My 11-year-old and I played cards for over an hour last night before bedtime.
This is unusual. I am not someone who ordinarily plays cards. I am, in fact, someone who will go out of her way to avoid playing cards. For a long time, I've seen it as the ultimate show of pointlessness. When the world still contains more books than any of us will ever be able to read in even the longest of human lifetimes, why spend time staring at cards?
But Holly's cousins taught her a new card game during a sleepover earlier this month, and she was eager to teach it to me. Because I think it's good for kids to have the role-reversal experience of teaching something to their parents, and because it's good for me to make myself learn something new, and mostly just because school starts in a week and I wanted to make the summer evening draw out a little longer, I agreed to play cards with Holly.
And it was so much more fun than I expected. For one thing, it reminded me of my grandparents' lakeside summer house during my childhood, where after dinner, everyone of all generations played cards. I can still remember the desk drawer in which my grandmother kept pads of paper and golfers’ pencils for keeping score of our gin rummy games.
But it also reminded me of why it really is worthwhile to play cards once in a while. Yes, even when there are issues of the New Yorker not yet finished and classic Russian novels not yet begun.
Because playing cards is perhaps the best way to just stop and focus, make the moment last. When you're playing cards, you get caught up in the numbers and the strategy, the luck and twists of fate and intellectual gymnastics involved in trying to win the game. During the hour we played cards, I wasn't thinking about writing assignments or current events or household tasks that needed to be done, the way I do when I'm taking a walk or cooking or driving or doing almost anything else that feels fairly mindless. There was nothing on my mind at all but the game.
And that, I realized as Holly and I dealt and discarded and exchanged and shuffled, is the best reason to play cards. Paradoxically, it is mindless -- just as I'd always feared -- but also commands full attention. For that hour, I was thinking about nothing except the activity to which Holly and I had devoted ourselves.
It's a simple enough notion, and yet it's something that I as a parent do far too seldom. So often, I'm half paying attention to my kids and half thinking about doing something else, or else I’m not just thinking about it but actually doing something else at the same time. Multi-tasking, multi-thinking, multi-focusing.
Not yesterday evening, though. Yesterday evening, we just played cards. It was all-encompassing for that one hour. And in that singular respect, it was just as valuable as any hour I've spent doing anything else this summer.