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The Slumber Party

The children come to dinner and stay the night. Chaos ensues.

11:00 PM, Feb 11, 2003 • By LARRY MILLER
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"If I hear one more scream like that, I'm going to come in here with a two-by-four and smash everyone's head to a pulp. Your brains will explode like melons, and your skin will shrivel so badly no one will be able to sew it up. And you'll never stop bleeding." Boys being boys, they all thought this was hysterically funny, which was fine with me, since laughing stopped them from whatever they were doing in the first place. Everyone was happy with this system, too, until I began to run out of interesting ideas. Even a guy like me, who's supposed to have at least a fair head for making things up, quickly starts to run dry, and by the fourth threat I was down to things like, "If you don't shut up I'm going to pick up a . . . very big thing, and . . . use it." Luckily, just when they were beginning to smell the fear on me, it was time for the movie.

DID YOU KNOW popcorn shreds? Well, it does. The only thing I recall ever doing with popcorn is eating it, but when you throw it at someone by the handful or the bowlful, and then roll around on it like a giddy mastiff, the stuff de-kernels itself down to a fine dust which, in a very short time, makes your den look like an anthrax factory. Even vacuuming the next day didn't get all of it, and I have a feeling that in twenty years, when we go to sell the house, every potential buyer will walk out saying, "Hey, honey, how about we stay in tonight and rent a movie? I suddenly have a craving for Milk Duds." Speaking of which, the flick we screened was "Like Mike," a very good movie they had all seen before, but not above a thousand times. On this night, though, crushed food and wrestling were the main attractions, and we could have been showing "Mrs. Minerver" for all they knew.

Soon it was time for bed, at least for me, but there was no way with the kids. I would've had more success trying to convince Jacques Chirac to rent a summer home with Paul Wolfowitz. Eventually, though (in other words, three hours later), we got them upstairs and into their pajamas, and I have to say that seeing six exhausted, barefoot boys silently lined up behind the same the same toilet was pretty darn cute.

And before too awfully long, after ten visits to threaten, and a dozen or so forced separations, they drifted off, and that was that. Nothing to it. Even the dog slept with them, which was, again, pretty cute.

For some reason, however, it had eluded my crack deductive powers that if you go to sleep with a Little League team in your house, they will still be there when you wake up. And so at 5:36 a.m., to my great puzzlement, the starter's pistol went off again (a child screaming), and the race of the lunatics was on once more, with me in charge of the juice and the cereal and the light-sabers, and my wife doing what she does every morning, sleeping deeply and leaving everything to me. It was a kind of progress that I had moved emotionally from even attempting to care who got hurt. On further reconsideration, perhaps this was owed to the residue of the three tumblers of firewater I slugged back the night before, after they retired.

The parents were scheduled to return at 9:00 for their offspring, and, as time has a way of doing, it went by. The first to arrive was my friend Paul, the scoutmaster, and I smiled to see him, but he walked in with an ashen face and said, "Did you hear about the shuttle?"

And that's how I found out. I hadn't heard, and he gave me the details, what little was known that first morning, and my shoulders slumped, and I sighed. In the background, the kids were laughing and playing. Which is correct, of course. That's one of the blessings of our country. Our children can play even when great sadness occurs, and leave the grieving to their parents. That's, incidentally, one of the things the terrorists want to stop. "We will see to it that your country is as awful as ours." We're not going to let them, but that's what they want.

I stood silently with Paul, and then his son ran up and hugged him. I got him a cup of coffee and went into the living room. One of my kids looked up at me and smiled, and I put my arm around him. And then he asked if he could go back to playing, and I watched as he ran off to the others.

My wife came out of the bedroom and saw my face, and I told her. And, like me, she went into the living room to hug a child.

WE ALL LEARNED THE REST over the next few days, the stories of these magnificent people. The man who is a mainstay of his church, the woman whose birth country, India watched the heavens as one with a great pride, the Israeli pilot whose bombing mission in 1981 prevented the Iraqis from facing our soldiers today with nuclear weapons. Brilliant, loving, loved, dedicated, they are, all of them, truly the best of us.