In Hannah Montana v. Mets, Dad rules

Exceptions erode order, and there's no room for that in our house.

Even though Congress adopted new ethics rules that banned the acceptance of gifts, trips, and meals, among other freebees, Democrats and Republicans will still attend many lobbyist-sponsored events surrounding their conventions. Why? Exceptions, of course.

I've found that while discussion on a rule's merit can be productive, an exception is no child's play.

The other day my 5-year-old son, while sitting in the living room watching TV, was hit by a sudden urge to dash upstairs.

A few minutes later he returned to find his 7-year-old brother sitting in his spot.

"Hey, I was sitting there," he exclaimed, wherein his brother cited one of the house rules: Get on your feet, you lose your seat.

The 5-year-old shook his head vehemently. "It doesn't count. I had to go to the bathroom." The 7-year-old laughed and explained that rules were rules.

A great debate of Scopes proportion ensued. There were certain unavoidable reasons why one must at various times temporarily vacate a location while maintaining ownership of said spot, the 5-year-old insisted.

A society that does not abide by steadfast rules is liable to collapse in anarchy, the 7-year-old retorted.

Rules must be adaptable to changing conditions. This is why the United States Supreme Court must interpret laws in the context of its time, the 5-year-old surmised.

I stand by my contention that once you begin placing conditions upon rules, they cease to be effective, the 7-year-old concluded.

Well, I'm sure at least that's what they meant to say.

It sounded more like: "GET OUT OF MY SEAT!" "Get on your feet, you lose your seat." "I WAS SITTING THERE!" "Get on your feet, you lose your seat." "GET UP!" "Get on your feet, you lose your seat."

Aroused by the screaming, my 16-year-old son came into the room. He'll tell them both just to be quiet, I figured.

But somehow they sucked him right into the argument. It seems he sided with the 7-year-old, citing such precedents as Dad v. Zachary in the case of the last ice-cream sandwich, Dad v. Hannah in the case of Hannah Montana or the Mets game on the widescreen TV.

"But that's Dad," the 5-year-old said.

Finally my eldest son sent his little brothers into the kitchen to see me for a final ruling.

It's usually best to stick to the rules, I told them.

You have to keep in mind that these rules are nothing that has been written down, they are just byproducts of less-than-pleasant circumstances. Take for instance the "Dad doesn't play the 'smell this' game" rule. Remember when you came home from school and insisted that I smell the lunch bag that had been in the back of your desk for half the school year? Remember how I tried to pretend to sniff it, but you were too smart for that one? Thus the rule.

Then there's the "Who sits in the front seat" statute. One time your mother told your sister and older brother not to run to the car and fight over who will sit in the front seat. Your brother, who listens as well as he cuts his toenails, darted past your sister who, being the competitive one, despite your mother's decree, could not stop herself from chasing after him. Since they both ran, neither got to sit in the front seat.

Let's not forget about those small miscellaneous rules: You can't ask for more food until you've stopped chewing; you can't claim "finders keepers" when you find something that belongs to your sister in your sister's room.

House rules are essential to an orderly household where five children and two exhausted adults live in such close proximity. You may think these rules sound a bit insensitive, but believe me, sticking to a cut and dry standard will prevent hours of senseless arguing.

In this case, when someone walks into an empty room, he or she has no way of knowing who, if anyone, is coming back even if the TV is on. So, if there is no one there to hold your spot, then there's no arguing with the "on feet, lose seat" rule.

They shrugged their shoulders and walked out into the living room, then began screaming louder than they were before. Apparently their big brother had taken the coveted spot.

Dean P. Johnson teaches English at Camden Academy Charter High School and is an adjunct professor of writing at Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J.

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