Good News, Dad News: Regulated Relaxation

Joel Oliphint
Joel Oliphint

Our family life tends to be pretty regimented. Some of this is by necessity. When you're juggling multiple sports teams, piano lessons, homework, school events, church events, house chores and more, advance planning makes life go more smoothly.

It's also a personality thing. My wife is a multitasker and organizer extraordinaire. I've never been a slacker in those areas, but she puts me to shame. Every weekend she plans all of our menus for the coming week, and she does so with a grocery list that is ordered in such a way that, when followed, takes you logically through the different areas of the grocery store.

Family vacation dates are also usually reserved a year or more in advance. Not long ago, a friend asked me if I wanted to accompany him to New York for the weekend. I laughed, and then realized he was serious, and that maybe not everyone's calendars are padlocked months in advance.

Sometimes, though, a completely unscheduled Saturday arises, and when that happens we often break out one of our kids' favorite things: The Bowl Game.

No, it has nothing to do with college football. The Bowl Game works like this: Early in the day, my wife and I write down a bunch of activities on slips of paper. Usually it's a combination of board games, a movie or two, a few rounds of “Crossy Road” (basically a “Frogger” update), exercise (pullups, “Just Dance,” etc.), snacks, wrestling with Dad, 30 minutes of reading, walking through the neighborhood and the occasional chore (gotta keep 'em honest).

Then we put those slips into a big bowl, and each kid takes turns picking them throughout the day. That's it.

All of the activities in The Bowl Game are predetermined, but the order is random, and for some reason this creates a certain level of excitement for the kids. Even when we throw in unenviable tasks—empty the dishwasher, put away your laundry—there's minimal, if any, pushback.

It's a control thing. Only The Bowl knows what will get picked, and the kids don't even know what's on all the slips of paper.

There's also the mystery of whether we'll get through the entire bowl. If we've watched one movie, will there be another? What if we watch two movies in a row? Is there more than one slip that says “reading time”?

If I'm honest with myself, this entire endeavor is probably a way to make relaxation a bit more organized, which sounds kind of like ironing your bathing suit. If you want to relax, why can't you just relax? Why do you need a plan or a method? Ah, but if you've ever tried to casually relax for an entire day with energetic kids, you know that it often ends up more likeLord of the Flies than a Corona commercial.

And a Bowl Game Saturday makes for a peaceful weekend. There's no bickering over what we should or shouldn't do, no complaining, no finger-pointing. Got a gripe? Blame it on The Bowl.

Joel Oliphint is associate editor ofColumbus Alive. When the kids go to bed he is able to relax sans bowl.