I spent half of last week helping my sister, Dorey, to babysit our nephew, who turned 7 on Wednesday. I never wanted kids and often feel awkward around them–though some then swarm to me the way cats won’t leave those who are allergic to them alone–but I love spending time with this little nephew, JJ, so like his father, our brother. He’s mischievous and funny, makes up new words to familiar melodies (“Old McDorey had a farm…”), says odd but interesting things (“We’re all nephews”), and loves games. He loves games so much that, when he asks if we’ll play Playstation with him and we respond, “We don’t play video games,” he is utterly undaunted: we end up playing cards or board games or even made-up versions of musical chairs where the “loser” gets a prize (one of JJ’s toys, which may or may not have to be given back).
I love games too. Dorey loves games even more–as much as JJ–which often means the inclusion of giggle breaks and tickling and roughhousing. I find all this endlessly amusing, though I rarely get in on the physical play myself. I just laugh and laugh, watching them cavort.
I think I laughed more in those 3 days than I have for a month.
Sometimes JJ still fudges the rules so he can win, and sometimes he isn’t remembering them clearly and I don’t either. When we played the game of Life, however, he administered the same rules to us both–and still beat me. Soundly. (The turning point came when I lost my job as a lawyer and re-drew a career, which turned out to be teacher. Even games know how little teachers make.) JJ was delighted at each lucky spin, delighted when he landed on a space that let him sue any other player for $100,000 (no cause necessary or even mentioned), moving his piece around the board and doing pretty well with the big numbers of salary and housing and vacations that cost $25,000 (who can afford those? Not teachers, that’s for sure).
I was thinking of the ironies of the game, my life as a teacher, my decision way back when to drop out of law school to be a poet. But JJ wasn’t. He was there, in the present moment. He was what we all wish to be: he was mindful.
When I think about those 3 days, I’m still glad I don’t have kids. But I do recognize that my nephew has one thing I want, something most kids have but he has in extra abundance: joy. And he has it, in part, because of his mindfulness. Because the pursuit of fun is understood and accepted.
I know I want to play more games. Maybe not Life–I play that enough already. Or maybe the key is to think of life as a game. The stakes may be a little higher than those in Life, but at least we’re playing it together, laughing.