Ten Games This Grandma Hates to Play by
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I hope my children picture me as a doting grandmother, happily playing with their children, unburdened by the daily demands of parenting. And it’s true that one of the joys of having grandchildren is spending special time together. To me, that means reading books, drawing, going to the park, singing and dancing to Beatles tunes and playing games like War or Go Fish. But over the years, I have developed a sense of impending dread about certain special games. Here is my Top Ten list of games that try my patience.

  1. Polly Pockets: My grandchild chooses her favorite tiny plastic dolls from the bin. I am given the ones with taped on arms and torn outfits. First, we have to dress hers. This means pulling little plastic clothes on them with my arthritic hands. Mine can remain naked, as they are superfluous to the plot. They are evil. Hers do all sorts of exciting things. Mine are instructed to try to hurt hers and end up in prison.
  2. Thomas the Train: My grandson lines up as many trains as possible and begins to push them on the track. I suggest we add cargo or trees or even people to the game. I’m told no — just trains. In a short time, the track comes apart or the train derails. My job is to fix it quickly and add even more cars to the train. And please, no sound effects. This is serious work.
  3. Chutes and Ladders: This is a game that calls for cheating. No grandchild of mine may go down the chute. I must count their moves carefully and ignore it when they skip over the dreaded spot that send them back to the beginning. Of course, it is desirable for me to go down the chute.
  4. Trouble: Similar to Chutes and Ladders. I must avert my eyes when they take extra turns or somehow make it to home without the correct number. I must never bump their pieces back to the beginning. And I must pretend we are following the rules, just not the rules that come with the game.
  5. Teacher: My granddaughter seats me on the floor in front of her white board. She draws or writes something and asks me questions. I must raise my hand. My answers are always wrong, so she has to teach me the right answer. Then we erase the board and start again. This could last for an hour and I will always be wrong.
  6. Transformers: My grandson brings me a jumble of plastic and asks me to turn it into a robot or a race car. I twist and turn the pieces, but nothing resembling anything emerges. He can do it in five seconds, but he insists I have a turn.
  7. Kits: Any kit with multiple pages of picture-only directions stumps me. It could be a Lego rocket, an American Girl craft, a Rainbow Loom bracelet pattern or a K’NEX Ferris wheel. If I have to make anything with more than ten steps, I rebel and start to freelance.
  8. Big bubbles: We tried this several times over one summer. People sent me recipes on Facebook, I searched Google for ideas, and I even went to a craft shop to buy glycerin. No matter how I mixed the potion, all I got were slimy hands and bubbles that popped within seconds. The kids still had fun, but I felt pretty inept.
  9. Water Balloons: It looks like fun in the abstract, but why are the balloons so tiny and thin? The kids like to pump them full of water but can’t make the knot. Again, not a great job for old hands. After I am soaked and my hands cease to work, the special part comes. We have to pick up the broken balloons from all over the yard. The kids do this for two minutes and move on, leaving me crawling over the grass to make sure no animals get sick from the pieces left behind.
  10. Fetch: This is best played with a 15-month-old boy. He throws any object he can find and I retrieve it. Then he throws it 100 more times, laughing maniacally every time. And I foolishly find it and return it to him each time. That’s the game.

Now here’s the dirty little secret. No matter how crazy any of these games makes me, I can never say no to any of my grandkids. If it makes them happy, it’s worth playing, even if I always lose. In the long run, I’m a winner every time.

An excerpt from my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Even though I don’t have grandchildren, I totally get the point you are making with your hated games, Laurie. My children lived before the Transformer era and weren’t big game players. They both loved to build things themselves (particularly the younger child, who had a great gift for building, as well as a good imagination and would often build fabulous structures of his own invention). But I, too, am a stickler for rules (that’s the point of the game), so why play if the only point is to beat Grandma? Yes, that has some pleasure, but learning the rules has a point too. You don’t always get to win in this world. But I guess, if you can’t win when you play with your own grandmother, then why play at all?

    When I was very young, I’d play gin rummy with my immigrant grandfather. I didn’t quite realize it then, but he’d cheat to LET me win, so he could empty his pocket of change to give me as my reward. He’s been gone since 1964, but I still have fond memories of those games.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Betsy, the way I look at it is, kids have to feel like they can beat someone and a grandmother is a perfect target. The pleasure I derive from making them happy exceeds teaching them the real rules. They learn that soon enough. I don’t let them cheat when they get older, but I could never resist a cute little kid’s desire to be the winner. I hope they remember these games as fondly as you remember playing with your grandfather.

  2. Suzy says:

    Laurie, this story made me laugh out loud from beginning to end! You have such a droll way of describing all these antics of your grandchildren. My favorite of your 10 games was Polly Pocket. I remember playing Polly Pocket with my own kids, mainly just changing their clothes a million times (same game as Barbie, but smaller). I love your version: “Mine are instructed to try to hurt hers and end up in prison.” Hilarious! Thanks for writing this!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      OMG, Suzy, weren’t Polly Pockets the worst. One of my granddaughters who lives near me was very imaginative and we played versions of the same game with Barbies and later American Girl dolls. She had one knock-off American Girl I bought her from Sam’s Club when she was young to see if she really liked them before shelling out the big bucks. That doll had no fancy clothes or back story. Of course, she was my character and she was inexplicably mean to my granddaughter’s fancy dolls. I suggested that she was mean because the other dolls didn’t include her and they could try to be nicer. Once again, I was put in my place. “No Gramma, she’s just mean and that’s all.”

  3. Marian says:

    This is fun, Laurie, even though I didn’t have kids and don’t know any of the games except Chutes and Ladders, and perhaps Fetch! You are right that the interaction is the main thing, and many of the stories focus on family memories of game playing.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Marian, you hit the nail on the head. Games create precious family memories. As a kid, I still remember playing cards with my family. In fact, card games were a big part of my experiences with my own children. I have another piece about this that I will post later this week.

  4. Lucky, lucky kids to have you as a Grandma! I’m a softy, too…when I beat my daughter at a game of cards when she was a kid she started crying, so from then on I would let her win, although I’d act like I was putting up a good fight, then congratulate her.. I figured I was at least teaching her good sportsmanship by losing with grace and dignity. Same with my granddaughters. Let others teach them it’s a competitive, rough-and-tumble world out there…not my job, and as you said, they learn soon enough..

    • Laurie Levy says:

      We are kindred spirits, Barbara. There is not enough kindness in the world, but at least kids should experience it at home. So if I have to play with the broken doll or be bored lining up trains, it’s all a labor of love for me.

  5. This is wonderful Laurie!
    Love the tongue-in-cheek, the humor, the image of you crawling over the lawn picking up the broken balloons, and what it’s really about – your love for your grandkids.

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