In Defense of the Predictable

“Pretend that you think you left Jacob at Betsy’s house,” said recently turned four-year-old Jacob.

“OK,” I replied.

“Tell Mommy!” he whispered loudly. 

“Oh no, I think we left Jacob at Betsy’s!” I feel like I nailed it. Much like a Broadway actor in the final performance of a long running show, my delivery was so fresh you would never guess I had delivered this same line about 100 times in the last day and a half. 

“Ahhh!” Mommy responded gamely. “We have to drive back and get him right now!”

I took the car keys out of my pocket and tossed them across the room to her. It was off script, but I can be pretty bold with my improvisations. I feel like it really added something.

Jacob pulled the blanket off his head revealing his smiling-like-a-possum face.

“I’m here!”

“Oh thank goodness,” I replied with great relief. “We thought we forgot you.”


Seriously, it’s impossible to count how many times we’ve acted out this scene, or scenes very much like it, in the past week or two. Maybe it’s a four-year-old thing? This attraction to the familiar. This ability to be entertained by the predictable.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s a human thing. Is there any other way to explain why I eat the same foods, drink the same coffee, watch the same stuff on TV, listen to the same music, and wake up each morning at the same time? Well, the last one I can explain: kids. The rest, it’s pretty much all habit. 

I mean, one of my very favorite things to do is watch sports. For me, nothing quite compares to that feeling when the kids are snuggly tucked into bed and a game I’m interested in is about to kick or tip off. The weird thing is I still feel this way even though, objectively speaking, most games are pretty disappointing or dull or predictable or kind of pointless. I think, most of all, I just like the routine. I think everyone has something like this. For me, it’s watching sports. For my wife, it’s HGTV. For the New Yorker writer Bill Finnegan, it’s surfing.

I bring up Finnegan here out of nowhere because I’m in the process of reading his pretty dense surfing memoir, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, and I felt the need to mention that for some reason. Also, as he describes his relationship with the activity, surfing, that has played such a central role in his life and to which he has devoted a great deal of time, there is a strong undercurrent of ambivalence. On the one hand, he says, and I’m paraphrasing here, there is something uniquely addictive and fulfilling about surfing, while on the other hand, it can oftentimes be very boring, monotonous, and disappointing. So, there is this internal struggle: am I doing this because I love it and I want to or because I feel obligated and it’s what I’ve always done?

Perhaps I’m projecting, particularly with that last bit. I know those are questions I ask myself a lot. And while I don’t think a four-year-old has developed sufficient self-awareness to delve so deep into his own psyche, to examine his internal contradictions, perhaps routinizing play or activities at such a young age is instinctual. Maybe we are pre-disposed to build a familiar and predictable world around us.

Who knows? There’s probably some research on this or something, but I’m not that interested. All I know is that I’m going to keep playing along as long as Jacob wants me to. I’m definitely not one to rock the boat.

And anyway, the kids are in bed and there’s a basketball game on. As I type, the Warriors are on the verge of starting the NBA season 16-0! How crazy is that? (Spoiler Alert: They won.)