To Win: Take it Seriously

There are countless explanations for winning. Here’s one that often goes unspoken: taking the game seriously.

I was reminded of this truism last night after a family dinner out.

A torrential rain storm held us inside a little longer before our dash to the car, when my two kids spotted that classic toy claw/grabber/crane game. The prizes, I later learned, were called knobby balls, different-colored squishy orbs dotted with “spikes.” Amazon describes them as having a cool, bumpy, and tacky texture so as you can imagine, a lot was at stake.

My son Joey took his shot first, $.50 cents seeming like just the right price for good clean fun between rain swells.  In a blur of zeal and premature celebration, his mission failed when the crane’s grip gave way on its journey from the back right corner to the front left prize shoot.

Next up was my three-year-old daughter Charlee. It’s safe to say that she did not have a plan, and although her forage turned up empty, it was a pure joy to watch.

It was my turn.  My son cheered me on.  My daughter clapped and yelled.  They urged me to attack the game.  Instead I held the coins in my left hand while I surveyed the landscape. Only now do I realize the scope of my uncoolness in retelling this story.  I have always wanted to be the impulsive guy.  The leap before you look guy.  The fire the quarters into the slot and figure it out along the way guy. I have always wanted to be cool.  Being cool from a distance, appears to be a mysterious mixture of not caring and looking like you don’t care. In other words, someone other than me.  Before I inserted the money, I examined the topography, assessing which ball’s bumpy tacky texture was most exposed, identifying which ball would allow its circumference to be engulfed completely by the claw.  I looked head on and from the side.  This didn’t do wonders for my children’s momentum, but this wasn’t enjoy the process, this was seek and conquer.

The game clock allowed a generous 30 seconds to select your coordinates (perhaps its creator was uncool as well).  In that time I was able to locate the yellow target I had scouted before, and adjust the claw ever so slightly to get its plunge angle just right.  By the time I hit the dive button, the results were a forgone conclusion.  The ball was coming home with us.

The claw’s journey back was mostly uneventful, save for the aggressive last upward surge that has crushed the dreams of many a child.  But the crane arrived with ball in tow above the slot and dropped its bounty home.  Joey leaped and fist pumped.

If you are a parent reading this, you see the problem. Two kids, one ball.  While my son was fist pumping, my daughter was lower-lip pouting.  My wife started to explain that one ball could be shared between the two of them, a practical solution that pleased most of me, but tonight I had to erase that notion. This game had become more serious than sensibility.

“Take the kids and run to the car,” I said, handing her the keys. She eyed me and nodded, knowing what was coming. “I’ll be back with another ball.”

I knew what winning looked like, and I knew what winning required. I plotted and planned just as before, and with a determination fueled by a vision of my daughter’s smile, I apprehended the green ball.

In the midst of an amazing summer, it’s difficult for me to remember a moment I enjoyed more than what my wife would later call “an exaggerated look of fake dejection” before surprising my daughter with the ball.

If you are thinking this is a hero’s story, I don’t blame you.  But it’s easy to lose sight of the how in the glow of my two kids.  The why was obvious.  But it’s often the how that tells the story.   I took the game more seriously than the dad who failed before me.  He had the cool. I had the plan.  He had more fun during, I had more fun after.

It’s often uncool to take things more seriously than others.  It’s a game after all, the world will tell us.

A game for certain. I am just not sure that I can convince my kids that I was uncool last night.

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