I’m leaving town soon for several days. I’m not telling you this so that you can rob my house. That would be a bad idea, since my house will still be full of people–dangerous people. Leaving aside that we have nothing of value to anyone else (unless you also happen to collect rubber bands and those little plastic thingies that seal the milk cartons), if you came to our house, you would not be able to find anything. I am the only one who knows where anything is. So, the rest of my family will be home, and they will be looking for things.

I am, however, leaving instructions; a 12-page typed set of instructions. The detailed coordination required is such that if Homeland Security got hold of this document, I believe they would offer me a job (and I might take it). This document includes a description of daily schedules; dietary requirements; conflict-avoidance strategies; guidelines for tooth-brushing, dishwasher operation, and homework completion; and a map showing the location of various important objects. I produce this set of instructions for the family so that when I’m gone, they can put it down somewhere and forget where they put it.

Here, then, is an excerpt from the General Information/Q&A section of this document. Maybe these basic guidelines will be helpful to those of you who do not instantly misplace them.

What to do when the garage door won’t close because the stupid camera eye thinks there’s something in the way when there isn’t: Curse and get out of the car. Wave your hand in front of the camera to clear invisible cobwebs. Push door-close button and hold it down until the door is closed all the way.

Where are my keys? Your keys are a) in the door since yesterday; b) in the pocket of the pants you wore yesterday; c) in between the couch cushions; d) in the washing machine, in the pocket of the pants you wore yesterday.

Where is my math textbook? Your math textbook is under the bed. Take it out and open it; you will be amazed at what’s inside. There are numbers and diagrams, and it’s really quite exciting stuff.

Where is my Nintendo DS? Don’t even look for your Nintendo DS until you’ve opened that math textbook. I know you didn’t yet, so don’t give me that.

I already had breakfast. No, you didn’t already have breakfast. A handful of chocolate chips is not an acceptable breakfast. Now eat your breakfast and stop giving everyone a hard time.

I want to decide what I have for breakfast. Of course you should decide what you have for breakfast. As long as you make a sensible choice…

Why CAN’T I have chocolate Cheerios? Leaving aside the collapse of civilization issues that the very existence of chocolate Cheerios raises, I think you already know the answer to that. If not, see previous two comments.

When is the best time to give my parent a permission slip for the field trip? Choose: a) The day I bring it home from school; b) Five minutes before we leave for the school bus on the day after the permission slip was due; c) What permission slip?

He started it! Of course he did. Now go to your room.

I hope you find these guidelines useful. If you do try something like this yourself, just realize that your family will mostly ignore your instructions–and that is okay. From past experience, I know that they can get along fine without me. They don’t know that I know it, but the moment I leave, they stop pretending they don’t know how to do anything or where anything is, and they run the household like a well-oiled machine. They just don’t want me to know it, because then I might be convinced that I can go away more often.

For more from Paula Whyman, see www.paulawhyman.com and her online parody newspaper www.bethesdaworldnews.com.