Normally, when I think about games evocative of summer evenings, badminton, ladderball and Frisbee come to mind: games that I have memories of playing on warm nights as daylight lingers in the sky long after dinner.
But this summer, we've been on a ping-pong kick.
It doesn't make sense, because we could play ping-pong at any time of year. But we don't. In the two years since we moved to this house, the ping-pong table remained folded up in the garage until last month, when I wrestled it down the basement steps. And somehow, in the weeks since school ended, the kids and I have fallen into the habit of heading down to the basement after dinner for a few games of ping-pong.
There are a few reasonable justifications for this. The basement is always cool, regardless of how warm and humid it is outdoors. Whereas the yard has clouds of mosquitoes, the basement is generally insect-free. And the light doesn't change at all as the evening -- and the ping-pong match -- progresses.
And we all love ping-pong. This year, for the first time, Tim regularly beats me. I still beat Holly, but she's earning a respectable number of points each game. Holly plays with me willingly enough, but for her the real delight comes in a match against Tim. It doesn't matter to her that her big brother lacks the kindly grace to purposely cede a few points to her whenever he gets too far ahead, the way I do; the thrill is in getting his undivided attention for 21 or more points.
It's not terrific exercise, but at least we're upright and moving. It's not major bonding, but it gets us together having fun. It doesn't help us develop any critical learning areas, but Holly has become an ever more graceful loser and Tim has learned to take the occasional break from gloating over his net shot to compliment my topspin once in a while.
So even though a good game of badminton on the damp grass as the sun sets is one of the great pleasures of summertime, for us, so is a basement ping-pong match, at least this summer. The tradition may continue into the fall, but I doubt it. By then, evenings will mean homework for the kids, meetings and community events for me. The pleasure of ping-pong is in its immediacy: it is what we are doing right now, midsummer of 2013. It’s a little bit fruitless and kind of silly, but it’s fun. Which in a way gives it the very best characteristics of summer vacation.