A few months ago, I was up in the attic with my four-and-a-half-year-old Jacob and my husband Dan. Jacob found a bag full of chess pieces on the shelf.
Jacob: Mommy, let’s play this game!
Me: Ohhhhh, that. That’s really a game for bigger kids and grown ups.
(NO, I didn’t just say this because I suck at chess. I do. Of course. But that was absolutely not the point.)
Dan: Well, some little kids play it.
Me: Really, Dan? This is how you want to spend the next half-hour of your life?
Me: Well, you never know. He could be one of those chess prodigies.
Me: He’s still trying to grasp the rules to hide-and-seek. Does that say “chess master” to you?
In case you think I’m unfairly limiting my child, here is the transcript from Jacob’s last attempt at hide-and-seek. He was playing in the playground with his friend Lily.
Lily: Okay, Jacob, you go hide.
Jacob: Okay, you count. I’m going over there. (Jacob gestures to a tree.)
Jacob runs over to the tree and stands behind it. Laughing maniacally.
Lily: . . . eighteen, nineteen, twenty.
Lily sprints directly over to the tree. And finds Jacob. My child. Hide-and-seek GRAND MASTER.
Lily: Okay, Jacob, I’m going to hide now.
Jacob (not closing his eyes, watches her run away ): One, two, three, four, five, six . . . LIIIIIILY! HIDE WHERE I CAN SEE YOU!!
And then there was the last time we tried to play I Spy.
Me: Okay, Jacob, your turn.
Jacob: I spy with my little eye, something green and grassy.
Me: Just going out on a limb here . . . is it the grass?
Jacob: Yes! Good guess, Mommy. Okay, your turn.
The odd thing about all this is that Jacob actually has a fairly robust competitive streak. As I have mentioned before, Dan and I regularly manipulate this in order to get him out of the house. Before he reaches adolescence. But Jacob’s competitiveness rarely surfaces when he plays a game. Unless it’s one of those “just for the fun-of-it, no-winner kind of games”. In that case: STAND BACK. This child will TAKE. YOU. DOWN.
When I picked Jacob up at preschool one day this past winter, his teacher was showing the kids how to play a version of patty cake. She paired them up. Asked the kids to stand facing each other. And then showed them a series of hand motions to do: clap, cross their arms over their chest, and then put their hands up to their partner’s. Jacob was paired up with Annie, a slightly older girl who is pretty coordinated. They had this thing down in a matter of seconds. It wasn’t a race. Or at least it wasn’t supposed to be.
It was to Jacob.
“We did it! WE WON!!!” he screamed. And then, to emphasize his point, HE THREW HIS HANDS OVER HIS HEAD AND (I kid you not) LUNGED FORWARD ONTO ONE FOOT.
Okay, so maybe when you’re four it’s hard to distill exactly when you are (and are not) supposed to turn on the juice. And, for that matter, maybe it’s hard to tell when you’re even playing a game . . .
The other day, I was up early in the morning with Jacob and his little sister Emma. It was a weekend. When Dan got up, I asked him to watch the kids so I could lie down for a few minutes. About ten minutes later, as I was hovering near a light sleep, I sensed that the door to the room was opening. Jacob appeared in the doorway.
Jacob (offended): Mommy! I’M. TIRED. TOO.
Me: Okay. Well, then come rest with me.
Jacob couldn’t get into the bed fast enough. And he was quiet as a mouse. For a good, solid thirty seconds. And then . . .
Jacob: MOMMY: Let’s pretend that I’m a bobcat and you’re the trainer and . . .
Me: Jacob, let’s rest for a bit and then I’ll get up and play with you.
Jacob: Okay, Mommy.
And all was quiet again. I started drifting toward sleep. I wasn’t that close. But at least I could see it off in the distance. Two, maybe three minutes passed. Three minutes. Or in the mind of a four-year-old: THREE FRIGGIN’ FOREVERS.
Jacob (in a stage whisper): MOMMY . . .
Jacob: What are we waiting for??