My Legacy of Playing Games

Pamela Rothbard - Glencoe, Illinois
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, December 27, 2013
Pamela Rothbard

Playing cards or board games has been an important part of Pamela Rothbard's life since she was a child who was allowed to stay up past bedtime and play with the adults. Now, as a parent, playing games with her own children gives her family an opportunity to do something together and share in each other's lives.

Themes: family
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I couldn’t drink wine, trade stories about my boss riding my hump, or even drive. But by the time I was eight, I could beat the over-forty set at rook, hearts, gin, and rummy. I believe in playing games.

As an only child, game play gave me a way to connect with adults. It was a gateway to after-dinner conversations and staying up past bedtime.

My first win is still vivid. I triumphed over three adults in rummy by laying down my full hand at once, before they’d even placed a single card. Dad beamed. I had come of age. Through games I became confident, logical, and lighting-fast with a quip.

Now I’ve introduced games to my own children. Not those with touch screens, pixels, or remotes but games with pieces you can hold and turn in your hand as you contemplate a move. My nine-year-old son negotiates the rules and proposes alternative ways to play; he’s a creative thinker and game play allows me to see it.

And when he’s studying the board or planning a move, I find my son to be the most forthright. His guard lowers. Conversation and confessions flourish. When I’m guessing “Professor Plum in the conservatory with a knife,” he’s asking why I married daddy and did I have boyfriends before him and why not marry them? He tells me that he has two third grade girlfriends and, after he rolls, admits that “they don’t actually know they’re my girlfriends.”

At six, my daughter is newer to the table. Timid at first, it’s thrilling to see her confidence growing along with the strength of her strategies. She struggles to hold all of her cards in her small, but growing, hands. Game play levels our field; across the table we are equals. I’m not the authority figure enforcing bedtime or homework or teeth brushing. We are simply competitors or partners.

It won’t be long before my daughter beats me, before my son answers his own questions, before they sit across from their own children rifling a deck.

On any given day, you’re likely to find Pamela Rothbard either at the table engaged in a heated game with her two kids or in the kitchen baking with them. She writes a blog at and is currently completing a memoir of being raised by an eccentric, get-rich-quick-scheme-chasing father.

Independently produced by Dan Gediman for This I Believe, Inc.