Games We Used to Play

This journal entry from 1996 sure brought back memories. My older son is now a captain in the Army, and my younger son is a scientist on a research trip to Antarctica, and I am very glad I took the time to play games with my kids when they were young. If I had only known then how fast those years would go, I would have played even more!

From December 1996

This Christmas, my younger son, who is ten, asked for several board games, which we have been playing on our days off. When I take the time to sit with him at the table for a few minutes and play a game of Yahtzee or Mancala or Catch Phrase and stop worrying about the endless piles of clutter;

When I stop for a moment;

When I decide the dishes in the sink can wait;

When our older son, exasperrated, finally gives in to his insistent younger brother and sits at the table with the family to play guessing games;

When my husband and I give up trying for the time being to find some time for ourselves, to stop looking at the house and these children as just a phase to get through so we can finally be what we think we’d like to be: artists with no responsibility but to our muses;

When we can stop the endless chatter in our heads for a moment, the droning list of have-to’s, ought-to’s, and shoulds playing day and night like elevator music;

When I can choose to be there for my son and stop saying, “just a minute,” “after I do this one thing,” “I’m almost there”;

When I can shut my eyes to the piles of clutter on the counter;

When I can just stop and look at this child, who seems so small in many ways and yet will outgrow me over the next year;

And take the pair of dice in my hands;

Feel their cool sides, their solid weight, the way they knock together in my cupped hands;

When I can focus all my attention on wishing for a certain toss of the die, share my son’s excitement when he rolls to an inside straight, know how important it is to roll the right combination;

Important enough to call certain rolls fair or unfair.

Then I feel a deep satisfaction and a quiet joy, and I am grateful for my son, who does not need to be reminded to play.

While we play, I think about a lot of things. I realize with some surprise that I think real families are supposed to play games together, although I don’t have any memories of that ever happening in my childhood, so I’m not sure where that thought comes from. Certainly, my husband and I have not done much in the way of playing games with our own children, although we try from time to time, like this Christmas.

Games I remember from childhood include Chinese checkers, checkers, parcheesi, dominos, a box of 64 games like Fox and Hens, but I associate those with my brother, not with my parents. I remember playing card games when I got older, including a complicated game called something like Shanghai Rummy, which you played with two decks and a sequence of hands you had to play. (Was that a game someone made up during some war? Where did that name come from?) My mom and dad used to play chess from time to time. Then after my brother learned to play chess, he would challenge dad, and it became a kind of show-down for them. I vaguely remember Monopoly and Life. I can’t imagine my grandparents playing any kind of board or card games, but grandaddy played basketball and football growing up. My older son enjoys live-action role play and computer games but has never cared much for board or card games, except for Magic the Gathering, which he played for several years.

What is it about different kinds of games that makes one kind fun and another not so fun? What purpose do games play? Why do they seem so important?

Games I Used to Play

  • jacks
  • jump rope
  • Strut Miss Lucy
  • Drop the Handkerchief
  • Red Rover
  • Red Light Green Light
  • Chinese jump rope
  • double dutch
  • tiddly winks
  • bingo
  • checkers
  • Chinese checkers
  • parcheesi
  • tic tac toe
  • scrabble
  • Monopoly
  • Old Maid
  • Go Fish
  • Memory
  • Pay Day
  • Life
  • Mouse Trap
  • caroms
  • dominos
  • poker
  • Crazy 8s
  • Uno
  • Wink
  • mancala
  • Yahtzee
  • freeze tag
  • The Price is Right
  • Hi Ho Cherry Oh
  • hide and seek
  • 20 questions
  • alphabet game
  • kick ball
  • duck duck goose
  • marbles

My Three “Only” Children

I can’t believe I haven’t written about my children yet. They are without a doubt my favorite topic of conversation and my main claim to fame. I have never been particularly ambitious and still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, but I always knew I wanted to have children. And I definitely got some good ones. They are extremely intelligent, funny, compassionate individuals. They are also hard-working, independent, moral beings, who hold high standards and care about the common good. Even if they weren’t related to me, I would like and admire these people. Together they have taught me many of the important things I know.

My older son, Matthew, is a captain in the Army and the most serious of the three, but he has a wicked sense of humor and a way of looking at the world that shines a bright light on absurdity and hypocrisy. He enjoys collecting photos of signs that are just “wrong” and sharing them on Facebook. Recently, he asked me, “Am I the only one that sees these things?” The fact that he has maintained any sense of humor at all is rather miraculous, after three deployments to war zones in the past ten years (twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan). He was in college in New York when the Trade Center towers came down, and he enlisted immediately under a deferred enlistment plan, determined to do something in response. He reported for duty the day after he graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology. Over the years he has taught me much about perseverance and indomitable spirit.

Melissa is a nurse and the mother of a three-year-old son Ian. Technically, Melissa is not my child, but she lived with us for several months when she and Matthew were both thirteen, so I claim her anyway. For years she has called me Aunt Mom (and now her son calls me Aunt Grandma). Her husband thinks that makes us all sound like a bunch of hicks, but I love it. These days, she is doing an amazing job balancing her work as a nurse with raising an energetic three-year-old and maintaining a house. This week she posted on Facebook that the plumber was coming “to save her basement from the poop fountain.” Melissa has taught me that even when life really sucks, you can still maintain your positive outlook and sense of humor. She is one of the most open, generous, and kindhearted people I know.

Isaac, the youngest, is a PhD student in molecular biology, currently spending his second season in Antarctica doing research, but he has never let hard work get in the way of a good time. He makes friends everywhere he goes and has never run short of ideas for fun things to do. Many of the photos I have seen from McMurdo Station in blogs and on Facebook show him playing guitar or dressed up in a fish costume at the Halloween party or standing out in the snow for an Occupy Antarctica photo shoot. Isaac enjoys life and has always just assumed things would go his way. More often than not, they do. When he was in middle school, he once asked if he could have money for a field trip. When I asked how much money and where they were going, he said nonchalantly, “$1000. France.” His wife is meeting him in Sydney, Australia, in December, when he comes off the Ice. From him I have learned that friends are important, and it “never hurts to ask for what you want.”

I am so thankful that these wonderful young people are part of my life. The world is a better place because they are in it.