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Monday, July 16, 2012

Dad Is a Game of Chinese Checkers


          Ten years ago I was in a career that had me travel one to two weeks a month. I checked in with my family daily over the phone, but I missed a lot of family doings. My life has changed since then and I have had the pleasure of being able to come home to my family each night. With five kids still at home there is still plenty of family excitement to enjoy each day.  Recently I accepted a work at home job, but am required to spend seven weeks in a training program. The training is far enough away that I am staying with a family member who lives closer and only coming home on weekends.  I came home for my first weekend on Friday and there were some joyful “Dad!” and “Daddy!” greetings called out from my younger children. Even when you are tired there is a beauty to those words, especially when they are directed at you.

                These children immediately wanted to do something with Dad like go for a bike ride.  I was suffering from the classic “I’ve just come home and am tired so let me rest” malady.  My youngest child, Story, had the answer to this. He pulled out the Chinese Checker board. Chinese Checkers was a way to do almost nothing while doing something with the kids.  They pulled over an ottoman and set up the board for four players for me and three of my children.
                The danger of Chinese checkers lies not in the difficult of the game, or in the possibility of lost tempers, but in the accidental “bump.” Do you know what I mean? The colored marbles rest in shallow holes on the board. It takes only a small bump to cause a majority of the marbles to unseat from their places and roll about in chaos before finding a new spot on the board. This usually puts an end to the game as no one can remember where all the marbles were before the bump.
                The ottoman we were using was sturdy, but there were three kids  kneeling around it resting their elbows on it as they studied the board. Time after time I saw the marbles quiver ominously. With all my adult foresight I said, “It will be a miracle if we get to the end of this game before it gets bumped.” My ignored my prophetic statement as if I were just a senile old man used to blurting out things like, “Back in my day kids knew how to behave!”
                Story is just seven-years-old. He has lots of energy that, when confined to one place like when playing a board game, is expended in wiggles. He is smart and perceptive, but there is a high percentage chance that when he pours milk into a cup he is going to overpour and leave a milky mess on the table. He was the child leaning nearest the Chinese Checker board. After another ominous wave of jiggling ran through the marbles on the board I took control.
                “Take your elbows off the ottoman,” I commanded. He didn’t respond very quickly so I had to say it again giving him the evil eye. He obeyed this time and sat back on his knees frowning. He had gone from intense, smiling interest to frown in .25 seconds. I could see why; there was no way for him to see the board or be very close to it without leaning on the ottoman. In one fell sentence I had taken a fun and exciting time with Dad and ruined it like rain on a parade. Yes, I felt bad. I didn’t have to think too deeply to understand that I was caring more about the game than I was about the kids playing it. The adult in me justified with, “It won’t be a fun game if it gets bumped.” Some other part of me said, “It won’t be fun playing the game if it isn’t fun playing the game.” That may or may not make sense to you, but at that moment I understood.
                When Story, out of necessity put his elbows back on the ottoman so he could study the board and make his move I didn’t say anything and was happy to see he had already forgotten my  sharp words and left his elbows there.  We soon were into the middle game when most of the marbles are out in the middle of the board. All of us were studying the board hard to find any multi-hole moves when it happened—someone knocked on the front door and Story bumped the Ottoman as he turned to see who it was. Marbles rolled everywhere.
                “I said this would happen,” I said to my oldest daughter as she walked through the front room. It was important that someone recognize my prophetic powers as "Dadman" because the little kids were laughing as if ending the game this was the funniest thing that had happened all day. She just nodded patronizingly. When I looked at Story as he scooped up marbles to put them away I saw his bright smile. The game had ended prematurely, but he had had fun. It was then I realized I had had fun too. 

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