Times have changed. Gone are the days when you use a formal dining room more than once or twice a year. Gone are the days when you welcome guests into a “sitting” room or living room to sit and talk. The times have changed but the layout of our houses have not. For this reason, a few years ago we pushed all our furniture up against the wall and created a baseball field in our great room (a combo room where the dining room merges into the living room). This make shift baseball field provided hours of entertainment for our four-year-old. Pick up games could start at any time of the day or night. There was always a play-by-play announcer calling the balls and strikes and sometimes you’d even hear the announcer call out the name of a famous player in the MLB, as if he was playing alongside us. The baseball “field” was put away when it needed to be, on those one or two days a year when we would have a fancy meal or when company was coming over. However, for the majority of the time, the baseball field was a center piece in our home. Sadly, the day came when my son’s swing became too strong and the fear of seriously breaking something became a risk we could no longer take. After hundreds of innings played, numerous busted balls and bats, we reluctantly pulled the furniture away from the walls.
Once the baseball field was gone, there were fewer reasons to go into those rooms. Occasionally we’d use the dining room table for a big class project or jigsaw puzzle. Occasionally on a Sunday afternoon you might find one of the kids sitting on the couch watching their iPad, but for the most part the room was used infrequently, no longer the center piece of our weekends like it once was. After some time had passed, my husband started talking about replacing the dining room table (the light wood didn’t match our dark wood accented home). We agreed to go shopping the following weekend. Throughout the week I thought about this table. Sure, we could get a fancy new table that would be nice to sit around during the two special holidays, but I couldn’t help but reminisce about our baseball field days where we’d spend hours playing while avoiding the scorching Arizona summer sun. As the time to go shopping drew near, I went to my husband and said, “What would you think if we got a pool table instead?” It appeared as if he didn’t hear me. If you ask him he might tell you it is the most surprising thing I have ever said in almost twenty years of being together. Of course, he was all for it and the kids agreed as well. We decided to convert the entire room into a game room, not only with a pool table, but a dart board, poker table and big screen tv to watch whatever important sports game might be on.
Earlier this summer we began the conversion of the dining room/sitting room into the game room. It took a number of weeks to change the flooring, paint the walls and get all the pieces put into place. The kids impatiently waited and filled the time with stories of what they would do when it was done, which friends they wanted to invite over and who’s team would get the first team party. The day came in early July when it was finally done. We all excitedly chose a pool cue and were ready for our first game of eight ball (solids vs. stripes). The carefully racked triangle cracked loudly as the balls rolled their separate ways. There were lessons on the right way to hold the cue and how to line up the perfect shot. It took about five minutes (maybe less) for frustration to set in, the competitive nature of each member of the family, along with Daddy’s superior pool skills, was putting a damper on our new game. This was supposed to be a fun way to spend time together. My image of how much fun we would have in our new room was fading fast. I called a time out and said, “Playing is better than nothing.” Everyone looked at me with a confused look on their faces. I admit, it is not my most eloquent phrase, but I continued “Look, we’ve been excited for this for a long time. Now it’s here and guess what? You’re not going to be good at these games right away. We have two choices. We can play and have fun. Or we can do nothing and not play at all. What do you want to choose?” Without hesitation everyone agreed that playing WAS better than nothing. We finished the game laughing, learning and celebrating a few lucky shots. When the last ball dropped into the corner pocket, it was quickly followed by “Let’s play again”. Over the last few weeks, we have all improved quite a bit. “Playing is better than nothing” has changed the perspective of why we are playing. We’ve had important discussions around teaching our friends how to play and how to be both a good winner and loser. But most of all, we’ve spent more time together playing, talking, dancing and enjoying each other’s company.
As your kids get older, it becomes harder to find ways to truly play with them. They have grown out of Legos and coloring books. The slow pace of board games is no competition to exciting video games. (I realize this sounds like a welcome relief to those of you with little ones.) On top of all that, as kids get older, they become busier. They have their own activities, obligations and social calendars. When you finally do get time to just hang out, one of you is probably tired and the easy solution is to crash in front of a movie or TV show. Any time you can spend with your kids is important, but when some of that time is unrestricted, free, play, a window will open inside both of you.
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I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.