Friday, October 10, 2008

This Is a Job for the Committee

There is a well-loved line our family enjoys from the movie Chariots of Fire. Eric Liddell is being pressured by several British officials to run in a race scheduled for Sunday. Athletics on Sunday is against Eric’s principles. Sunday is a day of rest. A fellow athlete, Lord Andrew Lindsay, offers to give Eric his place in a different race. It would solve the problem, but a grumpy old geezer points out, “That’s a decision for the committee.” A colleague turns to him and corrects him, “We are the committee.” The switch in races is made to the satisfaction of all.

Many times Saturday night rolls around—family night—and we have not made plans in advance for what the family activity for the evening will be. It is at that point that my husband announces with his best grumpy British accent, “That’s a decision for the committee.” Three family members are then selected: a parent, an older child, and a younger child, and they go off into the parents’ bedroom and decide what family time will be while the rest of us get the dishes cleared away and the dishwasher loaded. There are only a few rules for the committee to follow when selecting the activity for the evening. The decision has to be approved by the parent on the committee. All ideas are considered. Older kids don’t have more weight for deciding than younger ones. Once the decision is made, no one off the committee can overrule it.

Some great ideas have emerged from the committee meeting. One of my favorites was the French cafĂ© night. Everyone is given half an hour to go off and write a poem (more if they are inspired). We then gather around the dining room table. The house is darkened and candles are lit. Everyone makes their favorite hot drink and we go around one at a time and share our poems. Most of them are a hoot. My husband only write in a mocking style. I try to be somewhat serious and am taken that way when I read. Usually son number two will end the evening with a reading, by request, of his epic poem “The Invasion of the Guinea Pigs”. Some family members are more enthusiastic poets than others, but everyone writes something and shares it. Here’s a sample (just verse one out of four):

Birds are chirping as I lay in my bed;

But I pull the covers right over my head.

The sun is now over the horizon line peeping,

But I don’t really care ‘cause I’d rather be sleeping.

How about this one? Anyone can write a poem like this:

Rose are red.

Coffee is black.

But some put in creamer

So I take that back.

Not all families would be comfortable with writing poetry. Sometimes instead of writing, we all select a favorite passage from a book and we each take a turn reading aloud something that is special to us. Of course, we have to set a limit on the reading length, or one person could use up the whole evening. Selections range from A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, to J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis. Even Dave Barry and Patrick McManus have been read. Some of the selections are familiar to all of us since reading books aloud is a time-honored tradition in our family and not limited to Saturday night family time. The idea is to choose something that everyone can enjoy or get a chuckle out of.

Some ideas that have been executed by the committee’s direction have not been all that great. There was the Pudgy Bunny idea—see who can stuff the most large marshmallows into their mouth at one time. Not recommended. Besides the danger of choking, it is really gross. Our family is mostly boys so grossness doesn’t bother them as much. The winner got somewhere around twenty stuffed in before vomiting…

Then there was Stupid Picture night. We got a camera with a full roll of film in it and began doing embarrassing things in front of it! One child made himself look like the pet dog’s head had replaced his own. Someone else did things with shaving cream and hair mousse. We even took a group picture that makes me laugh to this day whenever I see it: crossed eyes, lolling tongues, fingers up noses. I campaigned hard for making it the front of our Christmas card that year, but my beloved thought it was below a minimum requirement of dignity. I still think it was a great opportunity lost…

The committee’s ideas usually aren’t outrageous, and the options most often fall between a board game (parent committee member’s first choice) and a movie (kid committee members’ first choice). It’s a good opportunity to learn how to negotiate a decision. A movie is ruled out if we just did that option the week before. Board games vary from an investment game called Acquire to Encore, Clue, or Trivial Pursuit. Some games are popular for a short time and then pass into obscurity, like Pass the Pig or Hail to the Chief, a game about the Presidents. Cancellation hearts is a good card game choice because it can be played with any number of people.

Our older boys like to order Cheap Ass games off the Internet. They are usually easy to learn, and creative in a weird way. We’ve played some of them like Give Me the Brain, Kill Dr. Lucky, Unexploding Cows, and Before I Kill You, Mr. Bond. Cheap Ass games are just as they describe: cheap. They provide the rules and a few other essentials, like specialized cards or a flimsy gameboard which you should probably laminate if you want the game to last. You provide the dice, poker chips, playing pieces or other standard equipment that can be borrowed from games you already own. Just reading the premise for the game is entertainment. For example, Give Me the Brain is based on the idea that all of you work at a fast food place, but there is only one brain between all of you. It has to be shared. Does this sound familiar?

The committee was a useful tool for a least a decade in our family. Since the members were rotated around, everyone gets a chance to give input on what the family will do together. The younger children like having some clout in decision-making, and the teenagers get a chance to be listened to. On a few occasions the parent just has to break a stalemate or the filibuster for or against an idea will never end. But most of the time the campaign for an idea is short and the activity for the evening is chosen without an uproar. So what are we doing this Saturday? I don’t know. That a decision for the committee.


J-chan said...

That's a really good idea. I have to say, French cafe night sounds both fun and slightly scary, for those of us who aren't so great at poetry.

Kate said...

When we did family night every week, the game selection rotated around so that everyone had a turn to choose the game. We played a lot of card games, once the littles were old enough to understand trump and bidding, and a lot of board games - our favorites were Balderdash and Pictionary. I like French cafe nite though, and I've seen E play 'chubby monkey' and it's pretty hilarious. :-)

Lisa said...

You'll have to inform me about what "chubby monkey" is...