The Family Food Chain

FoodChainI don’t know what it’s like at your house, but over here it’s Game of Fucking Thrones without all the nudity.

It’s like, everybody wants to rule the world, and I’m just waiting for my head to roll.

As such, everyone who lives here is embroiled in a non-stop power struggle in an effort to usurp control from whomever is perceived to be the one in power.

And, mostly, that top banana would be me.

Even the cat has been known to make a power grab or two in an attempt to inch her way further up the family food chain. She came in half dead off the streets four years ago and now is practically second-in-command, so she’s someone I’m definitely keeping my eye on. She’s always quick to jump on my bed if I get up and sits like some weird Buddha, her back pressed up against my pillow as she licks her midsection. When I return and discover this gross scene, she just looks up, mid-lick, and stares. It’s really quite scary.

The jostle for power kicked in about five years ago when my ex-husband, the undisputed alpha figure, moved out. When he lived here, there was a natural order to things. Like, he was at the top of the food chain, since it was generally accepted that– as the one earning a paycheck — this was his house, and the rest of us just lived here.

After he moved out, everybody made a play for the top. Even Rudy, truly the sweetest dog you’d ever want to meet, made no bones about the fact that he viewed me as his subordinate. He thought he was the boss of me, and to prove it he would just sit down in the middle of a run or poop on my family room rug.

In a house brimming with scheming animals and ruthless teenagers, I had to work really hard to establish myself as the top dog, so to speak. So I set boundaries, stopped putting up with disrespectful behavior and suspended cell phone service on a regular basis to get my point across, which was: I am the fucking boss. Nothing gets people attention like the inability to send texts.

And slowly, over time, it started to work.

One of the things that helped the balance of power shift in my direction was when I started working full time because for some reason, a paycheck connotes power around here. When I was a stay-at-home-mom for many years, everyone viewed me as some kind of freeloader, just looking for the easy way out – like getting to spend my days wiping butts and hanging out in supermarkets with a bunch of whiny toddlers — in exchange for some laundry folding. So when I started to be compensated for my services, like with money, the kids took note. Not that they loved it and weren’t jealous of the time my new job took away from all my sandwich making duties. But it somehow helped to elevate my worth.

Now that I’m back out of work, I think it’s helped them to appreciate the seemingly endless supply of Boars Head Chipotle Chicken in the refrigerator and homemade dinners on the table. They like having a ruler who is so good to her people.

But I’ve watched enough Game of Thrones to know how quickly the tides can turn. How you can be sitting pretty on the throne one minute and choking on poison the next. Like last week, I went into the bathroom while my little guy was eating his Cookie Crisp and returned to find Joe and Mika had been replaced by SpongeBob dancing around in spandex like Jane Fonda on my TV screen. Doesn’t my son know that the queen likes her Morning Joe and the remote is off limits before noon?

Or, when we sit outside on our deck to eat, it is a truth universally acknowledged that I sit in one of the two bouncy chairs but just the other day, daughter #2 sat right down in one of them, at my spot at the head of the table, and started to eat.

“What do you think you’re doing?” I asked her.

She looked up from her plate and said, “Eating a salad.”

“That’s my seat,” I said, trying to move her plate to a nearby seat and she looked at me like I was crazy.

“Okay, crazy,” she said, and moved to the next chair.

But the power struggle that vexes me most lately is the parking game being quietly played out each day by those of us who drive one of our three family cars. In my mind, there’s a parking hierarchy, with my car getting the coveted spot in the driveway closest to the house, my son’s car next to it and my daughter’s jalopy parked in the street. But it seems every time he returns home and finds my spot open, my son pulls right into it. He’s worse than the cat and makes me want to throw him in the dungeon.

I even ran out in my pajamas the other night and moved my car into its rightful spot when I noticed my son pull out of the driveway. He returned about 10 minutes later and was like, “Really?”

Maybe I’m like Cersai Lannister, always on the lookout for anyone trying to seize her power and willing to have her own brother killed if necessary (and we all know what she’s doing with her other – albeit infinitely hotter – brother).

But the difference between Cersai and me is that I don’t have to depend on my dad or some potential suitor to maintain control.

I already own the castle.