Growing up, I always looked forward to the power going out in the wintertime: an evening in with my family, no TV, too dark to play with toys or read.

Yes, I was a bit of an odd child.

I liked it because along with the candles, the Scrabble board came out. We would gather at the kitchen table and play. No excuses. No one had anything better to do. Sure, my family wasn’t always the most willing or enthusiastic participants, but they were participants none-the-less.

I also liked the evenings that we found ourselves at my Grandparents’ house. While most of the adults would settle into the living room with tea, my Grandfather would set up the Crokinole board in the kitchen.

That kitchen table became an intense battleground.

Not one to go easy just because we were kids, Grandpa would school me and my brother over and over again. Until the day he didn’t. (We were more than happy to show no mercy when our day came!)

Fast-forward many years, and I found myself a parent, eager to teach my children games.

It did not go well.

All of my attempts to introduce games into our home ended in disaster. My youngest was disinterested, and my oldest, as you know, is on the Autism Spectrum. I had hoped that a predictable game with clear rules would appeal to his sense of order and structure, but instead they were nothing more than a frustration: just one more thing a grown-up was trying to make him do, like speech therapy, or dressing independently. He was having none of it.

Snakes and Ladders? Nuh-uh.

Connect Four? Nope.

Bingo? Hahaha, no.

My husband asked me one day why I kept trying so hard. I gave it some thought, and I came up with five reasons why playing games with my kids was so important to me:

  1. Games teach kids turn-taking;
    a skill they will need in school and in life.
  2. Games teach kids patience,
    which, let’s be real here, we all need more of.
  3. Games teach kids how to listen to and follow directions,
    which will be necessary forever.
  4. Games teach kids how to operate within a set of rules/boundaries/expectations;
    something none of us are exempt from.
  5. Games teach kids how to win graciously, and lose with dignity,
    which will help them be good humans in this world.

There was also one more reason; a sixth one I couldn’t even put into words, because it was just too painful to say.

I just wanted to have fun with my boy.

I wanted to smile with him, laugh with him, have fun with him, and take a break from being a 24-7 caregiver and therapist.

I just wanted a moment of being his Mom. No other role.

As time went on, I came to accept that this moment of fun I had in my head would never come. At first it broke my heart, but like so many forms of grief, I managed to grow around it and adapt. It no longer bothered me at all that I would never sit down and play a game with my oldest. He and I have a connection and share fun in our own way. We communicate so much with each other with just a single look.

Meanwhile, my youngest has gotten old enough (and competitive enough) to LOVE games. And I love having a willing gaming partner, even if it means losing in Hungry Hungry Hippos every day. (Just wait, kid. One of these days, Mama’s going to bring out the Crokinole board!)

Over the holidays, something happend.

My youngest and I were playing Trouble at the kitchen table. My oldest joined us at the far end and played with some playdough by himself.

And then he moved closer.

And then he watched us. Really watched us.

And then he said, “Want a pop it?”

Yes! Yes, son. You may pop it!

For the rest of the game, he took his turn popping the dice, and waiting patiently for his time to do it again.

He didn’t move the game pieces. That will come–or it won’t–it doesn’t matter. He joined us.

HE joined US.

He chose to step out and make a connection, and that day our world grew just a little bit more.

When it comes to Autism, I am learning to never say never. Because this world my boy and I are in is full of beautiful surprises.

© 2021 Ashley Lilley – First time commenting? Please read my Comment Policy.

11 thoughts on “Pop It!

  1. I love that you are a person who adapts and learns, a person who knows that a no to something good is not the end of the world and can be released. Here’s hoping to many more good surprises along your way.


  2. Your perseverance is paying off. You are a good mom to your boys. I already miss hearing” Nana, do you want to play a game with me”?. I loved how much improvement I see in the older child with Autism. I learn patience and understanding with every visit. You are an awesome mother, daughter-in-law, and wife.


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