"What We Call Chaos"
In theory, they were making
a beef pot roast and a macaroni casserole.
In practice, it was chaos.
How do they keep track of all this?
Stan's father Stuart was supervising
the assembly of the pot roast,
while his mother Sharon
oversaw the macaroni casserole.
Stan was peeling the potatoes
and Lawrence was supposed to be
peeling the carrots, but it was hard
with Stan's sisters in the kitchen.
Stephanie at least stayed
by her mother's side,
but then she was the oldest
of the three girls.
Sloane ran in circles grabbing things
and popping them onto the counters,
her red hair flying behind her.
Susie was supposed to be
throwing away scraps, but
kept bouncing off Lawrence
on the way to the garbage can.
Then Sloane dropped a handful
of dry macaroni down his back.
Lawrence scrabbled at his shirt,
trying to get the pasta out
without making too much of a fuss
about it because he couldn't tell
how anyone would expect him to react and
he nearly shook with the effort of staying calm.
Lawrence was trying to fit in
and help in the kitchen,
but he didn't know how.
He felt like a stagehand
who had fallen from the rafters
to the stage in the middle of a
carefully choreographed ballet.
I'm never going to get this right,
His breathing quickened as he
pressed himself against the counter,
hoping to stay out of the way.
"Hey, kids, cool it down some,"
said Stan's father.
Stan came to rescue Lawrence,
leading him to a quiet corner
between the stove and the pantry.
"Here, this can be your spot,"
Stan said. "You stay here and work.
I'll bring things to you as needed."
That was better. Lawrence still
couldn't understand whatever
governed the flow of bodies
through the kitchen, but at least
now he didn't have to navigate it.
He finished peeling the carrots in peace,
and the pot roast went into the oven.
Stan brought him cheese to grate
for the macaroni casserole.
When Lawrence finished the cheese,
Stan said, "Listen, why don't you
go up to my room and rest for a while?
I can make the cake by myself."
"Girls, you go up to your room too,
and do not bother Lawrence anymore,"
Stan's mother added.
Lawrence was grateful for the refuge
of Stan's room, and the wide bed
that smelled faintly of Stan.
He lay down and tried to calm himself.
In the next room, he could hear
Stan's sisters talking.
"Sloane, you need to be nicer
to Lawrence," said Stephanie.
"I think we scared him today."
"He's too serious! He never smiles
unless he's looking at Stan,"
Sloane protested. "He needs to cheer up.
"I was just trying to make him feel at home."
"Well, I'm not sure Lawrence knows that,"
Stephanie said, and she was right.
Lawrence had no idea that Sloane's
constant pestering was somehow
meant to be welcoming
rather than aggravating.
How does that even work? he wondered.
"He's really sweet, but he never lets it out,"
Susie piped. "Sugar's no use
if you leave it in the dish."
"I think so too, but Lawrence
has his reasons for being quiet,"
Stephanie explained. "Stan says
people aren't always nice to him
and that makes Lawrence skittish."
"Like the kitty in the alley," Susie said.
Stephanie laughed. "A little like that,"
she said. "Remember to be gentle with him."
"Do you think he likes tuna?" Susie said.
Lawrence muffled a laugh.
Dear God, it's not just Stan,
it's all of them!
"We could bring out Shadows Over Camelot
after supper," Sloane said. "It's a fun game,
it's easy to learn, and it plays seven people.
The boys will be done with their homework.
We should do something all together."
"That's a great idea," said Stephanie.
Lawrence felt like his whole world
was tilting sideways. Sloane wasn't
just pretending that her antics
were meant to welcome him --
she had actually thought up
something new when the first
attempt at inclusion didn't work.
The door opened with a quiet click.
"Hey, are you okay?" Stan asked
as he sat on the bed beside Lawrence.
"You still look pretty overwhelmed."
"I'm fine," Lawrence said.
Now Stan looked really worried.
"The girls are bugging you again,
aren't they?" he said. "What'd they do?"
"No, really ..." Lawrence trailed off,
realizing that he always said fine
whether he was or not, and maybe
that was causing a problem here.
"Nobody's bothering me,"
Lawrence said, patting Stan's knee.
"I like your house, honest."
I love your family.
I wish it were mine.
He kept those thoughts to himself.
"You're sure?" Stan said.
"I could tell that Sloane and Susie
were getting on your nerves. They like
being silly and don't always know when to quit."
"I'm just not used to ..."
Lawrence waved a hand.
"... all this, yet."
"Well, yeah, they're a handful,"
Stan said. "But they're little sisters --
being pesky is part of their job."
"Heck of a job," Lawrence said.
"I'm serious," Stan said.
"They teach me patience.
How'd you think I learned
how to put up with you,
back when you were still
trying to drive me up a wall?
You and Sloane are a lot alike."
"I guess I never thought about that,"
"She's the one in the middle,
so she has to do something
to get people's attention," Stan said.
"Sloane is the class clown. I think
she'll grow up to be a comedienne ...
or possibly an arsonist, not sure yet."
Lawrence chuckled. "Yeah,
I could see either of those happening.
I just don't know how to deal with your sisters,
without getting run over, or getting into trouble."
He could understand Sloane's need for attention,
though, and Stan was right about him sharing it.
Just being here with all these people helped
fill an empty space inside him, even if
it got overwhelming at times.
He wouldn't give it up.
"You really can't let them push you around,
or they'll do it all the time," Stan said.
"So I'm ... allowed to push back?"
Lawrence said tentatively.
"If it's Sloane, you're encouraged
to push back," Stan said.
"If it's Susie, go easy on her;
she's only seven and doesn't
really understand manners yet.
Stephanie shouldn't pester you,
she just gets bossy sometimes."
"Okay," Lawrence said,
"and ... thanks for the hints."
"Anytime," Stan said,
opening his science book.
They had time to wrap up
their studying before supper.
There was something peaceful
about lying on the bed reading,
side by side, exchanging a few words
whenever one of them got stuck.
When they were called down to supper,
Stan's sisters swarmed around them,
and Sloane slapped something
onto Lawrence's shirt.
This time Lawrence bent down,
grabbed her by an ankle,
and turned her upside down.
Only her head and shoulders
remained on the floor.
Sloane squealed and thrashed,
trying to gain leverage.
"Look what I caught," Lawrence said.
"It's a red snapper. Think I should eat it?"
"Nah, it's too small, throw it back,"
Stan advised, laughing.
Sloane managed to twist loose
and scramble out of reach.
"I'm gonna get you back,
Lawrence, just you wait!"
she yelled as she ran downstairs.
"You can try," Lawrence called,
"but Stan never had much luck
with that, and he's bigger than you!"
"Oh, now you've done it,"
Stan said, shaking his head.
"Done what?" Lawrence asked
as he looked down at his shirt.
A gold foil star glinted against
the soft black fabric.
"Friend for life," Stan said.
"Most boys won't roughhouse with her."
"Why not?" Lawrence asked.
"Sloane seems like a natural."
"She is. She tends to win.
They don't like that," Stan said.
"Idiots," Lawrence said,
shaking his head.
"They deserve to lose."
When they went downstairs,
the dining room was seething with people.
Lawrence hung back a little, but Stan
took him by the hand and led the way
through the swirling bodies to the table
without ever bumping into anyone.
It was then that Lawrence realized,
Sometimes what we call chaos
is just a pattern we don't understand yet.
* * *
Stuart Wood -- He has fair skin, blue eyes, and short blond hair. He is the husband of Sharon and the father of Stan, Stephanie, Sloane, and Susie. Stuart grew up in a small, lonely family and hated that. He determined to make a big, happy family for himself when he grew up. So he found himself a girlfriend who wanted the same thing and had the skills he lacked, spent several years convincing her that he was worthwhile, and together they made it work. As a teenager, Stuart got a part-time job in construction and used that to fund his college classes in architecture. He is one of the scoutmasters for Stan's troop.
Qualities: Master (+6) Architect, Master (+6) Father, Expert (+4) Activity Scout Master, Expert (+4) Activist, Expert (+4) Construction Worker, Expert (+4) Cook, Good (+2) Physically Fit, Good (+2) Quilting, Good (+2) Strategy Games, Good (+2) Thoughtful, Good (+2) Wilderness Skills
Poor (-2) Unhappy Childhood
Sharon Wood -- She has fair skin, blue eyes, and short blonde hair. She is the wife of Stuart and the mother of Stan, Stephanie, Sloane, and Susie. She came out of a large, happy family and wanted to make one of her own, which she did. She helped her husband Stuart learn the people skills and coping techniques that he didn't get growing up. Sharon likes designing spaces that feel comforting and homelike. She is one of the scoutmistresses for her daughters' troop.
Qualities: Master (+6) Home Designer, Master (+6) Mother, Expert (+4) Activity Scout Mistress, Expert (+4) Patience, Expert (+4) Social Circle, Expert (+4) Wilderness Skills, Good (+2) Animation Fan, Good (+2) Athletic, Good (+2) Cook, Good (+2) Geometry
Poor (-2) Taking Care of Herself
Stephanie Wood -- She has fair skin, blue eyes, and long straight blond hair. She is the oldest of Stan's three little sisters, 11 when he is 16. Although she is junior to Stan, she is the clear leader of the girls in the house and a hard worker. She plays classical piano and is beginning to dabble in other genres of music.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Pianist, Good (+2) Student, Good (+2) Mediator
Poor (-2) Bossy
Sloane Wood -- She has fair skin with freckles, blue eyes, and long red hair with just a little wave. She is the middle of Stan's three little sisters, 9 when he is 16. Sloane is always trying to get attention so that she doesn't get lost in the shuffle. Sometimes this gets her into trouble. She adores Stan's boyfriend Lawrence.
Qualities: Good (+2) Class Clown, Good (+2) Smart, Good (+2) Tomboy
Poor (-2) Mischievous
Susie Wood -- She has fair skin, blue eyes, and long wavy blonde hair. She is the youngest of Stan's three little sisters, 7 when he is 16. The baby of the bunch, Susie is content to let other people make the decisions, as long as she gets to play too. Although rambunctious, she's not the troublemaker that her sister Sloane is. Susie is more interested in making friends than mischief.
Qualities: Good (+2) Cute, Good (+2) Loves Everyone
Poor (-2) Sitting Still
* * *
“There are only patterns, patterns on top of patterns, patterns that affect other patterns. Patterns hidden by patterns. Patterns within patterns.
If you watch close, history does nothing but repeat itself.
What we call chaos is just patterns we haven't recognized. What we call random is just patterns we can't decipher. what we can't understand we call nonsense. What we can't read we call gibberish.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Survivor
Dealing with in-laws can be one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of family life. Moving through stages of family life is a series of exchanges of pros and cons; Stan and Lawrence are just reaching the "couple" stage early, so they're hitting the in-law issues that most people wouldn't encounter until their early twenties or later. There are tips for meshing with in-laws.
Cooking together as a family has many benefits. Children can learn age-appropriate tasks. If you look closely, you should be able to identify that the Woods have divided responsibilites variously by recipe, task, and location. Stan gives Lawrence a station when it becomes clear that trying to navigate the more fluid process of the whole kitchen experience is overwhelming. (It's like a minigame, for teamwork skills!) There are tips for organizing a family kitchen and for working in a kitchen.
The menu includes beef pot roast, cheese casserole, and 1-2-3-4 cake.
Susie is rambunctious and Sloane is mischievous. Consequently the family has established rules for pranks and ways of managing all that energy. There is nothing wrong with them! They just need guidance and constructive ways to channel their exuberance.
Sloane adores Lawrence, not in a crush sort of way, but like some tomboys pick an older boy as a role model. That she has chosen a geek instead of a jock for this is just Sloane being her usual oddball self. So of course she wants to cheer him up and make him feel welcome. The catch is, this is someone with Stan's big heart ... and half his experience. There will be wobbles.
Birth order often has a distinct impact on family dynamics. In particular, younger siblings teach patience and caregiving to older siblings. This family is actually double-stamped: Stan is the firstborn, while Stephanie is his younger sister but the oldest of the three girls, so she has some firstborn and some latterborn traits.
Shadows Over Camelot is a fun family board game with strategic aspects.
Roughhousing teaches a lot of things to kids. Lawrence has had very little positive experience with roughhousing, and a lot of experience getting beaten up -- until he started harassing Stan. It is that more recent interaction which Lawrence uses to gauge his response to Sloane.
Lawrence is still trying to figure out what makes a family functional or dysfunctional. Stan's family is appealing but also confusing and overwhelming. Understand the traits of a healthy family, some basic relationship skills, and how to have a good family life.