Recently I made a mistake. Obviously this is not the monumental occasion that sentence seems to indicate. I make mistakes fairly often. At least once a year. Or maybe an hour. Something like that, but who's counting. (No lie, one kid used to keep a list on his phone of every mistake I made. That phone "went through the wash." Ahem.) On the infrequent odd cycle of the rising moon or whatever, I make a whopping doozy of a blunder. This happened recently.
The set up goes like this: one husband, three teenage sons, an open checkbook, and an available, used, full-size ping pong table. And, one of the key factors, I am not in attendance. How could it be my mistake, you ask, you weren't even there. But it was my mistake, dear reader, because I sent along the checkbook and the hint that the boys might be interested in the ping pong table. I was thinking, "if we get the ping pong table, then the boys will have to clean out the garage and then I'll get both a clean garage and fewer boys in my house!"
I can't believe I was that stupid.
The ping pong table was purchased for an OUTRAGEOUS sum, but it was being sold as part of a fundraiser for our church youth program, and I'm generally ok with spending ridiculous amounts of money at these because I will end up spending that amount either way -- I either pay the full cost of summer camp per boy or I spend the same about at the youth fundraiser and acquire fun stuff as well as covering the cost for camp. The boys wanted the ping pong table, I wanted a clean garage and for the boys to stop using my house as a romper room for large, smelly teen boys. It seemed like a win for everyone.
Here is where it all went wrong. Apparently the amount of space needed to set up the ping pong table is exactly the same amount of space that my kitchen table requires. So, yes, instead of cleaning my garage and setting up the ping pong table in there, they shoved my kitchen table to the corner of the family room and set up the ping pong table IN MY KITCHEN. You think I'm kidding. I have pictures.
Initially, this obviously seems like a "well of course not" arrangement. But let me take a moment to consider the ethical considerations of a ping pong table in the friggin' middle of your house.
1. We live in house, not Chuck E Cheese. Living in a Chuck E Cheese is every parent's idea of hell. WHY would I set up my house like this?
2. Because our house is "chuck" full (like my little pun there? Heh heh heh) of giant children referred to as teenage boys who treat my house like a rec center anyway. Might as well give them something focused to do so they don't throw the smaller boys around like pinatas. This is not hyperbole. It has happened.
3. Where the heck are we supposed to EAT? If the dinner table is over in the corner, where are we going to eat dinner?! Let's be reasonable!
4. Well, a ping pong table IS a table. And the same height as a dinner table. And bigger than the kitchen table. More people can fit around it.
5. Are we seriously having this conversation? We are not having a ping pong table for a dining room table! It's a PING PONG TABLE.
6. See how all the boys are consumed with ping pong? And not fighting? And setting up tournaments? And even hubby is in favor of the ping pong table and laughing with the boys? It's really, really hard to argue with boys and dads all getting along and laughing.
7. But it's easy to argue against teens blowing their cool because of losing a game and slamming their paddles on the tables in frustration. And throwing ping pong balls all over the house. And at each other. And the decor.
8. Notice, however, they aren't slamming the walls and the doors and the windows. No repairs needed! Well, maybe to the paddles, but that's just a little glue and waaaaaay easier to fix than drywall. And there are still far more nerf darts all over the house than ping pong balls. Not even close.
9. Ok, but anything that creates a situation where the boys are going to get competitive and angry is just asking for trouble. Basically, you're just waving a red flag to these testosterone-laden males and encouraging them to fight. You're creating the problem.
10. Are you kidding? Not giving teen boys a healthy outlet for their natural aggression is like sticking your finger in a lit cannon and expecting it not to explode. That cannon is lit whether or not you stick your finger in it. Pretending it's not going to go off is just dumb. Of all the things they could be doing, playing ping pong is easily one of the most benign options.
11. Wait, I can hear something. (Looks at clock.) It's 4 am! Someone is downstairs. We have burglars in the house! (Peeks over the stairs) No. No, we do not have burglars. We have teen boys who don't live here (auxiliary teens, if you will) consumed with an hours-long tournament. The teens who do live here went to bed hours ago. Let's review. Teens who don't live here are in my house at 4 am playing ping pong like their lives depend upon it and waking me up.
12. And aren't you glad they have a safe place to be?! You've provided a fun, safe activity off the streets for your sons' friends. You are providing a service to the community. You are just like Mother Teresa. Ok, that might be going too far, but still. This is a service.
13. But it's FOUR AY EM. AND THEY DON'T EVEN LIVE HERE.
14. And? It's going to be 4 am whether or not they're playing ping pong. What's your point?
15. My point is it's like living in a warehouse with all this large furniture everywhere and large people everywhere! We can't move for all the tables! And eating is still clumsy!
16. What, did you cement the ping pong table to the floor? No. And those boys, both yours and the auxiliary boys, how long till they graduate and leave home? Three months tops? This is a temporary situation.
17 . . . three months?
18. Well, not all of them. But a lot of them. And we know what happens after they graduate, don't we? They finally get over themselves and become pleasant and then they LEAVE. They leave home and only visit a couple times a year. You've done this three times already, remember?
19. That's not fair.
20. I know. It stinks. But until then, just enjoy watching the boys have fun with the ping pong table. It's crowded but it's temporary. Just like parenting.
So yes, I have a ping pong table filling about one-third of my entire kitchen. It's not optimal. It's not what I was planning and I still have a messy garage. But dang it, it's FUN. And for a little while, I can live with the real table being smooshed in the corner, all covered with stacked chairs. It's inconvenient and not too pretty, but this isn't about me or how my kitchen looks. It's about having fun in our home and having other people have fun here as well.
It's difficult to quantify exactly how important it is to me that not only my own kids but also all of their friends know our home is a safe place to be and they are always welcome here. It's definitely in the top three on my list of Stuff That Really Matters. Even at 4 am. Kids of any age need to know where the safe places are. If that means having a ping pong table in my kitchen for a while, then I'm buying more paddles and a better net! And a reeeaaaalllllyyyy big box of ping pong balls. Game on