We took the geeklings and my mom to Origins Game Fair with us again this year. We brought them briefly last year (their first con ever!) and overall had a good time. This year we had to take them out of school for a few days because the dates for Origins were moved up, but luckily it worked out so that we could do that without too much trouble. Our girl is 11 and our boy was 9 (he turned 10 a few days later—this means he went to Origins twice as a 9 year old and next time he goes he’ll be 11. That blew his mind a bit!).
Here are some of our experiences and lessons we learned. If you’re taking your kids to a convention, I hope some of this will be helpful to you!
Even if attention spans are short, a longer time may work better.
Last year, the kids and my mom only came for about a day. We ended up cramming too much into that time and the kids were devastated when they left and we stayed.
This year, they joined us on Thursday and stayed until we left on Sunday, so the pace was a little less frenzied and there was no painful goodbye. It’s possible that was a little long, but also, to some extent, I think we were just finding our groove by Sunday.
Clark and I didn’t want to leave on Sunday (we usually stay until Monday) but we had to get the kids back for their last week of school. Next year, Origins is after school lets out, thank goodness!
You all need to get some sleep.
It turns out that figuring out how to sleep five people in a hotel room is a real challenge—it wasn’t until the last night that most of us were getting anywhere near the sleep we needed! I think the vast majority of the grumpiness that occurred was due to this.
Lesson learned: you can’t get a cot in a room with double beds because of fire codes. The kids camped on the floor, wrapped in extra blankets. In the future, we either need to get two rooms or come prepared for the camp out. And we needed earplugs—a neighboring room listened to the radio ALL NIGHT.
You all need to eat.
When Clark and I are on our own, we survive pretty well on a few snacks and a big meal late in the day. The kids just can’t handle that. We sat down to eat three meals every day. We also carried snacks with us and made sure we sat down to eat them. These breaks were necessary for keeping the kids happy and (for the most part) cooperative.
Sometimes simple is better than good.
The North Market is awesome, with lots of options and exotic foods. Once the kids arrived, we instead opted for Max & Erma’s. A lot. We knew the kids could find stuff to eat there. It’s a sit down restaurant with a wait staff. It’s kid friendly and not too expensive. It may not have been the best food Columbus has to offer, but it was relaxing and easy, which is what we needed most.
Spring for the hotel connected to the convention center.
We stayed in the Hyatt, which is connected to the convention center and also houses the Big Bar on 2. This was perfect because the kids could have a little independence that I don’t think I’d have been ok with if they had to leave the building and especially if they had to cross any streets. They could run up to the room to drop stuff off or get things inevitably forgotten. If you’re bringing kids to Origins, getting a room in the Hyatt is fantastic.
Figure out the best way to play games with your kids at the convention.
We got passes to the Board Room, which provides access to hundreds and hundreds of games, as well as helpful recommendations of what to try next. Among the favorites were Small World (which we ended up buying) and Flower Power (which is sadly out of print but really needs to be reprinted! Please!).
There are also a lot of booths that have space for demos—taking a break to play a game or three helped make it easier to survive the exhibitors hall. And we discovered a few new games that we just had to have.
Clark always carried a few favorite portable games with him, like Eleminis or Set, so he and the kids had something to play during any down time (like when the Editor Mommy gets distracted talking to someone for too long).
We didn’t sign up for any scheduled games, so I don’t have any advice on that.
Remember that your kids probably can’t spend the whole time gaming and hanging out with your friends.
If you’re used to going to cons, there’s a good chance you save up your energy and sleep and then just push yourself until you’re exhausted. You know you’ll pay for it later, but that’s ok.
That approach is unlikely to work for your kids. They need to recharge. They need to do stuff that asks less of them. We learned the hard way to break up the pace a little. When nerves were getting a little frayed, my mom took the kids down to the hotel pool while we had dinner with friends. That reset things and helped a lot.
If you can swing it, bring a sitter.
Because Clark and I both work in the industry, conventions are business trips for us. It’s also one of the few times every year that we get to see some of our favorite people face to face.
And while all of those people were awesome with our kids, sometimes you really need to have conversations that will bore your kids to tears. Sometimes those conversations need to happen after bedtime at the bar. Having my mom there was key to letting us balance the family vacation with the business trip.
If you can swing it, have your sitter bring a friend.
My mom handles the whole game convention really well considering that she’s newly aware of the hobby, but she’s interested in a relatively small percentage of the games and activities offered. My family is just a whole lot geekier than she is.
When we were doing stuff she wasn’t interested in, I felt kind of bad. I want to look into having her bring a friend next time. They could hang out in the Board Room and play games when we were off being geeky as a family.
Decisions take forever and require compromise.
The more people you have, the harder it is to decide where to go, what to do, when to eat, where to eat, and anything else you can possibly think of and a few things you can’t. This is all the more true when kids are involved.
You have to be prepared and keep it from getting too frustrating. Having a strategy for splitting up and meeting up again helps a lot. Having a short list of things each of you really wants to do and planning out how to make sure that at least those things happen is also a good plan.
It’s going to be a kid con.
They’re going to want to do things you don’t want to do. They won’t have all the same interests you do. Things you thought would be awesome won’t be. Your usual traditions and schedules are going to go right out the window.
You’ll all be a lot happier if you embrace that. Let them guide the choices as much as you can. You certainly want to be prepared and knowledgeable about what the choices are, but your schedule needs to be flexible and ready to change as needed. Plan around their interests—our girl loves to dress up. The boy prefers collectable card games and foam weapons.
Seeing your hobby through your kids’ eyes can be an amazing, enlightening, and educational experience. Let them show you how they see it.
When you’re there with your kids, you’ll notice things you didn’t before.
And some of that stuff will be really disturbing now that your kids are next to you. Some of the art is…not something you’d hang on your kids’ wall. Some of it is arguably not appropriate for impressionable minds. You can’t protect your kids from all of it (although some well timed distraction can help).
Be prepared to talk about the portrayal of women in fantasy art and the corresponding negative portrayal of male gamers. The gore and violence graphically displayed and sometimes celebrated. Values and opinions that go counter to what you’ve tried to teach them. These are talks you’re going to have to have with them someday, so you might as well take advantage of the opportunity!
Once you start…
Our kids had a great time at Origins. They’ll never forgive us if we go without them, unless we replace it with a different con. They’re already angling to come to Gen Con, but for now we’re protecting that one as adults-only. That feels really important at this stage of our lives and careers. Dex Con, on the other hand, might be one we can take the kids to next year…