I guess just about everybody who's raising a family nowadays is worried sick about whether their family's values are the right family values.
I know I am.
Of course, I've got a lot more to be worried about than most. For starters: I'm divorced, a career woman and a single-parent mother. Even worse, I am a mother who never met a ready-made Toys R Us Halloween costume she didn't like.
Actually, that last bit is a confession. I haven't even revealed it to the other mothers in the Family Values Empowerment Workshop I'm taking over at the community college. Partly that's because my group is still working through the correct way -- family-values-wise -- to celebrate such important occasions as Phyllis Schlafly Awareness Month and Pat Boone Day.
I had planned to bring it up at the last meeting, but when I arrived, everybody was already abuzz with the latest news about our role models, Dan and Marilyn Quayle. Or as we like to call Marilyn, the Un-Hillary.
Life magazine just broke the story. Which, in case you didn't see it, was a revealing look at the breakfast habits of the Quayle family. Accompanied by a photo of the Quayles gathered together in an exquisitely appointed dining room, Life sets the scene for us:
"Under the glistening chandelier, on the gleaming dining room table, sit four boxes of cereal, enough to accommodate one adult and three children -- Tucker, 18; Ben, 15; and Corinne, 13. (Marilyn opts for fruit and cottage cheese.) . . . There are the normal questions about summer reading: 'What page are you on?' Marilyn asks of Corinne's progress through 'Wuthering Heights.' The scene is idyllic: The parents are concerned, the children are loved, the dogs are freshly laundered."
And to that list, I would add: Dan and the Un-Hillary are dressed and groomed for the day, the children are wearing street clothes, the table is set with silver and fine china and everyone is reading something. It is a very pretty picture.
Breakfast at my house, I am sorry to report, is not pretty. It is not even reasonably attractive.
Unlike the Un-Hillary, I often appear in the kitchen for breakfast wearing my 10-year-old trademark chenille bathrobe. On festive occasions, I comb my hair first.
The sons always like to appear briefly in the kitchen to pick up some carryout breakfast to take back to their rooms. They seldom wear street clothes on these pass-through visits.
Before the Family Values Empowerment Workshop, I often tried to make breakfast time a happy time by resorting to threats: "If you want me to build that science diorama for you, young man, you'll sit down at this table with your brother and me."
But the Empowerment Group has taught me that threats don't work -- psychological guilt does. As in: "Did you boys know that the most recent studies of dysfunctional home structures show that all happy families eat breakfast together? And that all unhappy families eat breakfast in their own rooms?"
This ploy always works: I never fail to feel guilty when I hear it. After all, if I weren't divorced or working or a single parent, breakfast at my house would be just like breakfasts at Dan and the Un-Hillary's mansion.
Unfortunately, it's the kind of guilt that leads to other self-recriminations. To wit: If I weren't single or divorced or a working parent -- in other words, if I had better family values -- would my sons get better grades? If we had breakfast together would they be more likely to pass on traditional family values to their own kids?
Actually, I once did manage to get the entire family around the kitchen table at the same time. I even put out paper napkins and placed the milk carton on a plate.
But wouldn't you know it? Just when I was getting a pleasant family conversation going -- a discussion of how much we all liked Bart Simpson's haircut -- the cat fell off the top of the refrigerator into a son's bowl of peanut butter and sugar pops.
"Yuuuuck!" he cried out, jumping away from the table. The cat, that is, not the son -- who just continued eating with his eyes closed.
Of course, traditional family values aren't built in a day. We cannot all be like the Un-Hillary, who put it best, I think, when she said a few years back: "We're fortunate to be in a position where we don't require great wealth. That's not our lifestyle. I don't have to work."
And so, with that thought ricocheting through our heads, we leave the Quayle family at breakfast; we leave the Un-Hillary to her task of going "off to visit earthquake victims in California."
As for the rest of us, we'll eat an untraditional breakfast in the car and pray that our untraditional kids don't get sick while we're at work.