It goes like this: two boys have been playing together like short human beings for a number of hours. Sure, there are shrieks, there are arguments, there are--shall we say--differences of opinion settled through the judicious use of fruit peels and saucy verbal jousting. But in general all is civilized. One grows proud.
And then comes the moment when the parents of the other boy arrive. And you know what happens?
Oh, not much. Only complete and utter savagery.
Wedgies are inflicted. There is hair pulling. One small boy topples the other small boy into a curio cabinet. A WEAPON IS PRODUCED even though they both know that we are trying hard around here to maintain the impression that we are a stable suburban bungalow staffed by responsible, well-educated (if terminally dishevelled), pacifist grown-ups. One of the midgets cries. Someone swears--just yesterday I heard the dread phrase "by cracky." Motherly arms clutch futilely for squirmy bodies, motherly voices squeak ineffectually beneath the mayhem.
And two nice women experience that stomach-churning churning of stomachs that indicates that you've failed publicly, again, at this raising children thing. Yeah, okay, sure--the kids don't have hooks for hands (Jenny's yardstick for successful parenting)--BUT they are not a credit to the family. They're not a credit to the RACE. THE PEOPLE RACE. And then the wheels well and truly come off: you re-re-re-re-re-notice the ancient smashed corpse of the mosquito of 2005 on the wall just above the door. The dog-chewed shoe in the hall that was fashionable in 1999 and which bears the grimy marks of your very own five apparently not-so-clean toes. The one-lightbulb-short hall fixture that even your mother shudders at, it's so hideous. The guacamole on your shirt. You see the thought bubble above the other mom's head: "Oh, SHE'S the mother of that child who wore ONE PAIR OF SOCKS the entire week he was away at camp."
The threshold is supposed to be a magical and hotly contested place of ghosts and angels, vengeful gods of the forest demanding entrance and determined gods of the hearth saying "No way, not on my watch you don't, you filthy beast." Guess what? It's true.