Often, during the oppressive days of the summers of my youth, the neighbors with pools would run up a flag signaling that the pool was open. Like vultures, we would ride around the neighborhood, circling, waiting for the flags so we could pedal home and drag our parents to the neighbor's pool. We would play games: Marco Polo, Shark, Underwater Tea Party. And when there was nothing left to do, we’d ask our mom (who had grown up as the oldest child in her family) to “Judge” our underwater handstands. Enjoying the poolside herself, she would assign arbitrary numbers to our attempts as a form of judgement without using any uniform criteria. In other words, she was making it up as we went along. And it worked. We would repeatedly attempt to better our score. As the older child, I caught on to what she was doing so that when I got tired, I joined her at the side of the pool and “helped” her continue to judge my little sister until she was thoroughly spent. I knew the game was over.
When my kids were small and bored and looking to expend extra energy, I would tell them to run around the house and I would time them. I’d sit on the front stoop and when they returned, assign an arbitrary number for which they would then attempt to beat. Around the period where my oldest could tell time, he caught on to what I was doing so that when he was tired, he would sit with me and check his watch while his younger brother continued to run around the house in attempt to better his time. (In all fairness, youngest did take the State Championship in the 4x400 at the State Track Meet in his junior year of HS.) My oldest son knew the game was over.
Yesterday, a cold, windy, blecky day, I was home. No longer a child, my own children grown and out of the house, I pulled the same trick on my dogs. I stood at the top of the steps and tossed a ball down. The dogs chased the ball, ran it up the steps and I’d toss it again. Finally, they figured out they could do it all themselves. Drop the ball, chase it down and return to the top only to drop it again. My older dog (12 pounds, age 11) kept pace fairly well, but the “baby” (5 months, 28 pounds) has boundless energy. On the final toss down the steps, the oldest was in the lead, got the ball, returned to the top of the stairs, ran into the living room (with the baby right behind him) and pushed the ball under the couch where neither of them can reach. Then, he ran back to the stairs and pretended to drop the ball, sending the baby back down the stairs and on a frantic search. Older dog curled up on the couch. Game over.