Every other Wednesday in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.I’ve written about our family game nights before, and this Christmas, we were gifted a new addition to our repertoire: Picwits. The concept is fairly simple. In each round, players choose a picture card from their hands to apply to a caption (something like “Nutty” or “Yum!” or “My Secret Identity”). Players take turns serving as the judge of the proffered pictures, and the player with the picture judged best for the caption wins that round. My elder daughter and I looked through all of the pictures at one point, and some themes definitely emerge: toilets, cute animals, creepy guys, sports, foods, Goths, to name a few. Many of the pictures are strange, some a little disturbing, but the purpose is to make participants think about the interpretation of the images and their relationship to the caption. Community can help us put together fragments that make us feel whole, but the very fragmentation I see in our play calls me back to God.We found that it worked for multiple generations of our family as long as the four-year-old played on a team with an older member. We also discovered how much the judging and selection of images related to our feelings known by the other players. When we played with my parents on Christmas Day, my mother chose only pictures she liked (so, babies and pretty houses), without regard for irony or witticisms. My father and husband matched up well in terms of their sense of humor, while I won almost all the cards when my daughters (then playing as a team) were the judges. When we played another night and put my littler child on a team with her daddy, the judging got trickier, because we were trying to appeal to two very different sensibilities. My husband, as it turns out, is not as easily swayed by baby animals as my preschooler.
When we played in a large group, I noticed frustration at times that mirrored the same frustrations that emerge in those relationships. We all wanted to win, but more than that, we wanted to be recognized as creative and clever. We were limited to working with the cards in our hands and the relationships we’ve created (often over decades) with each other, but family history still influenced the present holiday season. Doesn’t it always? Winning, in the context of the game, required evaluation of our ideas, and there was always an undercurrent of “pick me!” I don’t mean to suggest that the game was tense or that we didn’t enjoy the experience and each other’s company. I think we all did. I just think that family, and relationships in general, always require us to make compromises that come to light more explicitly in this kind of game. Being known feels like winning. And repeated losses feel like being misunderstood.Of course there were times when we all agreed one card was the superior choice even when it wasn’t ours. Much of the time, though, we were doing what families do: making compromises and scraping along together as best as possible. The group dynamic means that there’s usually a companion for everyone as we move through different needs and activities. My elder daughter usually liked my card best, even if another judge didn’t pick it, just as my younger daughter found a snuggly place in her grandfather’s arms when her parents were busy making Christmas dinner. Our relationships are the products of negotiation, whether we’re in the game or not. By highlighting our dynamics, games like these can push our relational boundaries; they can irritate us, for sure, but they can also encourage us to listen and consider other perspectives.
I think that one of the strongest arguments for community comes from the idea of being known, always partially and from different perspectives. Together, we can know each other more completely. My parents will always know a part of my life history that neither my children nor my husband can access directly, though sometimes the problem is that I’m not really that person anymore. My children spend the most time with me, but they know me as an authority figure, however nurturing. It can’t and shouldn’t be the same kind of knowing that my husband and I share; there’s also always the fact that my husband and I chose each other intentionally, and as the game reminds me, getting picked is powerful. Community can help us put together fragments that make us feel whole, but the very fragmentation I see in our play calls me back to God. He’s the one who knows us completely, who makes us whole. He’s the one with room to pick all of us.