Thursday, June 23, 2005

Making the Playroom Safe for Democracy

Competition has always been a hallmark of my family when I was growing up. It has been said that it isn't a Fun Reilly Vacation unless a winner is declared at the end. So it shouldn't have surprised me that my brother Geeto introduced a competitive element to my sons' lives when he visited recently on a trip to Florida with his brother-in-law Dave Baran. They were dropping off a car at a condo in Venice and then would be returning to Chicago. We told the kids they could call Uncle Geeto's brother-in-law "Mr. Dave." (We decided to go with the southern custom of Honorific First Name rather than the northern tradition of Honorific Last Name.) The children didn't take to this name, possibly because they already know "Mr. Dave" from up the street who is their friends' father. So instead the 3-year-old refers to them as "Uncle Geeto and his partner." Haha! Back in the good old days this would've given a connotation of doubles tennis. Now, however, it sounds like they are only a piece of paper away from a Civil Union and a nice blurb in the Society Section. Uncle Geeto was admiring my kids' extensive Rescue Heroe collection. They have chuckleworthy names like Holden Breath, Marshall Artz, Maureen Biologist and Will E. Stop. They are joined by an elite (and growing) band of Ninja Turtles who seem to go by the same four names, but have hundreds of different plastic microscopically-sized accessories. Geeto wanted to know what the kids DID with the heroes and turtles. Basically they posed them, sent them around on rescue missions and used them to defend the household against assorted strangers, invaders and fully-imagined monsters. Well. That wasn't nearly exciting enough for my brother. Worse, it was not competitive. There was no way to tell who was winning! Geeto shook his head with dismay. "Have you guys ever played...WAR?" My 5-year-old mentioned the card game, but Uncle Geeto was having none of that. War is a game played with action figures, inlcuding Rescue Heroes, Ninja Turtles and Biblical Action Warriors we had gotten them for Easter. Uncle Geeto helped the kids stand all the action figures on opposing sides of the playroom, with a carpeted No Man's Land separating them. "Now," Geeto explained triumphantly, "You KILL all the guys!" He handed my five-year-old a rubber ball about the size of a grapefruit, instructing him to knock down as many of the 3-year-old's army as possible. The kids loved this idea. There would be throwing! Killing! Knocking down! Debris flying into adjacent rooms! Having such juicy targets at close range, and so many of them, seemed to affect their aim. The 5-year-old finally succeeded in knocking down multiple warriors with each toss, but the three-year-old somehow bounced the ball between all the guys. Finally in frustration he hurled the ball straight down on his own men. Egads! We redirected him across the No Man's Land. The adults (and I use that term loosely) cheered each kill, so this only increased the bloodlust. They took turns until only the 5-year-old had a man or two left standing. (Maureen Biologist may have been a conscientious objector.) He was declared the winner. Thank you, Uncle Geeto, for introducing competition, war and killing into the household! I have to's more fun than watching them rescue stuffed animals.


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