"Mommeeeee, Megan took my red crayon!"
"Megan, please give Tommy back his red crayon."
"Oh, here. Take your stinky old crayon. I don't want to color anymore anyhow."
"Me neither. Mom, can't I go out?"
"Maybe by Easter, if we're lucky. Look, right now the snow is way too deep and I can't remember where I packed the snorkels."
"Mom, can we bake cookies?"
"Later, hon. Mommy has to get some work done first."
Good luck, Mommy. She counted pages in her chem textbook: Sixty till the end of the chapter. She'd need at least another hour to study for the quiz. But if she didn't do something quick, the kids would tear the house apart. Time to turn on the one-eyed baby-sitter.
"Why don't you watch television?"
"You said we weren't allowed to during the day."
"This is different. It's a snow emergency." She scanned the paper for something less sudsy than the soaps and without the avid avarice of game shows. Ah. "Happy Days!" "Fonzie's cousin visits from out-of-town. Potsie gets pinned," the TV Guide said. That was inoffensive. She tuned in the Zenith and soon Fonz, looking bit green around the gills, but chipper nonetheless, came into view.
"Aw, I've all ready seen this one," Tommy said.
"Well, why don't you look for something different in it this time. People go to see some movies over and over again." She hated to put "Happy Days" on the same level as "Seventh Seal," but it was the best bet at the moment. On screen, Fonzie's cousin drove up in a vintage jalopy with purple New York tags. Looked like a car they'd seen on their trip to Cape Cod last summer, Mommy pointed out. God, it had rained for three days on that trip. Again she could see the wipers flip-flopping across the windshield, clearing away unrelenting rivulets so they could count license plates, VW beetles, CB antennae, anything they could think of. This gave her an idea.
"Listen, Tommy. Why don't you count how many times the Fonz says 'Ayyyyy' and Megan, you count how many times Potsie says 'Wow.' Each one is worth five points. The one with the most points wins."
"Wins what?" Tommy, ever the cynic, asked.
"Um, the right to choose the next show."
"Okay." Pencils and paper, and they were off. She could go back to isotopes and nutrons. Uh-oh. Sounds of strife in the living room. An unforeseen snag had surfaced -- commercials.
"Wow, new Pow really works!" the beaming housewife cooed, burying her nose in her sparkling laundry. That should only be the worst of her problems.
"Another point for me!" Megan shouted.
"No fair! Commercials don't count!" yelled Tommy, who was losing. "Do they, Mom?"
"Yes, they do, but you have to have different words. Can't have the same word for show and commercials."
If they could manage two words, why not four? Each child decided to have two show words and two commercial words. "Try and guess what my other commercial word is!" Megan challenged. "I'll clap every time they say it."
Fonz gave Potsie advice on how to get pinned to Angie. "Gee, Fonzie, if it weren't for friends like you...."
"Hey, Mom? Friend is one of my words. Does 'friends' count?" Tommy asked. "Half," she called from the study. "That's two and a half points."
Even that didn't help Tommy. Potsie's 'wows' beat the Fonz's 'ayys,' and Megan got to pick the next show: "Love of Life." Oh well, rules were rules.
The stakes were really high this time: The next winner not only could choose the next show but got to lick the bowl and spoon from the cookie batter that had been promised for later. It would be a suspenseful contest.
By now, the kids had come up with their own variation on the theme: TV Giant Steps. They lined up with their backs against the living room wall across from the television. Each child had three words this time. One enabled them to take a giant step forward, another a mini-step forward and a character's utterance of a third word meant a step backward.
One drawback: Their mother wasn't sure she liked the idea of Megan's taking a giant step forward every time someone on "Love of Life" said "divorce." Shouldn't that be a step backward?
Oh, well, this was no time for value judgments. Fifteen more pages to go until choco-late-chip time. MORE TV GAMES
Family Circle's Jeanie Franco Hallem and Jackie Vermeer, who originated the wordcount game, have a few additional ideas on how to turn the television set into a playmate:
TV RACE -- Choose one of several categories like clothing, transportation, food or sports and make a list of examples (seen or heard) within a certain time period. The winner is the one with most examples.
TV BINGO -- Fill a 25-square bingo card with words to listen for during a program (e.g., please, answer, rain) or things to watch for (sofa, plate, car). Cut paper circles to place over each square as the item is spotted. A winning card can be five squares in a row diagonally, horizontally or vertically, or every square filled.
TV PICTURES -- Draw a picture of a character or scene in a program or whatever images the show brings to mind. Glue on colored paper for backing and tape to the refrigerator for an original TV art gallery.
NEW ENDING -- Didn't like the way a show ended? Draw, write or act the way you'd have liked it to happen.