AT the best of times, having a teenager in the house is like suddenly finding yourself living inside some sort of bizarre gameshow.
Basic communication is a cryptic quiz that's constantly in an 'all-fingers-on-the-buzzers', sudden death round.
The rules? We parents-come-quizmasters must painstakingly avoid using certain words or tones of voice lest an invisible ejector seat launches the contestant out of the room and thundering up the stairs, muttering to themselves, whereby we are, evidently, the losers.
"And then there were three," I say under my breath as a door rattles on its hinges somewhere above.
"Eh," yells my co-host at the ceiling, "No one leaves the table until everyone is done, or they do the washing up on their own."
These are the rules. "I'm counting to three. One. . ." Footsteps stomp back down the stairs again. "Two. . ."
The kitchen door handle is snatched open and our contestant stomps back in with an aggravated sigh. "Three. Now sit back down and tidy your plate please."
And we have a full panel again.
Contestant number one – The Lodger (buzzer, more often than not, unoccupied, depending on college, girlfriend or social life).
Contestant number two – The World-Weary One (answers most questions with an irritated "tsk" or deep, impatient, nasal sigh).
Contestant number three – The Mutterer (just returned to the show following the frequent stomping-on-the-stairs round).
And contestant number four – The Highly-Explosive Pre-Teen (alternates between humming tunelessly to herself and suddenly screaming at one of the other contestants).
"Right," says my co-host. "Who's going to tell me something about their day." Fingers on buzzers everyone.
"Do we HAVE to do this?" sighs The World-Weary One. "We absolutely have to do this," insists my co-host. "It's what families do. They talk to each other about their day."
"You always ask the SAME questions," manages The Mutterer without moving his lips.
My co-host ignores this and turns to The World-Weary One. "Who did you have back to the house today? Which friends?"
"What's the point?" he sighs. "You'll just forget everything I tell you anyway."
"I will absolutely NOT forget ANYTHING you say," she says. "I remember EVERYTHING."
The Lodger chuckles dryly and turns to him. "What time did you come in this morning? Tell us all where you were. Were you in college late? Out with friends?"
"I'm not answering if you're going to talk to me in that patronising tone," he says.
"What patronising tone?" she says. "We just want to know about your life."
"Nobody else is interested," he snorts, "in what time I came in or where I was."
"We're ALL interested," she says, gesturing around.
"I'm not," says The World-Weary One.
"Me neither," says The Mutterer through his hand.
"I am," chirrups The Highly-Explosive Pre-Teen.
"That's because you're an idiot," mutters The Mutterer.
"I am NOT!" she screams, suddenly picking up a fork like a dagger. "Jesus, calm down," he says. "Ah-ah," clucks my co-host. "Fork back on plate – and be nice to your sister, please."
"Can we go now?" says The World-Weary One." No one is going anywhere," says my co-host calmly, "until each of you tells me something about what you've been up to."
"Well, I'm leaving," says The Lodger, initiating his invisible ejector seat and taking plate and cutlery with him in one single motion before depositing them by the sink and exiting the room.
"You," says my co-host after him as the front door slams, "may go." There's the sound of a long-board departing. "He can go," she tells the contestants. "Now," she says, turning to The World-Weary One. "It's your birthday on Wednesday. What would you like to do?"
The World-Weary One heaves a deep, world-weary sigh. "You mean after I get given out about by all my teachers?"
"Oh," says my co-host. "That's right, I forgot that the special parent-teacher meeting about your results is on the same day as your birthday. That IS unfortunate."
He glares at her. "Ha-ha," sing-songs The Mutterer.
"Is there anything you'd like me to get you for your birthday? What would you like?" "I don't know," he sighs. "Nothing. I want nothing for my birthday."
"He just wants to be left alone for his birthday," pipes up The Highly-Explosive Pre-Teen.
"Some chance," he sighs.
"Okay," says my co-host. "I promise I won't shout at you in the morning when I'm getting everyone up. I shall come in and wake you up quietly."
He looks at her.
"Actually," she says, relenting, "I don't think I CAN get you up without shouting, so forget that.
"Who did you have around today. Was it Jack? Josh? Did you all drink lots of tea?" "Right," he says, gathering up his plate. "That's it. I'm out."
"Wait," says my co-host. "I haven't . . ."
"Me too," mutters his fellow contestant to the room.
"I painted a picture in school today," offers The Highly-Explosive Pre-Teen.
"Meh pen-ted eh-picture," mocks The Mutterer through his nose while rolling his eyes.
"I HATE YOU!" she screams.
He grins and flinches as a balled-up sheet of paper towel misses his head.
"Eh," I say, holding up my hands. "Ding-ding, people."
"Well," says my co-host. "That was another pleasant and informative family dinner."
We gather up our wine and make for the relative safety of the television room.
"And how was YOUR day, today?" I ask my co-host chuckling and cocking my head with some mock-sincerity." Oh, shut up," she replies.