"You call this a happy family?"
"Why do we have to have all these kids?"
Of course, this quote comes from the movie It's A Wonderful Life, a favorite of mine for many years, since growing up. I can recite most, if not all, of this movie by heart. This particular line is one that has risen to my mind many times over the past several years. This past Christmas, we introduced the kids to George Bailey and Mary Hatch, and Pete, Janey, ZuZu, and Tommy, and they LOVED it.
But I digress. Really, this post isn't about that terrific movie, but about how impossible it is to have a happy family when you have kids.
Take tonight for example. Today, when I picked up the kids from school, Samuel handed me a note. Here's the gist of what it said:
"Dear mom and dad,
Tonight I would like to have some family time, like playing Apples to Apples, building a fire in the fireplace, and having some hot chocolate. I love you.
(The spelling was MUCH more creative in his version -- he's such a poet -- but I went with boring in the interest of helping my readers...)
It was one of those moments. When you get a note like that, and you don't have a handy excuse like "Oh, sorry sweetie, but you have a dentist appointment this evening" or "Gee, I'd love to, but the tax guy is coming over tonight," then you must have a Game Night with your children. So we did. And it went the way Game Nights usually go at our house. The boys get more and more hyper, until they are practically coming UNGLUED with excitement, hilarity, and volume.
We played Apples to Apples, a gift from my Aunt Carol this past Christmas. It's a really fun game, based on language and playing with words. Each player gets five red cards with words or phrases on them. Players take turns as "The Judge." The Judge turns over a green card with a word on it, and the other players select the card from their hand that best matches that word. Then the Judge gets to pick the best match from those selections. The winner keeps the green card, and the first person to get four green cards wins. It's a quick game, and can get very silly, such as when the green card word is "GOOFY" and someone throws out a red card with the word "UNDERWEAR" on it. Sure fire way to get schoolboys to laugh: say the word UNDERWEAR.
The fun part of this game -- or I should say, the potentially fun part of this game -- is when players try to convince the judge to select their red card as the winner. Sometimes, you have to get very creative about what you pick, when there is no clear match in your hand. I selected "Jelly Beans" when the green card word was "Awful" tonight, because I really had no other options and was hoping to convince the judge that it's just awful when you get jelly beans stuck in your teeth. I forgot that a nine-year old boy doesn't care where his jelly beans are, as long as he can taste them; I did not win that round.
Anyway, there we are, trying to play this family game, and the boys are just ratcheting up the noise and energy level. At one point, Samuel actually threw his body over the dining room table to challenge Vincenzo's decision. As the game wore on, they became incapable of talking without screaming. When something was funny, they fell to the floor laughing and carrying on, and delaying the game with their jocularity. Their extreme, high-octane jocularity. Meanwhile, Elizabeth, being too young to play, but mollified with a handful of green and red cards anyway, is sitting just to my right and yelling as loud as she can about whatever is on her mind.
I took her sweet little face in mine and IMPLORED her to lower her voice, whereupon, the sweet little face crumpled and she said, "But everyone else gets to be loud: why can't I?" Because I can't control them one whit and I'm trying to salvage one small little corner of control from this craziness and because you are within arm's reach, baby!
Then there are the hurt feelings to deal with. Hopefully, as we play more games together, the kids will learn how to lose without disintegrating, but presently, we are not quite there. Better than the first time we played, but we still have lots of miles left on that road.
So we have: two screaming boys...lots of maniacal laughter...arguments over whose word is a better match...bodies hurtling around like we are in a wrestling match...cards falling on the floor...mom and dad trying to ensure that beverages don't get knocked over...a three-year-old just trying to match her siblings decible for decible...
It all adds up to misery. We were so spent by the end that I came up with a new rule on the spot: When we play Family Games at night, no storytime folks: straight to bed! I have learned that Rules are the product of what I call spontaneous almost-combustion, as in "My head is going to explode if I don't institute this rule RIGHT NOW and I don't care if it makes no sense whatsoever it will get me through the next 5 minutes, thank you very much!"
I hope I don't get any love notes from Samuel tomorrow. But the next time he asks for Game Night, new rule: must have enough alcohol on hand to dull my senses before the first card is dealt.