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White Knuckle Parenting: Bingo Lessons

I was dreading bingo night at my kids' school, but I learned that sometimes giving in to the chaos is sometimes the best idea of all.

Last weekend was a big sporting weekend. We had the Super Bowl (congratulations, Ravens!), the Puppy Bowl (best hour of our lives!), and let's not forget the event that my kids were really excited for: bingo night at the elementary school.

Evidently last year I told my youngest son that I would take him to bingo night but I forgot and we didn't go. I have absolutely no recollection of this (although, let's be honest, it sounds a lot like me), but Quinn, the youngest, remembered and made sure to remind me over and over in advance of this year's bingo night, held last Friday.

I had no option but to hang my head in delinquent parent shame and take my kids. Sadly, my husband was out with friends so I had to be in charge of all three of my energetic kids by myself. I was dreading this event so much. In my mind, bingo night with pre-tweens is something akin to a prison riot, but scarier.

We arrived, bought treats from the bake sale and bingo cards, and found a place to sit before I started having palpitations. Between stopping my kids from joining in on the spirited game of tag that was winding through the bingo tables and giving them the "we probably won't win; we are here for fun, not prizes" speech, I tweeted, "Elementary school bingo night, solo with three kids. It is unlikely I will survive the night."

At the time I didn't feel as if I were exaggerating.

See, my family doesn't have a great history with bingo night. The atmosphere in the room on bingo night is intense. Last time my family attended, Jack, my special needs kiddo, flipped out and I had to walk him around the school for 45 minutes while we waited for the rest of my family. Without a second adult there this time, I had my fingers crossed that he had developed coping strategies to help him through the night.

Fortunately, I had learned fresh strategies since last time we attended bingo night and I had remembered to bring my iPad, which took the place of Jack's bingo cards almost immediately. Also fortunately, Jack's best friend showed up and sat next to him, making for a night of giggles and sharing and turn taking on my device. It made me warm and happy inside, and I didn't even mind playing (and losing) on all of Jack's bingo cards. It is worth sitting through bingo night to see social progress like that.

Quinn, the youngest, was completely gung ho and seemed to be playing some alternate full-body version of bingo that required jumping, spinning, and occasionally running up to the emcee. Seeing how much fun he was having, how excited all of the kids and adults in the room were, and how no one cared how loud my family was, I decided to give in and join in the joy of the evening.

It was a good lesson for me: the realization that sometimes that thing we're dreading is nowhere near as bad as we think it will be—and sometimes it might even be great. Not to mention that I was worried about my kids losing it, when really I was the only one who had a problem.

Sure, my kids were rambunctious and loud and my oldest fell apart when someone accidentally recycled all the used game cards he'd been planning on saving, but they were no farther out of line than anyone else. It might be time for me to try to relax more and wait for trouble to come instead of being on vigilant watch for it.

In the end, we didn't just survive bingo night, we thrived. We even won a free moon bounce rental on the very last number called. When reflecting on the evening, it occurred to me that the only problem with a successful bingo night is that my kids had so much fun, they're going to insist on going back next year.

Actually though, that might be okay.

Jean, a.k.a. Stimey, writes a personal blog at Stimeyland and runs an autism-events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/Stimeyland.

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