I once thought owning a pingpong table and a deck of cards were the keys to a happy home. Then I thought a dartboard was essential, then jigsaw puzzles, a pool table, and a predictable, pointless succession of board games. Then, I added silly 3-D puzzles that finally proved just how stupid I am. Actually, the whole process proved that. Just last year I convinced myself that "Dance Dance Revolution" and "Guitar Hero" were just the ticket for forced family fun. Forced I can do, but as far as game-playing goes, I've lost it.
I used to be fun, or at least have it pretty regularly. I used to play pingpong, pool, basketball and touch football decently, and the clarinet badly. Almost every winter night when I was growing up, I played pingpong or pool in our dingy basement, listening to CSNY or Jethro Tull. My family wasn't exactly the Kennedys, but we were active and boisterous, whether we played hearts at the kitchen table or held a pinball contest in the basement. (We're not a fine-furniture-acquiring family. That clunky pinball machine is the only family heirloom I covet.)
In my mind I still love to play — darts, basketball, gin rummy — but the truth is that my body hasn't played those games in years. I'm happy to have the gauzy game-playing memories and know it's a mistake that we've stopped making more. The only excuse I have is that grown-ups are lame.
In college I nabbed the second-place trophy for women at a pingpong tournament moments before I first met my eventual husband. (I learned later that the first-place gal had a crush on him, so I ended up with the bigger trophy after all.) Since our apartments couldn't accommodate pingpong, we soon turned to darts. After peppering our dart-playing friends' door with evidence of many misguided missiles, we bought our own board (surrounding it with lots of carpet). I wish I could explain how much fun we had hanging out with friends, playing cricket or baseball. Honestly, I don't want to explain it so much as do it again.
We've gotten out of practice. Most places we've lived had no room for our pingpong table unless it was folded up against a wall. When our children were small, we couldn't leave the darts around, and once they grew up, we really couldn't leave the darts around. The neighbor children's eyes are important, I suppose, but what happened to us?
Fun might as well be in storage, or at best, relegated to the basement. The pool table hogs the playroom, having banished the dismantled pingpong table to the furnace room, where it awaits its big break to sit atop the pool table. Other people's children play pool on occasion, but that's about it.
Since we have athletically-inclined children, watching them play became our social life, and we've been sitting on the sidelines too long. I want to get in the game. Not for the competition so much as for the rhythm and flow and where it might lead. Some conversations can take place only when the participants are gripping pingpong paddles, I'm convinced. Left brain, right brain, left side, right side. Oh! Something new happens, and I learn something about the other person and myself: "She likes to slam it? Who knew? …. He has spin up his sleeve. Impressive …. Underestimated her — damn."
After rooting around for them for a day, I went downstairs to throw darts and remember what I loved about it — the leaning, the arm position, the weight of the dart, the release, the thunk. It felt good, though I missed the camaraderie, the silliness, the pressure … and the board, but figuratively I hit the bull's-eye. This is missing from our lives. It's simplistic to decide, "Now we will play darts and pool and pingpong and be happy." Still, getting reacquainted with games I love, people I enjoy, and parts of me that are hidden yet essential seems worth a shot. It might fall flat, but just the thought of a pingpong tournament makes me smile. There's a trophy around here somewhere.