"Family meeting in five minutes!"

The village crier was making her way through the house, stopping outside each bedroom and letting her announcement loose at top volume.

"Family meeting in -- "

"Sheesh, I heard you the first time," said the 15-year-old, emerging from his lair.

His little sister grinned. "In five minutes!" she yelled into his face.

"Oh, you're going to get tickled!" he said, making a feint.

With a shriek, the girl scrambled away from her brother and pelted down the stairs to the kitchen.

"Family meeting in five minutes!" she shouted.

"I know, sweetie, I told you to tell everyone in the first place, remember?"

"Come on," called the 11-year-old from a sofa in the living room. "We're already here. We're waiting."

"We still have five minutes," remarked the eldest teenager, gliding into the room.

"But we're here now," said the complaining party.

"This is about jobs, isn't it?" said the 12-year-old rather gloomily, from the other end of the sofa.

"Afraid so. We need to work out who's going to do what around the house this year."

"I won't be here," said the legal adult, who, in a matter of weeks, will be at college 3,640 miles away where no one will be able to make her fold laundry or take Billy out for the needful.

I had opened my mouth to say, "Sure, but when you are here you have to help out," when she added: "Naturally, when I am here, I will help out."

After a surprised pause, I began my address. Now that summer was over, we'd be setting up a rotating chart of basic chores, and everyone needed to do his or her part and this isn't a hotel, you know, and blah blah blah.

As I spoke, I was conscious that two things were about to happen. The first was that someone would surely try to sidle out of the room using the old "I just have to get something" ruse that is so often so successful. The second was that the children were about to let out wails of horror and despair. Chores? Argh!

So I was unprepared for what took place.

"OK," said one auditor good-naturedly, "I'll set the table."

"I'll do lunchboxes," said another.

"I'll walk Billy before school."

"I'll take out the garbage."

"But that's only once a week!" said a sister.

"Fine, then I'll do garbage and, I don't know, empty the dishwasher or something."

What on Earth? I was dumbfounded. Who were these amenable individuals, and what had they done with my children?

In retrospect, I guess I had been hazily aware this past summer that there had been less and less bellyaching when I gave work assignments and more and more cheerful compliance. As it appeared to me now, that this marked a kind of burgeoning maturity -- not of each individual, but of the whole family. Maybe the prospect of their big sister leaving had concentrated the younger minds; maybe they'd become as bored of saying "It's not my turn!" as the grown-ups had of hearing it. Either way, it seemed that the unit cohesion my husband and I had sought to inculcate all these years had finally been achieved.

It seemed wise, however, not to make too big a deal of this development, lest it embolden shirkers.

"OK, then!" I said brightly. "The meeting is hereby adjourned."

Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at mgurdon@washingtonexaminer.com.