Tuesday, May 18, 2010

95 days to Bar Mitzvah: game theory

One of the Jawa's recurring spoken wishes is that we "spend more time together as a family," and who can argue with that? You'd have to be a pretty low, mean parent to look your kid in the eye and say, "No, I think we spent plenty of time together as it is."

So of course Sandra Bullock and I nodded our heads furiously and set about carving more "family time" our of our days, which are already weirdly hectic for two relatively unimportant people. So wrapped up were we in the abstract wonderfulness of a pre-teen wanting more, not less, time with his parents that we didn't stop to ask ourselves a very obvious and relevent question: what exactly does a family do during its 'family time?'"

Last night I got part of my answer: they play games.

Please, someone throw me a line before I plummet down into the private abysss exclusively occupied by terrible fathers who don't like to play games. Because until I hear otherwise, I am certain that this is the sin that will keep me out of heaven. Instead of floating around plucking the strings of a harp, I'll spend eternity misjudging fly balls and trying to get across town during rush hour. All because I don't like playing games with my child.

I know that I was once a game-lover, because all kids like playing games. I liked them even more over at the Stroney's house, because before we could start playing "Monopoly," "Life" or the mysteriously lost to history "Easy Money," Scott Stroney would spend at least an hour creating an elaborate bank that always ended up looking like a fort. And I loved forts. Still do, in fact, though it was really strange when my Freshman year roommate built one in our dorm room.

He did not return for his sophomore year.

Entire days were lost with us playing board games in the Stroney's basement. You name the 1970s board game; we played it: Clue, Risk (which I wasn't allowed to play, my relative youth denying me both participation in Risk games and a seat on the floor during neighborhood Cheech and Chong album listening parties) and a game called "Masterpiece," in which you tried to figure out if works of art were real or forgeries.

There were the three-dimensional games, like Which Witch? and Mousetrap. There was Bing, Bang, Boing! which never came any more real to me than a full-page spread in the Sears Christmas catalog. There was Ker-Plunk and Pick-up-Stix, which were inexpensive and took up very little space. There was Chinese Checkers for more cerebral moods.

No one messed around with games that needed batteries. Who wanted to risk discovering a dead battery after setting everything up?

And then we'd return home, doomed to an endless cycle of trying to replicate the fun we'd had playing games in the Stroney's basement by playing the exact same game with our parents. Who naturally didn't want to play, which at the time was very disappointing, and because of this I should know better now to just suck it up, swallow my next lame excuse and start dishing out the fake money and cardboard deeds.

Last night, I was juggling the first game of the Western Conference Finals with the Mariners-A's on Fox Sports. I was alone downstairs with 42 diagonally-measured inches of HD television glory all to myself. My plan was to come up for dinner then retreat back to my cave, emerging late at night when all sporting events (and recaps) had concluded.

It was not to be. During dinner, Sandra Bullock piped up. "Since the Jawa's homework is finished early, why don't we all play a game?"

Why? Because there was a comfortable spot on the sectional waiting for me downstairs? Because games are meant to be played with peers, not your parents? Because games take forever and somewhere in the air between Scranton, Pennsylvania and Orange, California, I lost not only my childhood but also my childhood interest in board games?

You bring me Scott Stroney to make a bank out of a cardboard box and I'm on board. I don't care if I can be the car, the dog or the top hat, I don't want to play.

None of this was said, of course. Instead, I delivered my message with great subtlety, pausing for a split-second before saying, "Sure. We can do that."

See, the pause sets up a scenario where you're responding to something that is simply undoable, so completely impractical and absurd that it's stopped you cold. The slightly longer than a beat length shows that, while the request is undoubtedly doomed to failure, you will try your best to make it work only because of your commitment to the person(s) making it and your parallel wish to shield them from the inevitable disappointment resulting from their unrealistic dreams.

Sandra Bullock, with eighteen years of decoding experience under her belt, suggested she play "Battleship" with the Jawa while I watch basketball. Her vast body of work also taught her that it was even money that by the time they finished their game I'd feel so guilty that I'd take winners. And by "winners," I mean the Jawa. Not that we'd let him win; more like even if he lost soundly, I would still be facing him in game two.

For the record, he defeated both of us despite my airtight "fire no more or less than two squares apart" offensive strategy.

There must be other parents out there whose initial response to "lets play a game" is "I'd rather be sealed into a ziplock bag." I can't be the only bad parent. And there must be ways to log "family time" that don't include dice, plastic cars and the Milton Bradley products.

What happened to me? I was the kid who would set up the board for "Life" even when no one else would play, happy to have some uninterrupted time to drive the cars up and over those 3D relief map plastic rises. Now, even "Life" has no meaning.

Or maybe this: please send your child to our house to play games with my son. It shouldn't take too long for him to figure out that it's much more fun to play "Monopoly" with the Scott Stroneys of his world than it is to play with his mom and dad. Okay; with his dad.


Libby said...

I am with you. Not a game gal. Sorry is the best I can do, or maybe UNO when camping. Monopoly makes my head explode. The boys like Risk, and all the other cerebral ones like Settlers of Catan, Carscassonne, and Axis & Allies.

Butter Goats said...

More proof that Jeff is Jody's baby daddy. I didn't even know you HAD games.

Jean said...

I am up for any game that will break the occlusive seal between my daughter and her computer.

Holger said...

sorry, i like games, but i am stuck with candyland right now!