Family Dinner and Game Night: Let the Crying Begin!
I love my family, and I love eating food, but put them together and it’s not so pleasant. It’s taken me years to admit that Family Dinner makes me mental…like muttering to myself like a crazy person, mental. And while I’m confessing… Family Game Night? Not really a super-happy-fun time for this crew. There’s typically a sibling throw-down, a complete walk out, or, at the very least, crying. Sure, we look like the world’s most adorable family in photos, but who thinks of picking up the camera when things go bad? I’m too busy trying really hard not to laugh or cry at how ridiculous the entire situation is.
So, are we doing something wrong here? Nope. We just aren’t paid actors in a Coke commercial. Just once I’d like to see an honest ad where Susie opens a can of Coke and it explodes on her brother Johnny, who retaliates quickly by grabbing the can from her and hurling it at her head, all set to the worn out parents ironically singing Pharrell’s “Happy.” Have a Coke and a smile, people! But, Coke has no intention of getting real about families, so allow me to do the honors on the reality of Family Game Night and Family Dinner.
Family Game Night
This sounds like a great idea unless you’ve ever played games as a family. Then you know it’s a blood bath waiting to happen. Remember Monopoly? Ah, the original sibling hating maker. And let’s not forget Risk…the enchanting game of world domination. I’ve flipped enough Monopoly and Risk boards to steer clear of those with my kids. But for reasons I can’t explain, we foolishly play the game Sorry, which is basically the prototype for the Hunger Games set on a board. The entire premise is to make someone cry. I’m pretty sure that’s what the instructions list as the object of the game. It teaches some lovely skills of advancing yourself by using every opportunity to destroy the soul of your opponents. And, as an added bonus, you get to painfully watch your younger children completely suck at counting spaces and realize there is a good chance they will be living in your basement for a long, long time.
And don’t kid yourself. It doesn’t really matter what game you play. Uno seems sort of benign, right? Wrong. I have a permanent tick in my right eye from everyone angrily yelling GO at each other because no one can keep track of their goddamn turn. If you’re winning? Forget it. Everyone will gang up to crush your spirit. And can someone tell me why there are so many spaces between the rooms in Clue? Is this necessary? No matter what happens in the endlessly long game, the winner is inevitably accused of cheating. Every. Single. Time.My main goal during family game night is to throw the games so each kid gets a chance to win, but sometimes I accidentally win, making them all cry. I’ve never understood parents who don’t let their kids win. Don’t they know they are like 30 years older and the entire match up is unfair to begin with? All I want is peace and for the game to end before I’m old enough to sprout hairs out of my moles. I will literally do anything for the game to end. As I pack up the evil pieces, eye still twitching, I somehow keep it together and say, “That was fun,” and wonder if anyone believes me.
The Fantasy of Family Dinner
There is something dangerously seductive about the idea of Family Dinner, until you have a few. The fantasy for me goes something like this: I mash potatoes. Lily bakes biscuits. Grace snaps peas. Dan slices veggies. George precariously fills the glasses with milk, spilling just enough to make us giggle at how adorable he is. We play Bach in the background because we’ve heard that classical music will increase their SAT scores. We set the table with a familiar choreographed dance. During dinner, we civilly take turns as we share the highs and lows of our days. Then we blast Heard it Through the Grapevine as we dance around the kitchen, Big Chill style, clearing the table, loading the dishwasher and wrapping the left overs with hip bumps, spins, and high-fives.Ummm. Yah. Not so much.
The Reality of Family Dinner
The reality is something very, very different. Just thinking of something for dinner gives me hives. We are sick of everything. And, why, why do we have to keep feeding them? When the kids help it’s instantly an argument about who gets to break the egg, followed by a harsh condemnation of my parenting. Suddenly I’m on trial about which child I love the most. I am tempted to make them compete in inane games to prove their love to me. Perhaps a game of Sorry to settle it once and for all? Instead, I open wine, stay quiet, and congratulate myself on my stellar parenting. And, by the way, there is no Bach playing. Instead we have the Frozen soundtrack on repeat. I can’t even tell you how much I don’t want to build a snowman, with anyone, ever. Go away, Anna. Seriously. It’s enough already.
It’s during the setting of the table that I’m treated to an assessment of how unfair everyone’s particular jobs are and who isn’t pulling their weight. George is totally not pulling his weight, so I idiotically put him in charge of beverages, and watch helplessly as he spills milk everywhere. Now I’m on my hands and knees cleaning up milk and would argue that crying over spilt milk is not only useful, but very necessary.I’m always amazed, and maybe even a little impressed, by the things they can find to fight about. Who is going to sit where can quickly become a Lord of the Flies situation. Sometimes it’s fun to stay out of it and take bets on who will win. My money is on Lily every time. Trust me.During the actual dinner, I get to hear about everyone’s day, again, for Dan’s benefit. It’s fine because my job isn’t to listen. No. It’s to moderate who is talking so they aren’t interrupted. I have to point at each of them when it’s their turn. I’m the conductor of the goddamn family dinner. I need a baton. Dan would help, but he’s too busy monitoring what George eats, which is basically nothing. My husband’s singular focus at Family Dinner is what our eight-year old eats. I honestly don’t care what he eats and even if I did, I’m literally too busy telling Grace to sit up straight because at her rate of slumping she’s going to have a hump by the time she’s 25, maybe sooner. Finally, Dan and I align our forces to yell at Lily for having spent the total sum of the dinner prepping her food, like one of the food shows she watches, instead of eating it. There’s zero listening, plenty of nagging and well-timed grunts and eye-rolls instead of actual words.The adorable clean-up? Forget it. I just want them to go away.
The Reality of Family Time
So why do we do all this family time? I’d like to say some nonsense like we believe in the glory of family, but the truth is I think we read an article that said it keeps your kids off drugs. I swear if they do drugs, I’m going to be so pissed. Seriously though, family time is not meant to be perfect, it’s meant to be real, and we are nailing real here. I speak fluent eye-rolling and have a viable second career as a boxing referee. “She kicked you because you bit her? Fair fight. Carry on.” Despite Coke’s obsession with the perfect family, I get that the times we sucked completely will be our fondest memories. I honestly can’t wait to sit around a table with my grown children and reminisce about our seriously mental family dinners. Maybe I’ll break out Sorry! for old time sakes and see who cries first.
First of all, thank you. Thank you for expressing in clever and hilarious prose many of the thoughts in my head…I have three kids as well and can relate to EVERYTHING you write. I came across your ‘summer letter to kids’ piece on FB this week and it made me laugh out loud. In fact, when i was rereading it to my husband, i couldn’t even get thru the part about the goggles without crying (joy) because that is my 7 year old son. Under the pillow is a great idea. Maybe his pillow. And then you mentioned that ABC after school special- honestly, I thought i was the only one who ever saw that. Collective memory makes you feel a little less lonely in the world. I remember that episode so vividly – and it scared me until i discovered the Grateful Dead in my early twenties…..
Family Dinner and Game night. Yes. It may keep them away from drugs but we may need some to get through it!
Setting. Clearing. Sorry. Uno. Are you in my head? My BIGGEST pet peeve is when people are slow to take their turn. I’m glad i’m not the only one. Three kids- what were we thinking?
Thanks again for your great writing. I look forward to reading more – laughing about it certainly helps when i remember too.
Just read this to my husband! Thanks for taking the time to write such nice things.
I just called both kids AND my husband in here and made them listen to me read this one out loud, AND the summer letter to the kids. The younger one harrumphed especially at the “and the little one” comment in your summer letter to the kids, thinking I had written the letter. HAHAHA! LOVE YOUR WRITING!!!
I love that you read it to them. Hilarious. harrumphed is my new favorite word. Thanks so much!
I was having a bad day and you made me laugh out loud and completely turned my mood around. Thank you. Never stop writing! Other moms need you!
I have terrible days too. Glad I could make you laugh. I shall keep writing. Have a few ready to go after Spring Break ends. I’m currently overloading on “family time.” Thanks for the nice words!