Nate, MY turn!”
DAD: “Go ahead, Evie.”
EVIE: “I miss Haley [Evie’s 11th grade ‘big sister’], Elisey [Titus’ younger sister], my bed, Veronica [our inside worker], Caroline, the trampoline, Africa, my kitchen…”
DAD: “Good. What about when we go back? What do you guys think you’ll miss most about America?” [Referring back to my original claim of ‘unsolicited’ and ‘unprompted’ (which the more times I write, the less I’m convinced is even a word), this is the ONLY legitimate question I posed that wasn’t in direct line with the current vein of the discussion]
ETHAN, NATE, and EVIE: “OOOH, me first, me first!”
DAD: “Let’s let Evie go first this time. [Justice delivered. Excuse me while I reach awkwardly to pat myself on the back] What are you going to miss about America when we go back to Kenya, honey?”
EVIE: “Ice, Lydia…” [Lydia is a good family friend, about six years older than Evie, and represents to her everything good about knowing someone who ISN’T one of her older brothers]
NATE: [acting as though Evie’s answer was perfectly acceptable and within reason AND as if someone had clearly said, ‘OK, Nate’s turn’, which nobody had – this is not uncommon] “This house…”
ETHAN: “Snow!” [at this point, I will refrain from interjecting a narrative note as each successive speaker steps to the front. Suffice it to say that they were all answering at once, casting off their high view of turns and fairness. I did my best to keep up]
EVIE: “…this house…Daddy, can you draw it?
ETHAN: “Don’t forget the chimney, Dad”
EVIE: “Can you draw the big bad wolf? And some people?” [Here, I rattle off a quick sketch of a very generic house, with a chimney, the big bad wolf standing nearby, and some people. Satisfied laughter follows from Evie and Ethan]
NATE: “Wait, let me see! [the paper is turned so Nate can see; he smiles] Cool, Dad.”
DAD: “Ok guys. Anything or anybody else you might miss?”
NATE: “Grandpa, working with Grandpa, cousins…”
ETHAN: [very excited] “Dad! Did you know that actually two days after we leave, someone else is going to be leaving to live somewhere a LOT closer to us while we’re in Africa?! It’s Ben! [his best U.S. buddy moving to the U.A.E. for a few years]
DAD: “Yeah, I know. Are you going to miss Ben?”
ETHAN [less excited]: “Yeah.”
NATE: “….Grandpa’s farm…”
EVIE: “Oma, Grandma…[pause, then with renewed enthusiasm] Africa!” [she had a tough time with the abstract concept of what she thinks she’ll miss when she gets to a place that she isn’t currently in…can hardly fault a 3-year old for that]
ETHAN: “football games, trick or treat…”
NATE: “I thought they had trick or treat in Africa.”
ETHAN: “No, they have carnival, Nate. Cottonball! [the lone surviving sheep on Grandpa’s farm]
NATE: “Yeah, Cottonball! And Milly and Billy.”
DAD: “Who are Milly and Billy?”
ETHAN: “Those are Grandpa’s goats”
*I am aware that this picture is NOT of the goats.
**Also Note: Most of the animals in this picture WERE harmed, although not for the purposes of taking this picture, or writing this blog post, and completely on an unintentional level. It turns out Grandpa wasn’t such a good sheep farmer.
ETHAN: “…Raisin Bran Crunch, Life, Honey Bunches of Oats, Honey Nut Cheerios…”
DAD: “Evie, she’ll be IN Africa! Any other people you’ll miss from America when we move back to Africa?
ETHAN: “Mrs. Knapp…”
NATE and EVIE: “Yeah, Mrs. Knapp!”
ETHAN: “…Jason, Sabrina [also Knapps], and Bobbi [the Knapp’s blind and miraculously still living dog – not to be confused with Ethan’s long time favorite stuffed animal, Bobby the not-so-white-anymore dog]
DAD: “Oh my …”