We have a joke in our house about the locust descending. It’s whenever four boys sit down for a meal. I haven’t even settled my napkin in my lap and the serving dishes only contain crumbs. The girls and my husband and I sort of sit there in shock, wondering what happened.

But we’ve learned quickly. If you don’t grab your food first—and possibly keep one eye open during the blessing—there won’t be anything left. We’ve even resorted to hiding food in our room. I’ve heard of other folks doing this, so I don’t feel entirely crazy. But if we don’t dole out the chips a few days at a time, there won’t be any left for school lunches. If we don’t hide the Costco-sized cereal boxes in our bedroom closet, there’s no cereal in the house after two days. So now we put cereal in the cupboard on Wednesday and Saturday and there’s no more until the next distribution day.

I don’t know if locust have hygiene issues. But in our house this is the other big issue. Unless we prompt, remind, cajole, and threaten, the boys would never take a shower, brush their teeth, or change their clothes.

Normally I’m a big believer in natural consequences. You forget your lunch, you go hungry for a day kind of thing. So in this case the natural consequence would be that their peers would comment on their smell, the boys wouldn’t like it and would take showers. Apparently their peers don’t bathe either.

I can’t stand the smell long enough for the natural consequences to take place. This summer we had dirty sheets, dirty clothes, dirty shoes, and dirty boys all confined in the basement. I thought I was going to need a clothespin on my nose every time I went down there to do the laundry. In fact I’ve spent a significant amount of time on Pinterest finding natural, homemade air fresheners that won’t aggravate my allergies. Though I’m willing to risk it if the concoction will battle the smell.

At this stage in their lives, it’s hard to remember them as cute babies or toddlers with kissable cheeks and adorable toes. And on the other end of the spectrum, it’s hard to imagine them maturing enough to become husbands and fathers. But because of—or in spite of—our faithful parenting, they do eventually become less locust-like and more human. They become aware of other people. All of our lessons on serving and responsibility finally take root and produce fruit.

So during the locust years, we keep doing what we’ve been doing: stay on our knees in prayer for wisdom and safety, recognize the uniqueness of each child, and capitalize on the moments to have fun.

And hide your Hershey’s Kisses in your nightstand.