My mother always says that she only likes children when they are infants. It seems a cruel thing to say, because in our 45 year relationship, only a few months of those did I spend in infancy. And yet while I would never state anything as strongly as that, I can sort of see where she’s coming from. There's something sweet and fragile about babies. Infants need you, and they adore you. Their scent is singular. If you breastfeed them even their poop doesn't stink.
But with all my complaining about my kids as they grow in intelligence, attitude, and verbiage, I have to say, there's something about the complications that I really appreciate. When they're not punching each other in the face or having temper tantrums or telling me obvious lies, my kids are interesting. They say things that make me see the world in a new way. They challenge me and teach me things, and they often make art that is better than mine.
Their brains are sort of awesome.
So now that they are no longer sweet-smelling infants, my mother needs to find a new way to interact with them. And since apparently no one in her senior living residence likes board games, she has chosen the time-honored game of Monopoly (which I have always sort of hated for its meanness and greed, but I digress.) While we rarely if ever played board games with my parents growing up, when my mom comes to visit, it's time for Monopoly. Or card games. Or Match game, although my five-year-old almost always wins that last one.
Yesterday when I called my mom she updated me on all her health issues and recent doctor appointments in that irresistible way of people over 70, and then she told me about a rule in Qwirkle that I had missed. That stopped me in my tracks, because she's only played Qwirkle a few times at my house. My son and I taught her over Thanksgiving this year and she played again at Christmas.
“No, no,” she said. “I have the game laid out on the table in my apartment. I've been practicing.”
Which is to say my mom went out and bought Qwirkle and has been practicing all by herself so that she can play with her grandchildren, her dirt-scented, not very infant-like grandchildren, when she next comes to visit.
So, in honor of the time we can spend with our children (or grandchildren) playing games, and learning to love their complicated, interesting, sometimes (often) annoying minds, and as a nod to the stark winter months that may keep us indoors around the table, I would like to share some of our favorite games, none of which actually involve a board.
Qwirkle (6+). I like games that are smart, but also beautiful, whether in their presentation or the theories behind why they work. Qwirkle are brightly colored black wooden tiles with six different painted shapes in six different colors. You organize them on the table Scrabble-style accumulating points over time. It's way easier and infinitely more complicated than it sounds. I play it with my 7-year-olds and apparently now, with my mother.
Egyptian Rat Screw (5+). This card game was brought to me by my lovely nieces this summer when they came to visit, proving yet again that teenagers don't know what words not to say in front of impressionable children. We changed the name to ERS and played it all summer. It only takes a deck of cards and a quick glance at Wikipedia to see the rules. And if you have younger children, try Slamwich (suggested 6+, but my five-year-old loves it). It's the same basic game as ERS but you can buy it in an adorable metal lunchbox and instead of regular playing cards, you have cards that look like the ingredients for a sandwich. Including glittery anchovies. Yum.
Qwixx (8+). It comes in a tiny box and looks a lot like Yahtzee (8+), but everyone plays each role of the dice, which makes it way more interesting. There’s loads of number recognition and sequencing, lots of looking on each other's paper and some serious strategizing.
Timeline Historical Events Card Game (8+). Yup. I found a cool game with a lame name where you make a timeline with your kids. So that they won’t ever go off to an Ivy League institution not understanding the difference between B.C.E. and C.E. like some people did. (Ahem.) You’re welcome. If you can read, then you can play it. It also comes in a handy tin, which is adorable.
And not to leave out the kids who aren’t yet annoying seven-year-olds but who aren’t quite sweet-smelling babies anymore we have SkipBo Junior (5+), the old standby Uno (7+), and every version of Spot it! (3+) they make (including one where you can work on number, shape and letter recognition.) And yes, it comes in a tin, too.
Rhyme Out (suggested 10+, but my five-year-old joins in). A word game! Which is no easy feat, because kids nowadays learn how to read, but they never learn how to spell, apparently. And so old standbys like Boggle (8+) and Scrabble (8+) and even Bananagrams (7+) just don’t seem to work for my kindergartner through second graders. But hark, on a lark, in the dark, we found Rhyme Out. (See what I did there?) And as long as your kids can slog through basic reading, then they can read the cards to you or their siblings. Get ready to be challenged. If you think it’s easy to come up with mar, char and par under the scrutiny of a five-year-old, then you are sadly, badly, madly mistaken.
Here’s to playing games this winter with our kids. Because the time we spend looking at a card shaped like a slice of bread while slapping our daughter’s hand yelling “Stop Thief!” really will mean a whole lot more than a half hour spent looking at a screen. And because after totally neglecting playing games with me as a kid, my mother had to wait about forty years for her second chance. (May we all learn from her mistakes.)
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