Unlike when my mom played mah jong and I wasn't allowed to touch the food - poker night meant M&Ms, licorice bites, and all the junk food I could handle. For a time, as a baby, I was passed around as the good luck charm. Now, before you call my Dad a bad parent, consider that he had three young girls and rather than call a babysitter to do the parenting, he stayed home and made sure everyone did their homework. Poker night also meant unlimited TV until bed time.
As I got older, I started to see that poker night wasn't really a night of gambling - it was a way for a group of grown men to socialize and de-stress.
Before you think this whole post is about gambling, I promise you - it's not. Well, it's not intended to be. I want to tell you one more thing: blackjack taught me to count. (I wish I was kidding) When I was younger, I would watch the show Crossfire with my grandfather. During commercial breaks, my Papa would whip out some spare cards and he taught me blackjack. If I counted to 21 properly and added my cards right, he would give me a penny. It may be the most unorthodox way of teaching a kid to add but it worked!
My other grandparents used cards as a way to get the family to interact. They played this game called kaluki - which is a version of rummy. I can remember sitting with my Bubba as she tried desperately to teach me how to play this game! My cousins caught on - even my sisters knew how to play but I never got the hang of it. Yet, when we would visit Florida, or go to their house for Shabbat dinner, the cards would come out and we had a nice bonding experience.
Everyone has a different reason for why they like to play games. Solitaire keeps me occupied when I'm bored. My Mom found a sense of community when she played Mah Jong with the girls. My Dad had the cheapest therapy sessions of his life when he played poker. For whatever reason, these games are MORE than gambling - because money rarely exchanged hands. They were gateways and excuses to spend time with family and friends. For that, I'll always be grateful. A simple deck of cards brought me a lifetime of amazing memories.
What does your family do to create some family bonding time?