We have crossed an important Rubicon in our house recently--our children can now both play games. I'm not talking about head games or other forms of psychological manipulation--they've been doing that since birth--and I'm not talking about the toddler and preschool versions like Chutes and Ladders or Hi Ho Cherry O that present all of the risk of loss-induced-fit-throwing with none of the enjoyment of brain activity. I'm talking about REAL GAMES, games I might play in my normal adult life, games that require sentient thought. Catan. Ticket to Ride. Clue. SPADES, friends, SPADES.
We've had Charlotte on board for awhile. As an oldest child, she generally wants to be as adult as possible, as early as possible. As a youngest child, this is not a mentality I have ever been able to understand. However, I can understand why she would rather play Catan with the grown ups than another round of Candy Land, a game with the triple advantage of being boring, annoying, and promoting tooth decay. Over the past year, she has been learning to play Bridge, which is practically a religion in my extended family, and recently made her official debut at our very indulgent monthly Bridge group. She did well, but was aided by our group's preference for drinking wine over serious competition.
Lawson--being younger, generally opposed to the rule of law, and more interested in a digital life than a social life--has taken longer to come around. He first started playing the various games we wanted him to play with us on his tablet (of course). He in fact taught himself how to play them all, which is good, because teaching him anything is akin to doing brain surgery with a very stubborn version of Robin Williams. Half comedian, half militant, all Lawson. After some months of leaving him to his (own) devices, we began coaxing him to the game table. He's not playing Bridge just yet, but he does enjoy a rowdy game of Catan, just so long as you never rob him, a tragedy any mere mortal will greet with some amount of chagrin, but which Lawson considers a war crime. His new favorite game, thanks to babysitters Bill and Nancy, is Exploding Kittens. Although he would prefer that real kittens actually explode, he does enjoy reading the ridiculous captions on each card that refer to things like back hair shampoo and poop.
We are all getting along so much better now that we have the games. We now have some suitable alternatives to screen time, dinosaur fights, lego construction, and writhing around the floor in boredom. Not only do games engage the mind and focus social interactions, they can be played comfortably seated in a chair. Everyone in fact gets their own chair, no one is climbing atop the others. True, only one person wins, and that person is almost always Kevin, and he almost always does so using some kind procedural Mitch-McConnell-like jujitsu, much to everyone's annoyance. And at times the losers throw fits, and sometimes those fit-throwers are even children. But generally speaking, all the people have fun.
As previously referenced, I come from a great game-playing tradition. Growing up, our nuclear family played various card and board games, mainly because I refused to learn how to play the holy grail of games, Bridge, mainly because I could tell my parents really really wanted to teach me, exhibiting a soul-crushing obstinance that proves the genetic link between myself and Lawson. They loved to play and often joked they had 2 kids in order to have the required 4 players for a Bridge game. As an adult, I finally cooperated and learned this amazing, sadly going-out-of-style card game. When I met Kevin, I taught him to play.
I don't think it's too much to say that besides the bonds of blood and affection, Bridge is the glue that holds our extended family together. My grandparents, parents, aunt, uncle and assorted others always got a table or two going at every family gathering. My late grandfather had an entire lexicon of bridge-related phrases that sounded nonsensical to the uninitiated. Heck, they were a little weird even to the initiated. "Get them kids off the street," "It twisted off," "A sea of faces and aces," "I'm gonna pass on account of my cards," "This ain't worth setting' up," "You got that one at Woolworths."
My grandmother is still an amazingly sharp player at the age of 97. She in fact has no compunction with pointedly asking you, grandchild of hers though you may be, "Now why did you play that card right then?" at which point you can find no excuse for yourself. She always knows what card to play when. For a couple of years when I taught at a college near her house, I would drive over every Tuesday afternoon to play with her Bridge group, a charming assortment of small town folks all many decades my senior who gathered in the Gold Room at the First National Bank to drink weak coffee and play cards for spare change. They were really good for my self esteem, always going on about how young, smart, and pretty I was. I paid no mind to the fact that many of them could barely see their cards. There was the occasional dust-up over Dottie's chronic underbidding, which was really about the fact that everyone knew Dottie was having an affair with a married man, or Maggie's repeated reneging, which was really about the fact that everyone knew Maggie owed Joe $100 from several years prior. I stayed out of the internal politics and enjoyed the game. Not many Gen Xers play bridge, much to their detriment. I'm hoping maybe the hipsters will bring it back, as they have names like Herbert, massive glasses, and crocheted capes.
My parents are likewise really great players. Well, if you discount my father's complete and utter disgust when he goes several hands without getting any cards and his complete and utter unwillingness to give up a bid when he does get cards. Even Charlotte knows Baba to be a recalcitrant over-bidder. He and Kevin, who always team up, share a desire to win all games at all costs, and they are both annoying. Neither allow any mercy even for the mothers of their precious children and even when reminded of the maternal pain and suffering experienced when bringing said children into the world. I do not care, they say, I will get this bid, and I will crush you. The only feeling more powerful than the frustration one feels with them is the sublime joy of dishing out their comeuppance in the form of a sound beating.
Bridge is an aptly named pastime for our family, because it has in fact bridged divides over the years. It brought together my strictly devout parents and my party-animal grandparents. It now brings together me and my parents, though our views increasingly diverge. There are a range of topics we can't discuss anymore, mainly because we can't seem to do it calmly, and I have an anxiety disorder. But we can always play Bridge.
And now me and my kids--whose very existences can seem at fundamentally cross-purposes, in that I am trying to say sane and they are trying to drive me insane--can play various other enjoyable games together, and maybe one day all play Bridge, if Lawson cooperates, which is not to be expected. I suck at crafts, I don't enjoy baking cookies, I am a terrible disciplinarian, and often bribe my children to go in the other room and leave me alone. But I am incredibly good at losing gracefully at Catan, and everyone can appreciate that.