The critical Mom yells. She yells whenever the energetic ten year old throws a ball around the living room. She yells because he has a basketball hoop in his room, and plenty of balls in there. She yells because she had told him this ten thousand times before and sometimes when she actually sees the tennis ball smacking the wall, she takes away his computer. She yells because we have a perfectly nice yard outside, where he can throw a ball around. She yells because once, a long time ago, one of those balls hit the Diplomatic Dad's favorite beer stein, which smashed, leaving glass shards all over the living room floor, and children in socks, who had to be shooed out, nearby. She yells because she feels guilty that she and the Diplomatic Dad have never managed to summon the energy to clear out and re-model the cluttered, spiderweb-decorated basement where a dart board hangs forlornly, hardly used in cold weather, where you can see your breath down there.
The Diplomatic Dad returns from Mexico laden with presents, and the most expensive, and also the most beautiful, is the carved obsidian head of an Aztec sun god, lapis lazuli disks complementing his blazing white eyes, a malachite and glittering orange jadeite design forming his imposing headdress. He is a protector of the family, the Diplomatic Dad explains, and he came all the way from Teotihuacan, the huge archeological site, complete with pyramids, of pre-Columbian America. The middle child's eyes grow round.
"This one cost the most," says the Diplomatic Dad matter-of-factly. "So I would be really angry if someone were, say, playing ball in here and it broke."
The ten year old asks, "If I broke it, would that mean that our family had no more protection?" A pregnant pause ensues, in which the Critical Mom and the Diplomatic Dad exchange a glance indicating our temptation to allow this convenient delusion to prevent further breakages in the living room. But we shake our heads.
"No," the Diplomatic Dad concedes, "We still have plenty of protection."But the Aztec God is so beautiful and he stares ahead so resolutely. It is good to have him peering out across our living room from his perch above the TV. The Critical Mom is sure that he is protecting us.