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No pens, pencils, knives or scissors!

Hillary IbarraMy father gave his children many things, but his greatest gift to his children was time.

He spent hours playing with us outside and having many conversations about God, our dreams, choices, relationships. …Well, he covered so many topics.

He also had a habit of being ultra-protective, inventing rules which indelibly stood from our toddler years to adolescence, despite the fact that our allotment of common sense had increased dramatically during this time. One rule especially lives in the memories of his four children. For years every time my parents left the house, my father turned to us kids and, with a deep tone of warning, said, “No pens, pencils, knives or scissors!”

These four utensils were banned on principle. According to Dad, any one of them could, with a lack of proper supervision, put an eye out. This created a dilemma when my parents worked late, and we kids had homework to do. The time came when we could no longer do it in crayon without inviting the derision of our classmates and teachers. So Dad let us use a pencil, but only if we sat a good distance from each other, preventing the possibility of it flying from our hands in a moment of mathematical fervor and lodging itself in a sibling’s eye. As we studied in four separate corners of the living room, we often speculated on what bizarre accident in Dad’s past kept us from being normal.

Whatever it was, it must have been horrendous because I don’t remember ever seeing a steak knife in my childhood home. I suppose Mom had to trim the fat off our dinner meat by gnawing on it with her strong, bare teeth or by playing tug-of-war with it and our Lab. And we kids became quite adept at carving our food with a mere fork. Thank heavens we had those nifty utensils with their four metal prongs! I suppose it was an oversight on Dad’s part, or perhaps he didn’t want to invest in chopsticks, because he thought that those, too, could put an eye out with a few enthusiastic attempts.

As for table knives with their blunt, smooth-as-a-baby’s-bum blades, they were not excluded from the rule by any means. My eldest sister Vinca had Dad’s exclusive permission to wield a table knife when my parents were out. My other two siblings and I were utterly dependent on her for our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Annie, Nate and I tried to stage a coup once, creeping up behind her as she made our lunch. But when she turned on us, drunk with her own power, and said, “Don’t make me use this!”, we went squealing into the living room.

Ironically, in light of all these prohibitions, my brother, Nate, and I were still allowed to play with homemade bows and arrows constructed from rubber bands, green sticks and sharpened twigs. Maybe Dad relied on the breeze to disrupt Nate’s aim as my brother told me to run in the field and be “a deer.” Or maybe Dad only had a problem with professionally made “weapons” and didn’t want to stifle our ingenuity in devising our own in case we ever had to join a poorly funded militia.

Eventually, the rule became more of a joke than a rule in our home, and Dad pronounced it with a twinkle in his eye and a smirk on his face — like when he said it out of habit in the presence of my sister’s fiancée, a Marine. Nevertheless, I do sometimes think on Dad’s old rule as I yell at my kids to stop playing drums with sharpened colored pencils, throwing pens at each other in a “friendly” game, cutting paper into tiny shapes all over my table or constructing ninja stars out of K’NEX. Like Ralphie’s mom in A Christmas Story, maybe Dad was on to something.

As for the rule’s long-standing effect on my relationship with basic utensils? Though I spent many childhood years waiting for the day when I could make my own sandwich using any sharp object I chose — a knife, letter opener, diamond cutter, table saw — as a grown woman, I still attempt to slice through various cuts of meat armed only with a fork and sheer determination. This spectacle provides my husband with entertainment at the dinner table — until a hunk of meat flies off my plate to hit him in the face. But, as I remind him, no one ever heard of putting an eye out with a T-bone steak.

— Hillary Ibarra

Hillary Ibarra has had several humor pieces published on Aiming Low and She is a mother of four who dreams of playing the banjo, living in Jane Austen’s childhood home and writing for more than spam artists and fifty loyal readers but can’t seem to find them in the laundry. She is the mysterious blogger at No Pens, Pencils, Knives or Scissors. In her spare time she likes to threaten to sell her children to the zoo, and their little dog, too.

Reflections of Erma