The Magic of Cards


Spring break meant a lot of cards for my kids…and though initially it was irritating, in the end, it was absolutely magical!

For a few weeks preceding Spring Break, my ten-year old would come home from school, go right to the computer, and start watching YouTube videos of card tricks. It drove me crazy. I’d berate him to put away his lunchbox, eat a snack, do his homework, call a friend…anything but sit in front of a screen for hours! But he persisted. When he wasn’t watching videos, he was practicing tricks, asking me repeatedly to “Pick a card, any card.” I confess, I wasn’t the most supportive mom (how many times must I see the same trick?!)

Meanwhile, I packed for our trip. I shopped, searched for travel games that might occupy my kids during our eighteen hour journey. I even tossed in a few decks of cards as an afterthought, since they’re small and compact. (To my credit, I even stopped by Half Price Books and got a couple small books on magic tricks to occupy the 10yo). Aside: if you’re traveling with younger kids, be sure to read GeekMom Jackie Reeve’s recent post on 17 Road Trip Essentials for Young Kids.

Turns out, much of my effort was wasted. There were games that remained untouched as the kids opted to watch movies and play games on the individual screen our international flight offered. Or they slept. I guess at their ages, they wanted nothing more than to be left alone (when did they turn into such seasoned travelers?). The 10yo needed a bit more attention, which involved my reading with him for a while, and syncing our screens so we could watch Ghostbusters together. Meanwhile, the portable toys I’d meticulously selected languished in the overhead compartment.

The last time we’d been to India was in 2008, so the boys had few (if any) memories. And as we still have some relatives there (plenty of cousins, some aunts and uncles, many nieces and nephews), our trip would consist of driving to various relatives’ homes, where we would share a meal and stories from past meetings, hopefully forging connections between distant relatives. En route, my husband or I would explain how we’re related and share anecdotes.

While I may have spent childhood summers playing with these people, to my kids, these were strangers. Nonetheless I wanted them to connect on their own. They started with the standard questions: How old are you? What grade are you in? Do you play any sports? Do you want anything to eat or drink? (Who am I kidding? That was usually the first question).

And that’s when the cards came out. “Would you like to see a magic trick?” That was their opening. The 10yo started with a simple trick, then traded off with the 15yo. They went through the repertoire and finished with the grand finale, the single trick the 15yo had recently mastered in his scant free time, Flipping Aces, but with his own special twist ending.

People reacted differently. Some were more amazed than others. But my sons learned never to repeat tricks. Over the course of two weeks, they learned the best order to perform the tricks, how to support each other and share the stage, and, in the aftermath, learned a good number of card games.

The boys’ grandparents had already taught them a good number of card games over the years, and it paid off. Now, to their repertoire of Canasta, Poker, Blackjack, and Hearts, my boys have added Bluff, 29, Rummy (and surely some others I’m unaware of).

But more than that, they got to know a lot of people that were previously random strangers across the globe. Now, though, they’re family members who are happy to play endless card games with them.

I guess there really is magic in those cards. And that’s a magic trick worth repeating.

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Nivi Engineer is a novelist and playwright in Cleveland, Ohio. She is a mom of three boys, and escapes the never-ending sports calendar through reading. This month, she's learning that the capital of North Korea is Pyongyang. And now, so will you.