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Even Robert’s Rules can’t keep order in our family. Believe me, we’ve tried

We started meeting monthly and very officially, as members of an imaginary civic organization, when I was barely 10.

Gemma Correll for the boston globe

We met monthly and very officially, as members of an imaginary civic organization. We were barely a quorum, and I was barely 10. The other members, with the exception of my father, were my three siblings, who were also children. But we were very serious about our club. We had proper roles, and when we assembled, we were formally in session.

We adhered to Robert’s Rules of Order and called our meetings to order with the mallet from a toy xylophone. We usually dressed up, as one should for an important meeting, and sometimes we wore hats. Occasionally, pajamas were permitted, but only because the meeting might run late.


We took attendance. We paid dues. We had an agenda. We reviewed minutes from our last meeting, and voted to accept them. Since only two of us kids could read, this took some time. I was secretary because I thought taking notes was good practice to be the writer I was intent on becoming. One of my sisters served as treasurer just to count money, and my brother was a lax vice president. My youngest sister, barely a toddler, was simply required to attend as a voting member. My father was president.

Once we had our meeting structure down, he suggested we have an election. My father nominated each of us to run for president, and said he would serve in another capacity. We wrote and delivered campaign speeches.

I broke down in tears reading mine, insisting our club stay the same because it was working just right. I wanted to keep scrawling minutes, and I wanted my sister to tally the coins we collected. I wanted no adjustments to our family dynamic, not yet knowing that can never be. My tearful plea put an end to the campaigning that night. My father eventually acquiesced, and we remained as I wanted, aye-ing and nay-ing as we always had.


It wasn’t an imaginary civic organization without some real controversy, though. There was once a scandalous pilfering of the club kitty. The treasurer reported the missing funds and quickly accused the person she suspected. We all agreed with her indictment, and the guilty party confessed. We decided repayment and an apology was penance enough. My parents moved our bank to a more secure location, upon a shelf that none of us could reach.

Every meeting was adjourned by consensus vote, followed by a pots-and-pans parade, as we clanged around our living room. My mother, who had declined club membership, would clap and cheer us on. At the time I took it as a personal affront that she wanted no role in our very important club. I realize her brilliance now. It gave us time alone with our father, and it was time alone for her.

It’s been close to four decades since we’ve been called to order. The club has had some skirmishes over the years. One of us is barely in touch, and all of us are too busy to keep a set meeting time.

We have each taken on different roles, out of necessity, without any election or any interest in assuming the responsibility of the assignment. Other times we’ve wanted to resign our positions entirely. When you are cultivated to follow rules stringently, it is hard to accept that adulthood has no regard for your trusted management manual.


We lost our mom, and miss her devoted support of our organization. We’ve mostly stayed closely incorporated but we’ve abstained and censured each other as well. But we have always kept diplomatic ties. As I learned from the dues incident, it is best to adjust and move on together.

Being a family isn’t easy, and even Robert’s Rules can’t keep order. I’ve pleaded my case for things to stay exactly the same innumerable times since. Growing up doesn’t allow for that. I am not 10. As long as we keep meeting as a family when we can, I’ll keep taking the minutes of our lifetime for us all.

Stacey Curran is a writer in Salem. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.