Have you heard? Family Game Night is back! It kind of makes sense, really; when your mortgage is under the water and your job prospects are shaky and a night out at GolfLand or the cinema can set you back $60, $70 or more, staying in and playing games is a fun, inexpensive way for families to bond.
That said, we don't have a Family Game Night tradition. Sure, we play games a lot, but we play "on demand", we don't have a regular weekly hour set aside. Maybe it's because my kids are still young. Family entertainment site Time to Play has a great list of games for game night, but almost all of them are geared for ages 8 and up (and the thought of playing Candyland or Whack-A-Mole for one hour straight makes me queasy). Or maybe because to me the term "Game Night" means one and only one game: mah-jongg.
Like many Filipinos, I love mah-jongg. It's kind of a family passion; everyone in my dad's family plays. One of my aunts likes to tell a story of going into labor during her weekly mah-jongg game. Her cousins / opponents repeatedly urged her to head for the hospital, but she refused because she was just starting to accumulate enough tiles for a high-scoring run. My maternal grandmother went to her regular mah-jongg game every single weekday for decades (now that she's ninety she has cut back to once a week or so). I grew up attending lunches and dinners where the grownups never failed to unfold the mah-jongg tables after dessert. My paternal grandmother taught me, my siblings and my cousins to play when I was 13 or 14. It must be in the blood, because we were hooked. Pretty soon we were unfolding our own tables. In my college years, mah-jongg nights with my cousins often turned into overnights.
Fast forward to 2009. All my aunts and uncles and cousins are in the Philippines, and I'm here. My sister and her husband are quite nearby, but you need 4 people to play (to make a "quorum", as we say). I've taught Alfie the basics and he seems to enjoy it, but without my family around to coach me, I tend to forget the finer points of scoring. I haven't played mah-jongg in years,and I'm not really looking for other people to play with. So now I guess it wasn't really the game that hooked me, just the enjoyment I got from being with my extended family. I miss my aunts walking behind us, looking at our tiles and giving us pointers. I miss their excited squeals when it looked like one of us was about to score big. I miss the bluffs and threats we'd trade to try to psych each other out. I miss howling with laughter at the silly superstitions (Don't sit beside Lia for the next game, she's lost the last 4 games so she's got "stinky" hands!). And I'd love for my kids to have those kinds of memories -- and maybe, that's what Game Night is really about.
Maybe it's time to start building memories for my own kids. We'll start with Candyland (maybe we can call it Family Five-Minute Game Time instead of Family Night). Over the years my kids' game repertoire will grow, just like mine did -- and hopefully one day I'll find myself shouting Pung and Chow right alongside them.