You've got to know when to fold 'em...

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On orientation day at UVA parents and students are separated, and each have full schedules. Students meet with counselors and register for classes and listen to presentations on getting along with one's roommate, while parents gather in a large auditorium and sit through a series of lectures that is essentially an enumeration of the evils of college life.

I know they were trying to prepare us for the stories our kids would come home with. They talked about sex on campus and the statistics of STDs; they talked about drinking on campus and the weekly parties in the fraternity houses on Rugby Road. They told us that bad things happen, and we weren't going to be notified "unless the police become involved", because "your sons and daughters are adults now."

I suppose they thought they'd covered everything, but they hadn't. Oh no, indeed they had not, because they never said a word about poker.

Poker is huge at UVA, and the school seems to be unique in this regard. A game can be found any night of the week and there are tournaments on Fridays, which one can enter for a twenty dollar fee. Alas, alarmingly, the genes with which my son was endowed seem uniquely suited to this game. I know that on August 23rd, Move-in Day, he knew nothing about poker, and now, this month, never risking more than his entry fee, he has cleared $300.

They say "talk to your children" and I did. I talked about sex until we were both sick of the sound of my voice. I didn't push morality as much as I emphasized practicality-- we talked about HIV and unwanted pregnancies and Men Who Throw Away Their Lives For Sex, and everytime another politician would be destroyed by the revelation of an affair I'd say See? See?

I talked about drugs and alcohol and smoking. I even talked about gambling: not the immorality of it but the stupidity of playing a game of chance in which the odds always, always favor the house. We talked about the state's take from the sale of lottery tickets vs the house's take from a slot machine, and how you might as well go to Vegas and stuff quarters into a slot machine if you're going to throw money away on lottery tickets, because the odds are better in Vegas.

But poker is different and God help me, I never talked about poker. Why would I have? I see nothing morally reprehensible about spending $20 for a fun night of poker, and if you come out a winner, well, share the good fortune around. But my son is winning real money and this is scary because there can't be many things more addictive than winning money. I couldn't have foreseen this, and what is a parent supposed to say about poker? You've got to know when to hold 'em? Know when to fold 'em?

In addition to poker, my son has taken up one other new hobby: he has decided to teach himself to play acoustic guitar. I think this is a fine thing; I taught myself to play guitar when I was sixteen and I enjoyed it very much for a good twenty years. In fact coincidentally (?) I'd recently taken out my old guitar, dusted it off, replaced a broken string, and started brushing up on my own skills (more about this in another post).

But now, the images I've always had in my head of my son's possible future, that of successful attorney, that of accomplished violinist, have been joined by another. I now have the image in my head of my son hobo-ing his way around the country with an acoustic guitar strapped to his back, talking his way into casual poker games, winning enough for a room and a meal, maybe several nights' worth of rooms and meals on a lucky day, and when he loses, sitting on a street corner, his guitar case open on the sidewalk in front of him, playing only until enough loose change has been tossed in for him to buy his way into another casual game.

What parental advice am I to bestow now? What wisdom based on experience covers this situation? Mike, if you're reading this, never bet the guitar.


'Tis a splendid little blog you have here, Ms. Hall. Understated, well-stated, a touch of irony and fun. It's all good, and I enjoyed the skimming of the archives, as well.

Keep it up. Wisdom is good.

Thank you so much! Yours is the first comment I've gotten from a stranger. (Well, I did have an earlier comment from a stranger, but the author's name was a link to an advertisement for penis enlargement pills, and I deleted it.)

I've spent some time reading your own blog, and I've added a link to my pitifully short list of blogs. :)

Well, yes, you are likely to find few stranger. Hehe.

Thanks for the link. If you want to find others for your sidebar, The Lefty Directory and my site are the two with the mostest I know of. Some of 'em are even good!

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