Memory Game

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    We were a ping-pong family. My mother had her own paddle that she stored in a velour drawstring pouch. My dad had a top-spin on his serve that made it nearly impossible to return.

    These are very clear memories from back in the day of all of us playing tournaments, spending countless hours after dinner sequestered in our third-floor family room, a converted attic just the right size for a large gathering of ping-pong junkies.

    But that might not have been the case at all. I’ve asked my older sisters about these kinds of memories before, and a few times, what I recall as having happened repeatedly over a very long period of time was actually a much quicker stint in our family’s lifecycle. No matter, whether we played ping-pong for years or just a few weeks, it definitely left a lasting impression on me.

    As the youngest of six, I was fiercely competitive growing up. I always had something to prove, or at least that’s what it felt like. And so it was, fueled by this fire in my belly, that I began training in earnest to be the best ping-pong player in the family.

    Okay, really I just wanted to beat my older brother at something, anything – and ping-pong seemed like my only shot. I don’t remember how old I was when I set this goal. I don’t remember much about the match when I finally prevailed. Like the score, or who else in our family was there to witness this conquest. I will never forget, however, my brother’s paddle flying through the air, whizzing past my head, and crashing through the dormer window behind me. Or the look on my father’s face when, after surveying the damage, he heard me announce proudly that I had finally beat my brother.

    Oh, I’m sorry. Did you think this was going to be an uplifting anecdote about families playing nicely together? Well, there was a good deal of that, too. We all played a card game called euchre well into adulthood. I learned enough about art playing Masterpiece, The Art Auction Game (with the same brother who nearly decapitated me), to ace an art history class without cracking a book. And I swear Scrabble had to have been my English homework we played it so often. As my older siblings grew busy with high school and part-time jobs and dating, Mom and I always had a game going. I think Scrabble fostered my love of words and writing almost as much as reading did.

    So when I read Fun and Games on page 14 for the first time, I’m sure I looked like a bobble-head editor as I nodded in agreement. Playing games together as a family has so many incredible benefits for kids. Critical thinking skills. Check. Sportsmanship. Check. Problem solving, strategizing, and concentration. Check, check, and check. But what stuck with me most were a Richmond mom’s closing thoughts on the memories that are made. “I hope that no matter where their adult lives will take them, they will remember the fun times we had sitting around and playing games…”

    That’s my hope, too. And thankfully, more recent tales of family gaming do not include dangerous projectiles. Years from now, my daughters might recall: bedazzling their dad during a round of Pretty, Pretty Princess, or finally beating him in Blokus; playing four-square on the driveway after dinner as soon as daylight savings kicked in; or making fun of my lack of drawing skills while playing Telestrations and Pictionary at the kitchen table.

    As for me, decades later, I’m still as competitive as I ever was, but parenting these talented women-children has taught me how to lose with grace. Bananagrams has replaced the time-honored Scrabble as our mother-daughter word game of choice, and it’s been rewarding to watch my medium-size daughter improve – and improve some more. Now, the student has become the master.

    And the sad thing is, I can’t remember the last time Mom won.

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    Karen Schwartzkopf
    Karen Schwartzkopf has her dream job as managing editor of RFM. Wife, mother, arts and sports lover, she lives and works in the West End with her family: husband Scott, who not coincidentally is RFM’s creative director, and their daughters—Sam, Robin, and Lindsey. You can read Karen’s take on parenting in the Editor’s Voice.