Making The Best Things In Life Better

There are certain pieces of advice that make us roll our eyes. The old adage about the best things in life being free can be put into that category.  Since the birth of my first child, I’ve heard stories upon stories about how an expensive trip to an amusement park can’t compare to a day at the free local park.

Of course, any parent who has spent 20 minutes dressing and carting a kid off to the playground only to be told after 10 minutes that it’s “boring” knows that the old adage doesn’t always ring true. In fact, in many ways, it’s not true. Children are expensive and their tastes match. No kid asks Santa to bring them hugs for Christmas. That’s just common sense.

parkOlivia had an Easter that is quite indicative of that. She wasn’t overloaded with a cash-filled basket, but her toys cost money. The same can be said for Lucas. Candy, games, and other childhood memories aren’t free and the things we (along with the Bunny) got her weren’t free either.

She spent a lot of time leading up to the holiday with her little face buried in the iPad.  Her latest obsession, a game called “”, had been monopolizing a lot of her time.  It’s a fairly pointless app that has you controlling a snake as he eats other snakes to increase size. For what seems like years, she’s been begging me to download it.

You should get Slithery-o.  It’s a lot of fun.

She calls it Slithery-o.

My snake is ranked 8 out of 500!

That’s great, Olivia. Good job!

You should download it.

I didn’t.  Instead, I planned out Easter gifts, upcoming birthday presents, and all the other things that I needed to buy to make her happy.  When the Egg Day arrived, one of the things I was most excited to exchange money for was “Brain Games – The Board Game”.  Based on the National Geographic Show that we watched to death on Netflix, Brain Games would surely be a big hit.

It was…the one time we played it.  It was OK. We keep saying we’re going to play it again, but we haven’t had the chance yet.

Are you doing to download Slitery-o?

Not now. Why don’t we play Stretch Armstrong?

That was another big Easter get. I had wanted a Stretch Armstrong since I was a kid and knew my children would be just as stoked to stretch him to his limit as I would be.  I tossed some bills at Target and they tossed me back our very own Mr. Armstrong.

I wasn’t sure how to play with a Stretch Armstrong.  Weeks later, I’m still not.  The only game I’ve found is to shout out, “Grab his arm and run back. I’lll hold the other one!”  Olivia grabs it and pulls.  Then she lets go. This game lasts about seven seconds.  After that, she moves back to something else.  Usually,

Daddy, can you pleeeeeease download Slithery-o on your phone?

But it’s only one player. We can’t even play together.

We can play next to each other. Please!

sliterioI couldn’t push it off anymore. Truth be told, I had downloaded this game months ago at her insistence but never opened it. So finally I did and, as I began to play, Olivia began her explanation of how to find success with my new slithery adventures.

Daddy, what you have to do is make sure you don’t touch the other snakes. You’ll die. You want them to run into you. When they do, you get points.  When you reach 1000 length, you can trap them.  Trapping means…

This went on for about five minutes.  As she spoke, I started to wonder if I had ever heard her say so many words at one time before.  She was also speaking in a voice I wasn’t used to. It wasn’t a funny voice she uses to get a laugh or a little kid voice she uses to ask for something. It was a mature matter-of-fact voice that comes with being confident in your knowledge of a subject.  I was amazed by how much she knew about this game and how well she could describe her strategy.

I play with the AI because you told me that people online are creepy.  But before you told me not to go online, I was once #6 out of all the creepy people!

I guess I had told her that once.  It made me feel kind of bad that the only real response I had to this game, which obviously meant so much to her, was to warn her about creepy online people.  Sure, it was a good life lesson, but I definitely felt like the Grinch in this scenario.

That was about a week ago and now we both play next to each other.  She tells me her high scores and I tell her mine.  Her excitement that first time we played together is something I will never forget.

I should probably mention that is free.  We never spent a dime on it.  The whole time I was brainstorming ways to pay for memories with my daughter, this was right under my nose.  This low-cost game ranks up there with Olivia’s other favorite games – batting a balloon back and forth with me in the living room, wrapping the house in toilet paper, and hitting a playball back and forth over a volleyball net. Those all cost me even less than Slithery-o as they don’t even require an iPad. All they really need is her and me. There’s a pattern there.

By no means is this “free equals fun” scenario true in every case. There will always be instances where the price tag can equal enjoyment.  Nine times out of ten, though, children want to spend time with their parents. It changes everything. A few minutes at the park spent watching from the bench could turn into an entire afternoon if you’re sliding down the slide next to them.

You might not think your company is all that special, but your kids do.  We spend our days surrounded by adults, second-guessing who we are or letting the world beat down our self-esteem.  After all that, though, our children still look to us as celebrities. All they want, especially in their early years, if for us to join in the fun things they do – no matter the cost.

No. The best things in life aren’t always free. The best things in life are the things we do together.