Have you ever wondered what an evening in a polygamist’s house looks like?
Allow me to tell you what it’s like around here between Joshua’s arrival from work and bedtime.
Our husband Joshua typically gets home from work between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. His sleeping schedule right now is simply alternating nights with each of his two wives. (We had a more complicated schedule when we lived in separate houses.)
If it’s Joshua’s night with my sisterwife Melissa, he enters our house using her front door, eats the dinner she’s prepared for him, and then comes to say Hello to the rest of the family (if we haven’t already gone over to Melissa’s kitchen to greet him). If it’s his night with me, he does it the other way around.
A note about meals: On Friday nights we always have dinner together, as well as the rest of our Shabbat festivities. For other meals, Melissa is responsible for feeding her children, and I’m responsible for feeding mine. But there’s a lot of crossover. Her preschooler loves to eat in my kitchen with his older siblings, as long as I don’t serve him beans. 😁 If Melissa makes popcorn, you can bet we’ll all be over in her kitchen unapologetically stuffing our faces. When Melissa hears my juicer running, she comes over to get her morning glass of celery juice. So basically we do whatever is most convenient, freely sharing, but not feeling obligated to eat what the other wife is making.
What happens after dinner?
About half of us, including Joshua, are taking an online course in Biblical Hebrew. If there’s time after he finishes eating dinner, we’ll do a lesson together. We’ve been studying Biblical Hebrew for more than a year now, and I have learned so much about both Hebrew and the Hebrew Bible.
The blowing of the shofar is the official signal to everyone in the household to stop what they’re doing and gather for some family time. Because we use a shofar and everyone gets a turn to show-and-tell, we fondly call this time “Shofar & Tell”.
How do I prepare for Shofar & Tell?
I have several things I like to do regularly, so my Shofar & Tell preparations are somewhat extensive. Far in advance, I plan and purchase gifts. At the beginning of each week, I post the spelling words, and each day make sure my gradeschool-aged children learn them. Each day I use a photo app to go thru our old photos-from-this-day-in-history and decide which ones I’m going to show on the big screen. I also go thru old journals and family Happy Books to choose the entries I’m going to share with everyone. I also select a dance song (or oversee the selection — any child who finishes their list gets the privilege of choosing), wrap a gift (if I’m giving one that night), choose a hymn to sing (or have my daughter choose, if she’s going to accompany us on the piano), and of course make sure I’ve nursed the baby, I have diapers and water bottles and the other things needed for small children, and everything has used the bathroom, so no one has to leave during the time we’ll be together.
By the time I arrive at Shofar & Tell, I’m loaded down with 2-3 bags of things.
On the days when Shofar & Tell will be in my living room, I make sure the room is clean. I typically vacuum on those days, and I’ve made sure to have enough comfortable seats for our large family. I have a standing desk on which I lay out all the things I need, so I can access them and still alternate chasing after a toddler and holding him on my hip. (I’ve just found this works better for me than trying to get comfortable on the couch.)
Where do we gather?
We have Shofar & Tell in the living room of the wife Joshua will be with that night. My living space and Melissa’s are on the same floor of the house, connected with a door, so the children will simply ask, “What side is it on?” and then they know where to go.
It takes a few minutes to get all 10 family members ready and situated, so I usually play a fun song (on my phone or the TV) and we dance while waiting for everyone to arrive and get settled.
Once we’re ready to start, one of the children is chosen, and the shofar gets handed to them. As long as they’re the person holding the shofar, it’s their turn.
What does everyone do for their turn with the shofar?
The basic idea is to share an interesting thing or two about your day. Occasionally Joshua will declare a theme for the evening: “Say something you’re grateful for.” Or maybe “Roses and Thorns” (Roses and Thorns is when everyone says something good about their day — their “rose” — and something bad about their day — their “thorn”).
But more often, we each say or do whatever we want. We can show, or we can tell, and we’re holding the shofar when it’s our turn, hence the name “Shofar & Tell”.
My daughter will often perform a piano piece she’s been working on. My older children like to teach us something they read in a book or on Wikipedia. Our preschooler shows us a toy he’s been playing with that day or perhaps he tells us where he went. My son might recite a poem he wrote or memorized. Melissa might show us a cute photo or video of her baby or her grown children. Joshua often gives a gospel lesson or shares a scriptural insight or teaches us something.
My turn is the arguably the most complicated.
A few years ago when we stopped celebrating Christmas, I started giving gifts at Shofar & Tell, giving each family member a gift roughly once a month.
I also have a spelling-word-of-the-day. I have a list of the 150 most commonly misspelled words, and I hand out paper and pens and quiz everyone; then we discuss how to spell it, as well as different forms of the same word and similar words. I make judicious use of the technology the Chromecast gives me to cast my Google Doc of spelling words onto the big screen.
Next, I like to show photos from This Day in (our family’s) History. Then, I read entries from This Day in one or more of the volumes of the Family Happy Book I write in regularly. (This can be time-consuming, so it’s the first thing I skip if we’re pressed for time, for whatever reason.) Finally, if there’s time, we’ll sing a hymn we’re learning.
When they’re done with their turn, they pass the shofar to another child. The last child to have their turn gives the shofar “to one of the mamas”, and once the mamas have both had their turn, Joshua goes last. Finally, we kneel and have family prayer together.
Who runs the meeting?
My son has the job of noticing it’s close to 8:00 p.m. and checking to make sure all 3 parents are ready for him to blow the shofar, but my husband Joshua really runs Shofar & Tell. He enforces the rules: The person holding the shofar is the person whose turn it is; all conversation should focus on whatever they’re saying. No side conversations. No leaving unless necessary. Snacks are fine if you brought them with you and if the hostess-mama is fine with the food being eaten in the living room.
What if we have guests?
If you happen to be at our house at 7:00 p.m., we will probably skip our Hebrew lesson in favor of hanging out with you. But if you’re here at 8:00 p.m., we will simply invite you to join us for Shofar & Tell. I love when we get to have friends at Shofar & Tell with us! I invariably write about it in the Family Happy Book.
How many of us know how to play the shofar?
All of us can play, all the way down to our 6-year-old, but some of us play better than others.
Here’s a photo of me playing our kudu shofar on a camping trip.
We have about 10 shofars, but our kudu one is my favorite for several reasons: It’s beautiful, the mouthpiece is a comfortable size, I can get several pitches out of it, and the pitches are the right intervals to play bugle songs such as “Taps” and “Reveille”.
What are some other things we’ve done at Shofar & Tell?
We’re not currently doing these things, but in the past, we’ve:
- Done pushups, situps, and squats in preparation for our biennial backpacking trip.
- Read from a rich chapter book such as The Chronicles of Narnia series.
- Told a scripture story using the Gospel Art Kit for a picture.
- We used to study Hebrew on our own and then later discussing what we learned at Shofar & Tell, but now we study Hebrew together before S&T starts.
Shofar & Tell is an important time in our family culture. It’s the bulk of the time we spend all together, and we all love it. All of us (particularly Melissa and I) have voluntarily given up the activities that take us out of the home in the evening, in favor of never (or rarely) missing this time together.
What happens after Shofar & Tell?
Shofar & Tell lasts until about 9:30 p.m., give-or-take half an hour. After everyone has had their turn, always ending with Joshua, we kneel and pray together. Then everyone says good night and we disperse. The children go to bed and the adults have their personal time. And that wraps up the evening in this polygamous household.