Sunday, January 16, 2011

Playing Games

“Let’s play Candyland!” Sophie exclaims, retrieving the game from its hiding place underneath the coffee table. Obviously not well-hidden enough.

I inwardly groan. I used to like Candyland. In fact, I was the one who suggested my sister buy it for her in the first place. As a kid, Candyland held the same mystique for me that toy stores did. Now, when I walk into a toy store, all I see is tons of junk that costs tons of money. But when I was a kid, the walls were lined with possibility. I didn’t even need to buy anything to derive pleasure from a walk down the aisles. And this was before there were Thomas the Train tables and kid-sized kitchens available for the playing. All the fun existed in my head. Candyland was like that. Nothing on that board was edible, and yet the idea of it was delicious. The candy hearts, the gum drop mountains, the ice cream floats…I couldn’t wait to get to the next treat.

Of course, I wanted Sophia to experience that. And because I practice sugar deprivation (I won’t let her drink juice, let alone eat a gum drop), I knew just how much she would love it.

So here we were setting up the pieces. “I’ll be red, because that’s my favorite.” (Not really, but it’s the closest approximation to hot pink.) “You’ll be blue because that’s YOUR favorite.” Playing along, I tell her, “You’re right!” I instruct her to put the pieces at start, shuffle the cards and set the pile face down. Because she doesn’t yet have the manual dexterity to slide the top card off the pile, I set it askance for her. “You’re the youngest, so you get to go first.” I’ve read the rules. I know how the game is played. Pleased, Sophia draws a card. “Double blues!” she practically shouts, and proceeds to place her red gingerbread boy on a random blue spot on the board. I patiently point out the path and count out two blue spaces. She slides her piece to the right spot. I go quickly, and it’s her turn again. “I want Queen Frostine!” she squeaks, and she’s digging into the pile turning over all the cards to find the picture of the princess with the ice cream cone…a marriage of her two favorite things in life. (Ice cream is occasionally permitted. It’s calcium rich. And, besides, it’s my favorite.)

This is not how the game is played. You can’t just go through the pile and pick out any old card. You have to pick the card at the top of the pile! I tell her this, and a struggle ensues! “I want the princess!”

“You have to keep taking turns and maybe you’ll get her.” This is apparently not good enough for Miss Unable-to-Delay-My-Gratification. She’s still flipping cards over and I feel my patience evaporate.

I try to remind myself that this is developmentally appropriate. That she is playing with the game in her own creative way. And what does it matter, really?

But it does. I know I’m being completely irrational, but it’s making me crazy. I tuck the cards back into a neat pile and urge her to pick the card on top. She pulls her first face card…the candy cane. Her expressive little face breaks into a huge smile. “I got the candy cane!” “Fabulous,” I tell her, “now move to the candy cane spot.” She does. I motion for her to place the Candy Cane card into the discard pile, and she grips it with her chest, her smile disappears into a scowl. “NO! IT’S MINE!”

All right. Well, it’s not like it’s going to affect the game. I let her keep it and take my turn.

It’s her turn now, only she’s too busy talking to the Candy Cane card to notice. “I want to eat you, Mr. Candy Cane!” she tells him, and pretends to gobble him up.

“Sophie, it’s your turn.”

“Oh! Okay.” She picks a card and moves her piece appropriately. I breathe a sigh of relief and go again. I get the Gingerbread Man, which sends me practically back to start. You’ve got to be kidding me. I make a mental note to take the Gingerbread Man out of all future games.

“I want the Gingerbread Man! Give him to me!” It also makes me crazy that every request is issued as a demand of late.

“Ask me nicely, please.”

“Give me the Gingerbread Man please!”

“How about, “may I have the Gingerbread Man, please?” She spits it back to me in an insincerely, sing-songy voice.

“Okay,” I relent and hand it over. The Gingerbread Man is introduced to the Candy Cane man. I can see this game is never going to end.

Nan calls, I pick up the phone. She has something serious to discuss, and I balance the phone on my shoulder, attempting to continue to play with Sophie as I listen to what she has to say.

“Mom? Is it my turn?”

I cover the mouthpiece. “Yes, go ahead.” She picks blue and promptly gets stuck in a licorice swamp.

“Yay! I’m on the licorice spot.”

“It’s not like it’s a good thing, Sophie. Now you have to miss a turn.”

“But I like licorice. I want to stay here!” Honestly. How can you play a game with a person who has no desire to win? With no competitive fire? Who wants to lose a turn?

I interrupt Nan to explain what all the racket is about. “I’m sorry,” I fess up. “we’re playing Candyland.”

“I REFUSE to play Candyland.” She tells me. “Reid always wants all of the blue cards. It makes me crazy.” I can always count on Nan to validate my experience.

Yes. I could just not play the game. Or, I could let it go and let her play the game the way she wants to…the way she thoroughly enjoys it at this point. There is plenty of time for competitive fire. To stick to the rules. To be a good sport. Not every moment is a teachable one. Sometimes, I need to just go with the flow.

And I slip all the candy cards out of the deck and hand them to her. Sophie beams. “I love Candyland,” she tells me. And I am a little dismayed to realize that, though I do like to play, I am not a kid anymore.

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