There is nothing more loathsome than that note home from school ...
You know the one. It's sitting in your kid's bag just waiting to reveal your failure as a parent.
Oh sure, it's usually disguised as a suggestion ... an easy way to make learning fun and to reinforce all the hard work they're doing in school. You know, pretty much all the stuff you are undoing on weekends and over the spate of recent snow days by letting them watch TV and play video games until their eyes cross.
But when you read it you almost wish it was a bad grade or a notice of expulsion.
Anything is better than the three words that top the list of contributions we could be making to society via parenting: Family. Game. Night.
Now, I don't know what happens in your house, but you take one competitive and rules-obsessed dad, a fun-loving but slightly devious first-grader, a strong-willed and impishly sly preschooler, a mother who'd rather smooth the waters than ride a wave and mash them around a table to play a game of Monopoly Junior and you are just asking for the war to end all wars.
In fact the only reason I can even fathom why a teacher would suggest such a thing is if he or she had a couple of brothers named Parker, or the kids in their family skipped the ages of three through six.
"Well that's the point, really," you imagine them saying over your objections. "It helps children learn rules and sequences. It gives them practice reading, counting and taking turns," they'll explain. "Everyone can have fun together. And what a memory you'll be making."
All the happy well-adjusted people in the world add on that last one just rub your face in the fact that they're pretty sure your kids will spend their adulthood trying to blot out all their childhood recollections.
And you can't really disagree if the game of Dora the Explorer Chutes and Ladders you played in the falls, winters and springs of 2008, 2009 and 2010 were any indication.
They all kind of blur together in my memory, but the scenes have an uncanny similarity: The dad, sitting on the ground, legs all knotted in a pretzel, tries to keep an eye on his game piece (Boots the monkey) while objecting to the willful disregard of simple rules; The Champ takes every opportunity to move Boots around the board, knocking over his sister's Dora piece, who is screaming her objections until the room erupts into an irritating series of squawks. "Hey, dude. You are Diego. Where's Diego?"
The boy shrugs his shoulders.
"Great," I groan. "Now I'm going to get to scour the house looking for a two-inch plastic explorer or accept the fact that none of our games will ever be yard sale worthy."
The eyes upon me after that remark reveal that I have won the Bad Sport Award, and it doesn't matter that I took one for the team by selecting the cootie-filled Backpack as my game piece.
I know eventually it will be fun to play a game of Crazy 8s or Apples to Apples with the apples of my eye, but right now feels a little like tooth extraction: one kid makes up her own rules, which are designed to bring her a win while the other is putting the dice down his pants or trying to deal cards all over the living room. Add in a husband who using Parliamentary Procedure to interpret the game outcomes. They're all taking turns being sore losers and bad winners.
We'll spend a few more minutes trying to bring the game into earnest play, before we hurl the remaining pieces back in the box and trade it all in for Family Movie Night ... a choice that has yet to appear on any lists of scholarly suggestions.
If the makers of boardgames were legally bound to show a Your-Results-May-Vary representation of the gaming experience on the box top, Monopoly money would be everywhere, the families would be crying, whining, showing pouty faces (one parent would be screaming), and a tiny, besmudged little hand would be tossing the game pieces as far as their little arm could throw.
I'm guessing if that scene were plastered all over game boxes Family Movie Night would have a shot of getting into the teacher's suggestion box.