Quiet or chaos: What’s your pleasure?

The 16-year-old paid us what looked like a compliment the other night when he referred to a recent dinner at his girlfriend’s home. As an only child in a well-to-do mountain realtor family, her house is big and fancy … but quiet. Compared to the raucous goings-on in our home, he said, the atmosphere at the girlfriend’s home is nearly stifling.

Occasionally, we pop into open houses or do one of the local home tours, where we fantasize about owning a big house and pick out which room would be who’s. We moon over the home theaters, the giant closets, the lavishly appointed bathrooms and kitchens. Personally, I get all choked up at the three-bedroom garages with pristine floors, empty walls and enough room for a small aircraft inside. Our two-car garage is so full of crap you couldn’t fit a moped in there.

But then we come down off the hill and come home to our rented duplex and all its flaws and I can only think that, were we to have one of those 5,000-square-foot places, we’d never see each other. When each bedroom is its own universe – with bathroom, TV, adjacent rec room, whatever – what inspiration will the kids have for ever coming out? As it is, the two older teens “cave up” in their rooms more than we’d like, but they still emerge often enough that we recall the basic features of their faces, vocal patterns and rough history.

I’m a fairly ordered, organized person, and I think one of the things I love most about my family is the unpredictability of it all. We’re a crazed constellation of different stars, all with varied ideas about everything from how to make a sandwich to what “late” or “clean” means to what constitutes good music or cinema. Chaos theory is in full flower on our family Tilt-a-Whirl, and the best Jen and I can hope for sometimes is that everyone is strapped in for the ride.

And we do dinner, almost every night. There have been some recent studies done about the value of families having dinner together and, like many studies, this one told us something we already knew: It’s good to spend time with your family, and dinner nightly is a good way to do it.

It doesn’t matter much how big your house is or how much money you’ve got if your family members don’t see each other much – or if there are bigger cracks or holes in the basic infrastructure. You won’t see a divorced dad – a person now spending time with his kids through court-ordered “visitation” — find much solace in his monster home or his Audi S8. The lowliest plate of Hamburger Helper is a feast when it’s shared with a table full of laughing, bickering, joking family members.

Yep, they say that money can’t buy you happiness, and that seems especially true when viewed through the prism of family life.

Even so, with this gang of ours, would it be too much to ask for another bedroom?

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