Sunday, February 13, 2011

Just a little something to stuff in the suggestion box

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.


Norby said...

I wonder if maybe you haven't found the right game(s) yet? We only recently played pictionary, but before then, we cycled through a large number of various games, sort of jump-started by a christmas gift of a few gamewright games from a relative.

They have educational aspects (some more than others), and none of them end up being extremely competitive. If you want to completely remove competition from the equation, you might try and find some of the animal town board games. They and a few others can be found here:

Our boys are, of course, a bit older, so YMMV, but it is worthwhile to try it once in a while - the way my wife always looks at it is that at least she'll have a story to share!


toyfoto said...

We LOVED Gamewright's "Rukus," although I must admit the grandparents were uber competitive when we tried to play it as a family. Of course, the wild card now is The Champ. Back then. ... when Ittybit was getting better at playing games, he was an infant. Now he's at the stage where he's too young for the games that interest her, and so he steals cards, throws game pieces and generally makes a game out of seeing how mad he can make his sister.

I think we're at least a year away from "family" games.

Ange said...

This made me laugh so many times (notice I didn't drop a quick LOL--I really did laugh!) and then contemplate how much we have in common. Right down to your Ruckus experience. When the kids and husband played Ruckus with my in-laws, I heard constant shrieks of pain. Brought my camera out to capture the moment and heard my mother-in-law say, "Why does SHE get special rules? Just because she's five? OH, Ange, would you like to play?" No. Way.
My now 7-year-old (then 5) and her father both LOVE games. My husband was the third child, so I think this is the first time in his life that he's been allowed to win. Nevermind that it's at the expense of all the rest of our collective pride. He is learning sympathy in this experience, however. He has started making up rules to help the 7-year-old avoid frustrated tears. My 10-year-old (a late talker) and I both can't stand games, but he at least has some sort of gift for winning, even when it appears he's not paying any attention. EVERY time we play Monopoly, my daughter gives me loans, offers to buy properties for me, and still I lose. I think because the thimble is not a very financially wise game piece.

Regarding notes, we've read quite a few over the years. Yesterday was more like an apology. My son has figured out how to vent his frustration such that his educators feel sorry for all the work they've given him. I feel put between these empathetic souls and my gaming/movie obsessed son--who really only whines about the homework because he knows it is going to interfer with his life passion of slothiness. 'It's not that he can't do it,' I have to tell them. 'It's that he's incredibly lazy. Don't worry. I've ordered a new whip on Amazon. Should be here 2 Day Shipping. Just enough time to get that wax museum speech memorized over the weekend.'
I'm what happens when board games never cut you break.

*Thanks for letting me share. And for reassuring me that I am not alone in the board game apathy/bordering on distain. We bond over America's Funniest Home Video re-runs.

toyfoto said...

Oh ... the grandparents and their sucking air sounds when they have to give up cards in a game where the purpose is to give them up so you can them more of them back ... always makes me cringe.

What happened to it's 'just a game?'

Thanks for sharing. I had hoped I wouldn't be alone.