For my very first solo post on this blog, I discussed the game Twister and how purchasing it is, in my humble opinion, a very poor decision for parents to make. As I have been reflecting recently, however, there are actually no games that are really a good idea for one, as an adult, to play with one’s under-five child. I have a six-year-old who is almost seven, and playing games with him, just the two of us, is a dream. He likes to stick to the rules and play the game exactly as it is, and therefore it has a beginning and a climax and a denouement and, even more importantly, an ENDING. When I play games with just my six-year-old and me, these games are enjoyable and straightforward, and then they come to a delightful end, and then I feel less guilty because I have actually played a game with him instead of just putting on movies for him all day and thus we spent some quality time together, and therefore I can feel that I am a fantastic mother.
However. Games with my four-year-old are very different, very different indeed. And when I play a game with the both of them, somehow the four-year-old brings the whole game down to her level. This means that I am all of a sudden being CLIMBED on during Crazy Eights instead of being able to sit still, dignity intact, holding my cards with one hand and drinking my rapidly cooling coffee with the other.
Also, when my children and I play together, the games have the tendency to morph in ways that (apparently) make them more interesting and appealing to the children. For example, Crazy Eights quickly becomes “Bear Crazy Eights,” which includes the rule that when a person puts down an eight, they have the power not only to transform the suit, but also to transform the person of their choice into a bear, who is then required to eat one player (who then misses a turn), hit another player with an imaginary log (that person also misses a turn, as you might imagine), and offer another player an imaginary tray of “free samples.” That player has received the highest honour a bear can bestow, and is thus not required to miss their turn. Do you follow? Of course you don’t. Me neither. This set of “rules” is just a way to illicit chaos in an ordinarily calm game, and make mommy miss not only several turns, but also the TV show that she was hoping to watch, her sanity, and any warmth that ever existed in her coffee, because she is busy being clubbed with imaginary logs. This is what every, EVERY game becomes, when both of the kids are involved.
Go fish has become, “No, I wanted to get the pair of seahorses, because the seahorses are pink and they are a girl and I am a girrllll!!!!!” Tears, comforting, game postponed indefinitely, facepalm.
Monopoly has become, “No, this is my house that I live in because my baby lives in this house and this house is pink and I like pink because I am a girrrllllll!!!!!!!” Tears, comforting, game postponed indefinitely, facepalm.
And, of course, Sorry has become a game of NOT accepting apologies.
However, all games considered, these games are still preferable to my four-year-old’s favourite games, because there is at least the possibility of some kind of ending happening, eventually. The alternative of course, which anyone who has ever done “free play” with a small child will know all too well, is playing a “game” that the child has made up (or, more accurately, is making up on the spot). These games, of course, are complete nonsense and a trap and designed to halt the passage of time so that bedtime never comes, and you are just caught in a horrible vortex in which you are “Fraggula,” the baby, and your child is “Harumtena,” your mommy, and you live in a house together where the tea parties never end, and what Harumtena says goes, so you’d best drink your bottle and eat your cookie and just shut up about it.*
Sometimes the instructions for these types of games are a tiny bit confusing. “Mommy, I throw Spot on the ground, and you have to get him, but you can’t get him when I say: ‘Mommy, can you please pick up Spot?’ And you can only get him with your feet. But if you do get Spot, you get 60 points, but you can only get him when the game is over.”
Like I said, it’s a trap. And at this point it’s probably best if you give your child your iPhone and go hide in the nearest closet. Because in the “game” of playing games with your under-five-year-old child, trust me, you will never, ever, win.
*I am quite serious that THESE are the kinds of names my children come up with. Remember Greenis? Of course you do.