What’s a Mother to Do?
by Ann Edwards Cannon

Chapter 10
Playing Games 

[p.31]There it was, nearly 500 degrees in the shade, and I was playing tennis in the middle of a summer afternoon with my seven-year- old son, Alec, because I was trying to be a Good Mother.

“Okay, your serve,” I called to him gamely. Alec promptly lobbed his ball into the center of the net. “Fifteen-Love!” he screamed. “I’m totally wasting you, Mom.”

“Wait a minute here, Sweetheart,” I said. “The ball didn’t go over the net. It’s my point.”

He snorted. “Yeah right.”

So that’s how things went with us. Alec kept hitting the ball into the net and giving himself points for it, and in the end I lost. Big.

“Geez,” Alec said as we crawled into our car to leave. “You kind of stink at tennis.”

That’s when I came up with another of my little Rules for Living: NEVER PLAY GAMES WITH A PERSON UNDER FOUR FEET TALL.

I really hate playing stuff with kids for a number of reasons—the main one being that they’re always changing the rules on you. Take the way we play Candyland at our house for instance.

Official Rules for Playing Candyland with the Cannons
1. Have a big fight over which color of gingerbread boy you get.
2. Line up gingerbread boys at the starting point.
3. Have another big fight over who goes first. Kid who cries the loudest wins. Adult stupid enough to play goes last.
4. Draw card from the top of the pile.
5. If you are a kid and don’t like what you drew, put the card back and keep drawing until you get the one you want. If you are an adult, move five steps backwards.

I think you get the point.

After years of playing with kids, I’ve finally figured out why they treat us adults this way: THEY DON’T THINK WE’RE ACTU-[p.32]ALLY HUMAN BEINGS. We are the seatbelt dummies, don’t you know, just waiting to be acted upon.

I first realized that kids regard us as the merest props in their games when my oldest son, Philip, was a preschooler heavily into Star Wars action figures. One afternoon when there wasn’t much doing, he asked if I’d play Star Wars with him and I said yes. In a flash he divided his toys into two piles—one for him, one for me.

“Hey,” I said, “how come you get Han and Leia and Luke, and I only get these guys with three eyeballs?”

Philip proceeded as though he hadn’t heard me. Mainly because he hadn’t.

“Okay,” he said, “you make a base for your guys underneath the couch.”

“But I was thinking I’d like to make my base on top of the coffee table.”

Philip gave me a look which plainly said only a moron would build a base on top of a coffee table, so in the end I made it underneath the couch just like he said.

Finally, we were ready to play.

“Line up in attack formation,” he said in his Han Solo voice.

“Heh, heh, heh,” I said in my best bad guy voice, “We’ve got a little surprise planned for Captain Solo.”

“Duh, Mom,” Philip said.

“Duh what,” I said.

“That’s not how you play.”

“Well then how do you play?” I wanted to know.

As it turned out these were the rules I forgot to read:

1. Philip (a) does all the voices and (b) decides what happens next.
2. Mom occasionally makes one of her guys with the three eyeballs jump up and down in fright. But only if Philip says it’s okay.

As a result of countless experiences like this one, I’ve decided to swear off playing games with kids forever. This is really it. No more Star Wars, Candyland, or tennis. Hey, deal me out.

My dad, when he hears this, lifts an amused eyebrow because, after all, he always played with us—in the pool, on the front lawn, [p.33]around the dining room table covered with games like Chutes and Ladders. Furthermore, he acted like he was having fun. Fun, if you can believe it. Even that time he took me golfing when I was fourteen and my Snottiness Hormones were at their peak. I can still see us—him packing around clubs for the both of us, me following along in sandals and hot pants, flipping layered bangs out of my eyes and whining about how hot it was.

So, Dad, this one’s for you with heaps of love and respect.

And gratitude for years of the important games well-played.