Childhood Family

I Spy a dad who needs to step it up

I know that parenting can be hard sometimes. But there are some things that, let’s be honest here, should not be that difficult.

Playing I Spy is definitely one of those.

I witnessed this the other day when I went to pick up lunch for my wife and me. (Quick side diversion: It was cold and rainy, and so a grilled cheese and soup sounded like a good combo. Apparently, that sentiment was felt by roughly everyone else on the planet, which resulted in a long line at the soup place. Two different people in line took turns complaining about how long the line was. Yes, how dare all of these people have the same reaction to cold and rain that you did. Anyways, back to the story.)

As I waited my turn in line, I heard a little girl behind me. “Dad. Let’s play I Spy. Dad. Dad. Daddy. Daaad. Dad. I Spy. Let’s play I Spy.”

I glanced over my shoulder. Dad was not responding. Dad was on his phone. Dude, I’ve been there. Probably in the last 24 hours. I get it. But there are a few things you need to accept in life when you are a parent, and one of those is certainly that you are not only obligated to play I Spy, but to play it correctly.

I considered playing I Spy with her, but then I reminded myself that I am some random dude in a restaurant. Eventually, the dad heard her and he looked up from his phone.

“Yeah, um, fine, I Spy something yellow.”

“Banana,” she said, pointing at the enormous banana picture on the wall, and the only yellow thing in sight.

“I Spy something blue,” he said.


“We did it last time we were here,” he said, which we all clearly can see is a violation of internationally agreed upon I Spy protocol.

“Blueberry,” she said, pointing at another painting on the wall.

She decided it was her turn. “I Spy something yellow!” She said proudly.

“Yeah, banana.”

Fortunately the line progressed and it was my turn to order, and I stopped eavesdropping. And I could stop twitching a little bit at the dad’s horrible grasp of how to properly play I Spy with a kid.

As much as I wanted to, I did not do my civic duty and tell the guy how I Spy is supposed to work with little kids. So, in case you are wondering, the rules are:

  • When you are the dad, the first color you pick needs to be one of the most common colors that is in your current field of vision. That keeps the kid occupied for a long time. The only way his banana choice was an acceptable option is if there was a painting of multiple bananas, a sun, Spongebob and lemons. That way, you can draw the game out, as it is designed. “Is it a banana?” “No!” “Is it that banana?” “No!” Is it a lemon?” “No!” Is it Spongebob?” “It IS Spongebob.”
  • When you are a dad, never guess the right answer first. This is not a race. This is distraction action. If your competitive nature leads you to the point where you need to win quickly, you need to recalibrate your life.
  • Never go back to old answers. Kids have amazing memories. And again, the point of I Spy is to kill time. If you picked the blueberry last time, find a different blue. Trust me. There’s something blue. The sky will work.

OK, in fairness, I don’t know that dad was going through. I am sure the dad was plenty harried and was at his wit’s end, as every parent is pretty much all the time. But I just believe that there is a certain baseline of parenting that needs to be adhered to, and that starts with the basics of I Spy. It just makes sense. Kinda like a grill cheese and soup order on a cold and rainy day.

Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C. A graduate of the University of Alabama, he now lives in Charleston. You can e-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.

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