Compelled

July 31, 2021

I’m not sure why I feel compelled to post again. And I’m not sure why I was drawn to Forest Falls as a kid. But here I am, writing about my first trip back there in over 30 years.

The local pool was closed. The beach was too far away. And it was a typically too hot day in SoCal. So my parents, the kids, and I decided to go to a place not too far away, where the elevation lowered the temperature, and the flowing water offered the possibility of getting wet.

But it wasn’t just any place. I loved Forest Falls when we lived in Loma Linda, starting from when I was about 9 and ending when I was 12. It was a relatively short 30 minute drive, and for a kid who frequently got carsick, it lacked winding roads. I honestly didn’t remember much about it at all, but I remembered that I would often beg my parents to go there on a Sabbath afternoon. There were cool rocks in the summer and during the winter there was snow.

Back in the late 80s, you could just go there and park, but now one needs to purchase a $5 Adventure Pass, which sounds way more exciting than its hang-this-in-on-your-rearview-mirror-or-you-will-get-a-ticket reality.

To get this Adventure Pass, I had to stop by the Elkhorn General Store, which is just a mile before the trailhead. When I went in, a customer was standing in the back corner of the store wearing a brown suit. He was talking to the woman working the register while she helped another customer. The man had hair like Frederick Douglass, and he was clearly in a good mood. Apparently, he came into the store just to show off his look to the woman.

“What are you dressed up for?” she asked him.

“I’m heading off to a retirement party,” he said and sauntered out the door as she smiled.

For a place with a population of about 1,000, it seemed like something out of a small-town sitcom. I smiled as I headed out the door, Adventure Pass in hand.

As I opened the van door, smiles and laughter greeted me there as well. I was parked in front of a Mexican restaurant that proclaimed a number of things such as “Best Burritos in the World” and “Jesus is Lord” to would-be customers. Alice and Elliot found the juxtaposition of these things, along with the hyperbole, to be absolutely hilarious. In a plea that would have made Buddy the Elf proud, Elliot was pushing hard to try the best burritos in the world. And both kids thought the idea of Jesus, burrito in his outstretched palm, to be ridiculous. My parents were amused by their grandkids’ amusement.

I made no promises about the burritos as we headed to the Big Falls trailhead. When we got there, the parking area was nicer than I remembered, with a decent looking restroom and a shaded picnic area. We headed down the trail but then turned back when we noticed the riverbed was completely dry, the trail appeared to be taking us to houses, and we could hear absolutely no running water. Fortunately, some kind women assured us that we had been going the right way.

As we crossed the dry riverbed, we saw lizards scurry under rocks of different sizes, shapes, patterns, and colors. We eventually started to hear running water and see it as well. We started to see people as well, enjoying time in small pools that formed as water cascaded down rocks. To say I remembered this would be a lie. Maybe, if someone showed me four pictures of waterfalls and gave me a multiple choice test, I could have identified the correct match to Forest Falls, but I would probably need to use a lifeline. We hiked up farther and saw the falls descending from high above. Clouds moved over the mountains with a background of blue sky.

Mom and Dad moved nimbly along the rocky and steepish terrain. Alice found a walking stick for her Mimi that helped. We got closer to the falls and the kids waded in. Apparently, the water was too tempting, so with fatherly approval, they submerged themselves, fully clothed as their grandparents looked on with surprise.

We didn’t stay long, but we stayed enough to re-etch this place back into my memory. After a good day, it should stay there for awhile, but I guess writing this down will help me remember, just in case I forget where the world’s best burritos are.

Drive

March 28, 2021

On Thursday, March 25, we went to the zoo. So let it be written. There were cage-free squirrels that taunted the contained lemurs below them…yadda yadda yadda. There were river otters who started out sleeping in a log and then woke up with adorable consecutive yawns before playfully gliding through the water…blah blah blah. There was a red panda sleeping on a tree, chin resting on a branch while its arms hung limply, one on each side…etcetera etcetera and so forth. But what made this outing meaningful was the two wild creatures that I transported in my van to aforementioned zoo.

Shut down the tablets.

We played the Alphabet Game the way it was meant to be played. Only first letters of words count. No license plate characters. Don’t even think about looking at letters inside the car, kids. We got stuck on Q for about 30 minutes before spotting the Quality Inn. We even saw a truck with signage that said “Xtra” so we didn’t need to make the exception. And when you end at a zoo, you know you’re going to finish strong (though we actually ended up seeing a Z earlier).

Somehow in between P and Q (which we were minding), we came up with a game in which we rated words on a scale of 1-10. Not based on their meaning, but just on their sound. Alice suggested “shrub” which we liked a lot. We also found “oo” words pleasing, like “pool” and “smooth” though Elliot liked “smoothie” better. Elliot also liked the controversial word “moist” though we all said “slurp” could take a hike. This game had a lot of life to it. We played it on the ride there and back even rating forms of words against each other like love/lovely/loving for example.

We also drafted different types of things. I started with a colors draft, Elliot wanted to do one on smells, and Alice chose disturbing tastes. Unfortunately, I don’t remember exactly what was drafted here, but I was impressed by how specific the kids’ picks were. For smells, Elliot picked formic acid, “Not because of how it actually smells, but because it means ants,” he clarified. For colors, Alice mentioned the glow of campfire wood and the red stained glass of our church windows. The latter immediately reminded me of the lovely green of an apple Jolly Rancher.

I love a drive with kids. It’s so fascinating to hear their minds working, to gain insight into how they think, to agree and disagree, to laugh together while misreading the Outback Steakhouse sign as Quackback Outhouse. A zoo trip is great and all, but a the journey there is so Xtra.

Pride Goeth after the Falls

February 20, 2021

A few years ago, we took a hike with our friends, the Lees, to nearby Linda Falls. It was a disaster. Karisse ended with a pretty serious leg injury, and all four kids ended up getting hurt in some way. But of all the kids, it was definitely the worst for Elliot. He hit his head on a rock, tripped, and after the disastrous outing was over, he got a swing accidentally launched into that same head.

In fact, it was so bad that he proclaimed, “I never want to go to Linda Falls again!”

A few months later, he stuck to his guns. The Lees offered to take the kids on a hike. Alice went along, but Elliot, sensing danger again, refused to go.

But when his sister came back with tales of seeing bats inside a cave, he wept like he had been knocked in the noggin with a swing. We assured him that we would eventually go back to the bat cave, but then the pandemic hit, and his parents got busy, and everyone forgot about it until this weekend.

If you read my last post, you will note my fatherly guilt over our lack of outings. Well on Monday, we had the day off due to Presidents Day, and I thought it would be a great day to visit the bat cave. I was asking the Lees about how to get there, and Matthew kindly agreed to show me. When I told Elliot, he was excited about another chance for an at bat.

After lunch, we drove over to the Lees’ house, masked up, and walked over towards Linda Falls. Our crew was two dads and four kids. We wore sweatshirts and fleeces as it was a bit chilly out. The bat cave was less than a mile away. I was glad that we had guides, as it wasn’t exactly easy to find. A pile of rocks and a hole in the ground, with a fairly steep entry point. Matthew went in first and helped the kids get down inside the narrow space. At first we didn’t see any bats, but then I took my headlamp out and pointed it up above me. That’s when I noticed a furry puff ball just a foot or so away, hanging off the wall, completely still. I started looking around and saw about 5 or 6 more tiny bats, including one with long almost antenna-looking ears. The kids also found a number of spiders and a cave cricket.

Other than the moment when I cracked my head on the cave as I moved form one area to another, that part went along without a hitch. The hike and cave exploration probably took less than 30 minutes. After we got out of the cave, the bigger kids wanted to explore. Since we hadn’t taken very long, the dads obliged to let them explore down the fairly steep hillside to the creek below. Elliot was a little hesitant, as the rocks were slippery from water and moss, but he moved along well.

Eventually we got down to the water and navigated under branches and over rocks. It was getting hotter at this point, and breathing through masks made it tougher. I would have taken my sweatshirt off, but I needed my hands to grab onto Elliot and various rocks, and I also didn’t want to risk more exposed skin to poison oak. The kids were having no problem at all, moving like a traveling Parkour troupe. Wanting to keep up with the older three, Elliot was doing phenomenally well, stepping from rock to rock, scooting over logs, and ducking under branches.

We had probably walked for about half an hour when Elliot let out a cry. His hand had touched some stinging nettle. We tried to numb the pain with some mud, but didn’t have much luck. I went to grab his arm to help him balance on a rock when I felt something sharp as well. Apparently, some nettle had gotten stuck to Elliot’s coat and had lodged itself in my right hand. Although it was an accident, I was actually thankful that I could empathize better with my son. That weed lived up to its name. It stung!

Alice also ended up getting some lodged in her legs and Elliot ended up getting poked at least two more times. The pain would come and go, but he had lost his cheer. I figured this might be the nail in the coffin for Linda Falls. The bats had seemed like a year ago.

And it actually had been awhile. I’m guessing we hiked for nearly an hour when we realized we were not above the falls but below them, which meant we would have to backtrack, uphill, through more stinging nettle. Matthew took out his phone and noted that we were below Linda Falls Terrace. Thinking about all that could go wrong on the way back, I suggested we head up the hill and see if we could make it to the road.

It was a STEEP climb up. Later, when I recounted the hill to Sara, Alice chimed in, “It wasn’t a hill! It was more like a cliff!” We might have climbed for 10 minutes, but it seemed like 30. C, Z, and A moved up like little mountain goats as Matthew followed behind. I was grateful that Elliot couldn’t keep up with them as it allowed me to take breaks. My sweatshirt was soaked with sweat, my jeans were caked with dirt, and my mask was damp. The kids gamely kept theirs on the whole time, even though I suggested to Elliot that he could rest since we were a ways behind. I ended up having to take a couple breathers.

As we were paused for a bit, a brick-sized rock went rolling down just about a foot to Elliot’s right. I didn’t even process it until it was basically past him, but it felt like too close a call. We proceeded cautiously. Fortunately, the exhausting ascent and brush with falling rocks allowed us to take our minds off of the stinging nettle. My calves were on fire as we trudged the last few feet to meet our group at a more level area. We walked through areas infested with poison oak and eventually made it to the road. We hopped one fence and Karisse graciously rescued us. The journey had taken a solid two hours.

We were soaked in sweat and our skin was full of nettle poison, but there was a joy and relief as we headed back, with the windows down and the wind in our hair.

And you know what words I didn’t hear? I never heard the words that we would never be going back to Linda Falls. Even after all of the struggle. I was one proud dad.

We all showered with Dawn soap and nobody got poison oak. The nettle stuck with us for over 24 hours, but thankfully Elliot’s went away first, and that made him feel pretty good. It was actually a way of bonding too, just checking in on our nettle hands and legs throughout the day.

It’s great to have friends that push you to be more adventurous and brave. And it’s great to have kids who aren’t going to quit after a few falls.

Innerd Being

December 22, 2020

Elliot had run out of options. His friends down the street had just left for vacation. His sister had just started a marathon craft session video chat with a friend. His mother was getting some much-deserved office time. He slumped on the couch, lamenting his solitary confinement.

I can understand why he felt this way. It’s been a strange and busy year for me, and I am not often option A. During the weekdays, after I get home from work, I usually have time to play a video game on demand (almost always Sonic the Hedgehog), before we eat together. Then there’s sometimes time for a brief wrestling session before bath/storytime or a movie depending on the day.

On the weekends, my dad game has suffered with the pandemic. I can no longer take the kids to museums, parks, malls, or Indian buffets. So Elliot spends most of the time with the neighbors, looking for bugs, jumping on a trampoline, and solving the world’s problems. I am so thankful for this social outlet and that he has good friends, but I do miss time with my boy. Since I am Alice’s teacher this year (a future post in the making for sure), the drop off with her seems less noticeable.

So today was a perfect opportunity for some son-father bonding. We played some soccer outside, an exhausting game in the unseasonably warm December weather that he won 10-8. I read four chapters of the brilliant book, Coyote Sunrise, while he drew pictures. We downloaded a game called Pocket Ants where you play the role of an ant in its colony, and navigated that together for a bit. But eventually, his screen time timer ran out, and even after all that, his sister was still crafting and his mom was still at the office. So it was time for something new. More specifically, it was time for a new podcast.

And while there are innumerable podcasts out there, it wasn’t hard to zero in on a topic for Elliot. Bugs. Or if you ask him, “You mean insects?” Yes, son. Insects. Your father is so basic sometimes.

I initially tried using “insects (bugs) for kids” as my search terms. And while I found a few that sounded interesting, Elliot quickly timed out since he had already heard mostly everything they talked about. Or at the very least, he convincingly claimed that he did. Regardless of the veracity of his claims, the music was cheesy, the hosts talked like they were talking to little kids, or they just simply weren’t that good. There was a podcast that was fairly impressive, where a kid actually started his own show about insects and went around interviewing various experts. Unfortunately for that kid, Elliot is used to more polished shows like Wow in the World, and the interview style wasn’t as compelling as he was used to. So eventually, I increased my search parameters to any bug (I mean insect) podcast and settled on The Arthro-Pod.

Bingo.

“I like this music!” said Elliot as he danced around the room during the title credits. The hosts were three professors, one from the University of Kentucky, one from the University of Nebraska, and one from Penn State. The first episode we listened to was about catching bugs, which of course Elliot was into. We learned about light traps, funnels, and something called malaise nets. We also branched out and watched a short YouTube video on how to catch aquatic bugs. It was good stuff. I found myself stopping to listen as I tried to multi-task and grade papers.

But for the second episode, Elliot found The Perfect One, picking it as he read episode titles. Apparently, two of the hosts were really huge Pokemon fans as kids, so while the third host (who was not a fan) was away, they decided to just nerd out on all the entomological influences found in Pokemon. According to the hosts, the creator of Pokemon, Satoshi Tajiri, loved entomology in his youth and actually considered being an entomologist. So the hosts talked about what a person could learn about insects through Pokemon, problematic/inaccurate depictions, and of course, personal favorites.

As they were getting ready to start, Elliot ran over and grabbed his Pokemon guide so he could cross-reference creatures when they talked about them in the podcast! He was also right with them in their conversations, and very frequently started talking with them as if three friends were having a conversation. It led to some memorable exchanges, including these:

Host: You can’t leave an ant lion out of the entomological research.

Elliot [without missing a beat]: True.

Host: One thing I’m not a fan of is Combee evolving to be Vespiquen.

Elliot: Me neither.

At one point he was literally standing on the piano bench just hanging on their every word. What a lovable nerd! This made me so incredibly happy. He had found his tribe.

I think one of the hardest things for a person is feeling like they are alone. Not in regard to proximity with others, or feeling loved, which Elliot has both of, but just the feeling of being understood. I’ve spent most of my life not really feeling understood. I’ve been able to connect with people in many different ways, and definitely feel loved now, but I’ve also spent a lot of my life feeling like the alien or robot in a sci-fi movie that knew it wasn’t quite the same as the rest.

However, in the past few years, I have felt a core connection with others. And strangely, it’s with people I’ve never met.

A few years ago, I started listening to comedy podcasts while doing the dishes and cleaning. I originally did it for entertainment as it helped me pass the time. But soon I noticed something. It wasn’t all comedians or comedy podcast hosts, but a lot of them were indeed like me. Pretty quiet yet wanting attention, empathetic yet egocentric, able to listen carefully yet almost unable to mute their minds. I started to feel not so alone, not so alien. There were others out there who thought and talked like me. I had found my tribe. There’s something intimate about having someone speak thoughts through earbuds, as if those thoughts are coming directly from your head. I really wish I had podcasts as a kid.

So today did my heart so much good to see Elliot experience a sense of connection at such a young age. Thankfully, it won’t take the place of human connection. He will still want to jump on the trampoline with friends, make up silly stories with his sister, snuggle his mom, and wrestle his dad. But I think that finding connections with the strangers in his headphones will actually enhance his other relationships, as he gains confidence while feeling just a little less alone. So glad there are fertile podding options to help a budding entomologist grow.

Once a Pun a Time

December 13, 2020

Once there was a dad who made a colossal mistake. He sent his son into a bedtime tailspin by pointing out that there was a certain inconsistency in energy level before and after the “it’s time to go to bed” announcement. Rather than dealing with it directly and helping his boy, he complained to his wife about the level of irrationally as if he, the father, were the victim.

Fortunately, the daughter of the house, perceiving that her father would be of no help, came up with a solution. “I’m going to come up with puns to connect places with nature to cheer my brother up,” she thought. So she came up with Washington Deep Sea and Beejing and then went to enlist her previously useless dad’s help, which in the process, also cheered up the triggerer. After they added to the list together, she went back to tear central. “You want to do a game?” she asked the triggered.

The crying stopped. Instantly. Could not have been more abrupt.

The Happy End

Save the Date

May 18, 2019

On April 22, Alice and I had a random day off of school. Since Sara was teaching and Elliot was studenting, it seemed like the ideal time for a daddy-daughter date. I hoped we could see some flowers, and poppies in particular. The Internet told me to head to Point Reyes and the Chimney Rock Trail.

We had a great car ride, talking the whole time. We talked about her social life at school, sibling relationships, and sports. We also talked about her commercial idea for a satirical site called celebritybarfbags.com. It just came up. In this commercial, various celebrities from Hollywood, sports, and music would talk about their experiences and how CBBs saved them. Fortunately, all this talk did not cause the oft-carsick Alice to toss her cookies or anything else.

We stopped in Point Reyes Station for a pastry, perused a bookstore, and then headed out to the the CRT. When we arrived, it was windy, so we ate our sack lunches in the car and started our hike. There were a decent number of wildflowers, but it was no super bloom. Nevertheless, we had fun playing in the wind, racing along trails, and spotting Indian paintbrush. We also spotted some seals on a beach below the trail and had fun winding our way down and checking them out. In addition to the elephant seals, we also encountered a school field trip. I explained to Alice the overwhelming joy of seeing a group of students that I am not leading.

We spent a few moments hanging out with the seals, assigning them names and backstories. We returned the way we came, but this time, Alice started feeling a bit carsick, so we stopped at a beach. While Alice searched for shells on the beach, something caught my eye. I walked closer to the water and picked up a nearly-intact sand dollar, the most complete I’d ever seen on a beach. Alice was impressed. We dipped our feet in the water for a bit and headed back.

On the way back, we were a bit quieter, both somewhat tired from our day. So I decided to introduce her to the music of my youth. We listened to Automatic for the People by R.E.M. She found the first few songs “interesting” aka “kind of weird,” but we had a nice talk about depression through “Everybody Hurts” and a fun conversation about rhyme as we listened to “Sweetness Follows”. Her favorite song seemed to be “Nightswimming” (strings!) and she also approved of “Find the River” which made my heart happy. We pulled into our hometown just as the album was ending.

Although we didn’t find all the flowers we were looking for, we saw seals and sand dollars and made some lovely memories. At our respective ages, I think we could go almost anywhere and have a good time. Alice is one of easiest people to hang out with, a positive kiddo with an appreciation for the absurd.   I am hoping for another date in the near future and am glad we won’t be out of time soon.

Not Getting His Wish

January 20, 2019

When I got home today, Sara shared some exciting news. Apparently, one of Elliot’s classmates is getting a new sibling. Sara asked Elliot if he would want a baby brother or baby sister. This was purely hypothetical and strongly prefaced, since our family of four is perfectly squared away. However, his response was crazy melty cool:

“I would want a baby sister, because Alice is so cool and talented. So if you had another girl, she would probably be like Alice. Then she might be in kindergarten and I would be in the first grade, so I would play with her at school.”

So aside from the fact that he doesn’t seem to exactly understand time (or plans on flunking multiple times), I thought this was pretty much the sweetest response ever. Almost enough to try for that baby sister. Almost. Well, not really, but bless his always-will-be-a-little-brother heart.

She’s the Cheesiest

January 16, 2019

Tonight, while Alice was taking her bath, I read her a chapter of the book Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo. The story is DiCamillo at her best: quirky three-dimensional characters, an innocent yet introspective voice, and a darkness not seen in the conventional kid book.

The scene unfolds this way:

Raymie stands with her friend Beverly Tapinski in her father’s insurance office. He has left his family and run off with the dental hygienist. She hasn’t seen him since then, and she has just given up on her plan to win the Little Miss Central Florida Contest—the long-shot way to win fame and summon her daddy back. Heavy stuff. Heavy enough for Raymie to think—Tell me, why does the world exist?

Of course, I was unable to ruminate on Raymie’s existential crisis, because I was immediately interrupted by a slight splash from the tub, an arm raised in the air, and a proclamation from Alice—

“For nachos!”

I will never leave you, kid, I thought.

 

Well Rum Pa Pum Pum

December 23, 2018

Mary nodded, pa rum pa pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pa pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pa pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pa pum pum,
Rum pa pum pum, rum pa pum pum
Then He smiled at me, pa rum pa pum pum
Me and my drum

Up until last week, I had misinterpreted “The Little Drummer Boy” for nearly 40 years. I understood that the drummer boy didn’t have much. Apparently, he had a drum. It’s unclear about whether or not he had sticks. I understood what the song seems to be conveying—give your best no matter what you have. I understood that Mary, the ox, the lamb (or ass, depending on how many giggles you want out of your stage performers), and baby Jesus all dug the drum solo.

However, I made an assumption that I now believe to be incorrect. I believed that the little drummer boy was a previously-unrecognized prodigy who pounded that percussion so perfectly, he made the unmentioned Joseph take out his iPhone and immediately add the performance to his latest Instagram story. I thought the drummer boy’s rhythms were worthy of a fist bump from Questlove.

Then I saw my son’s school program.

During the lead-up to Elliot’s Christmas program, we had absolutely no idea what to expect. He didn’t seem to know any lyrics, he was clueless about a costume, and he generally seemed like Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones had zapped him with a pageantry-specific amnesia device.

We showed up Thursday night with precious little knowledge about the performance before letting our son wander off to the back with his teacher. The printed program revealed that Elliot’s class would be performing “The Little Drummer Boy” (aka “The Carol of the Drum”). Soon the canned music started up and we saw Elliot walking down the aisle with a jembe drum in his arms and a smile on his face. He and his classmates then proceeded to hit the drum whenever the singer on the CD would say rum pa pum pum. I’m guessing that the class average for beats on rhythm was around 12% and probably 5-10% of those were just fortunate coincidences. Elliot was especially challenged, since the drum was nearly his size and a bit slippery to boot. He kept on having to grab it, turn it, and pull it back up, all while maintaining friendly eye contact with the audience. He even used his knee to boost the drum up a few times.

But through it all, he never seemed to get frustrated about his sliding drum. He never despaired that his classmates were getting more beats on rhythm. He kept a smile on his face for almost the entire time.

To a professional choir director, his performance may have seemed like chaos. At the very least, it was unpolished. But I could suddenly see clearly. The haphazard drumming in front of me was probably pretty close to what the drummer boy could muster. He’s no confident kid leading up to his solo. He’s insecure. Angsty. Interrogative. That’s not the attitude of the next Sheila E. Those are the inner workings of someone without much of a clue. Someone who missed several key practices.

Here’s further information to consider: When Mary nods, she’s nodding the nod of new mothers. That encouraging nod of things hoped for and not yet seen. The nod through pretend smiles and gritted teeth. One day he’ll figure this thing out. One day the money for these lessons will pay off. Sure the ox and ass (or lamb depending on whether you want to dress your performers in adorable headgear) kept time, but it’s not like these two animals have been known for their epic sense of rhythm. No music teacher has ever said, “You’ll need to get Junior a metronome…or a donkey.” And Jesus does indeed smile. But remember, babies smile about all kinds of less-than-impressive performances. A raspberry sound from your lips. Making your face appear and disappear. Barney. Not exactly the equivalent of a John Bonham solo.

Plus, a far-from-perfect performance meshes so much better with the Christmas story. Now the Nativity isn’t as calamity-packed at The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, but it certainly isn’t clean. And what could be more hope-filled than a mess? For the person who says the wrong thing at the office party, there’s the wisemen who accidentally tip-off the psychopath Herod about the baby. For the parents who use newspaper when the wrapping paper runs out, there’s Mary and Joseph putting Jesus in a hay-filled manger. For the newlywed spouses freaking out about spending time with their in-laws, there’s the shepherds who feel the sore-afraid feelings before any of the other feelings.

So when I see a school Christmas program, I don’t want to behold perfect rows of kids, precise timing, and crisply-delivered lines. I want to see children wandering around for their place on stage. I want to hear squishy Rs in need of speech therapy. I want to watch a struggling boy barely holding onto a drum, occasionally hitting the right beat, and joyfully smiling through all of it. I want a reminder that the Holiest of Holies came down to Earth, not to just clean up the mess, but to love it first.

Get Your Game on, Go Play

December 19, 2018

The time had come to see if my son was a gamer. His mother and sister were off on a date to see The Nutcracker. Over the last two days, he had developed a seemingly unquenchable obsession for Blokus (or Corners, as he called it), at which he could be legitimately competitive. But the real test lay in a small green box. Was Elliot ready for Catan Junior?

Although the game is a simplified version of Settlers of Catan (aka The Best Game to Ever Touch a Coffee Table), it contains complexity in regards to trading, using resources to build, and waiting when one doesn’t feel like waiting. In other words, not exactly the ideal skillset of a five-year-old. And while Elliot did have a problem trading his goats because, in his words, “The goaties are just so cute!” He navigated the nuance well.

In fact, he won his very first Catan Junior game in convincing fashion. He won through a skillful deployment of the Ghost Captain, an obsessive purchasing of Coco cards, and an impressive willingness to listen to advice. Although he had quite a bit of coaching throughout the process, his father did make him come up with the winning trades and building decisions on his own.

Upon vanquishing his old man, E was quite pleased. He eagerly agreed to a rematch. This time he received much less coaching, and lost in a very close game. However, he handled it very well. “I’m used to losing,” he said, rather matter-of-factly. And in that statement of younger sibling reality, I felt solidarity with my son. So I talked to him about my decade of defeat during my early years, intimating to him how valuable it was for me to lose early and often in life. He listened attentively and then challenged me to a game of Candyland.

We split those games too, and he handled both his triumphs and setbacks like a pro. Over my life, I’ve received so much joy out of game nights, but I’m not sure if there was ever a night that gave me as much happiness as tonight’s Son E Delight. In the very near future, I’m going to have to get used to losing again, and I couldn’t be happier about it.