GateHouse — There are two schools of thought regarding how best to approach playing games with your children. The first is the one that I imagine most parents subscribe to, the one that says it’s recommended, if not kind of morally obligatory, to quietly and thoughtfully defer, fudge and roll over. This is the road I most often travel — I’ve used warmhearted paternal trickery to avoid both chutes and ladders, as well as to throw a game or two of Trouble — and I do it for a number of reasons, mostly that my son, like his parents, is a horrible, terrible loser who will, upon being beaten, singlehandedly inaugurate a fiesta of irrational emotionalism that will result in the inevitable forfeiture of a great deal of dessert.
The second school — one perpetuated by some of my very favorite parents — is essentially an extension of primal jungle law as it pertains to hippos which are hungry: Unless you are in possession of wizards, Usain Bolt or Rain Man, you will lose many of the games you play, and there’s no better time to begin figuring out how to respond to this icy truth than today, right now, at this table, where I will scorch you at the tic-tac-toe game on your Kidz Menu without so much as a sideways glance up from my fry bucket.
I can’t claim to know the first thing about parenting, but I do know this: I will never have this problem again, which reminds me, have you ever slunk out of a bowling alley having been beaten legitimately by a person who is 5 years old?
My son, in his second-ever game today, bowled a 123, well more than enough to beat each of the three dead-eyed adults forced to drive him home and provide him with dinner. Needless to say, I have spent my evening investigating how soon he can turn pro, and frankly if school is even necessary. Seriously, how many five-year-olds can there be jockeying for precious full-ride bowling scholarships? And don’t tell me they don’t have bowling scholarships. If they can pretend to teach golf, they’ll take anything.
To be fair, today’s score came because my little elf-person, who will literally cry real tears if you ruin his cereal by putting milk in it, shut down the 10th frame with a strike (his second in a row) and follow-up spare. In the fifth frame, he was literally the only member of our group of 4 to have successfully achieved the glorious triumph of a spare. He did this despite suffering several competitive disadvantages, such as never having inside a bowling alley before in his life (at least that he’s told us about, though now I’m wondering about this “kindergarten”), having his attention regularly commanded by a compelling bag of barbecue potato chips and having a top ball speed of about a searing 16 inches per minute and a delivery style which resembled a rhinoceros having a allergic reaction to something, except without much of the grace. (I have no idea what futuristic alien-polymer is used in creating bowling-alley floors, but it is apparently impervious to damage and should probably be applied to the space shuttle immediately. This will not only protect the shuttle but give it a warm, rustic glow, much like the walls in my grandparents’ basement).
(Yes yes, we had the little Kidz Zone bumpers up, but if they’re so awesome how come the rest of us didn’t burn the place down too?)
I would like to point out here that, despite what sounds like tremendously sad old-man whimpering, I have also bowled nearly a 123, the only difference being that I did it when I was 33 YEARS OLD, and he did it at an age where scrambled eggs make him pretend to barf. I would also like to point out that this will be completely fantastic news to my family, for as anyone who has had the misfortune to cross my Uncle Jim at Olympia Lanes in northwest Indiana, bowling runs deep in the Vrabel geneaology (it’s nearly as powerful and pervasive as seeking out unprecedented clearance-shoe deals the week after Christmas, and then calling family members to gloat).
Jim, it is said, mostly by Jim, will demolish blood relatives on the lanes without much bothering to glance up from his PBR (he will, of course, make an exception when a very funny joke involving gas occurs to him). The telling of the tale of Uncle Jim’s first 300 game has becoming something of a Christmas Eve tradition. He will routinely clean the clock of everyone in town, except some 96-year-old dude whose name I don’t know but what is almost certainly something like Zbczyzk and is apparently the Benjamin Button of bowling. His work has garnered him frequent appearances in the local media. I do not know for certain if Uncle Jim represents the immediate family tree’s most dramatic athletic success, but I can tell you this: I ran a marathon once, and no one wants to hear that story.
Anyway, for the immediate future, I think we’ll just keep taking him to the alley with whatever time we can spare (KA-POW, and yes the whole column was just a setup for that, you’re welcome). Beyond that, who can tell? Whatever future path we craft for him, however we continue to address the notion of competition, know this: your road through life will be a jagged and unusual one, and it will probably lead at some point through Olympia Lanes.