Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Let the Games Begin

I've always loved playing games. I whiled away the summers of my childhood playing endless games of Monopoly with my best friend, Susan. College evenings with Ami, Kate, and Anne were filled with Trivial Pursuit and nachos from Tijuana Bob's. It's a rare board game I don't enjoy. Vacations with my extended family are filled with hours of Scrabble interrupted by rounds of Uno and Euchre.

We just acquired a new game - The Settlers of Catan. The older boys and I sat down to play this morning.

Playing with kids brings a few challenges I don't typically find when it's my mom or my sisters battling it out. My mom doesn't usually cry when she loses, and my sisters can make the dice land in the vicinity of the board.

Not so with young kids.

We have large age gaps, so right from the start finding the right game is tough. I try to find a game not too banal (think: Candyland), but not too competitive (think: Are you Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?), and, most importantly, not too long (think: Risk).

Game chosen, we then have a few behavioral challenges to overcome.

We may or may not have a family member who can not manage to throw dice in such a manner that they actually land anywhere near the board. If the dice do happen upon the board itself, rest assured we are playing a game with dozens of tiny pieces placed in strategic locations. The dice go a flyin' and so do the pieces. Otherwise, the dice go a flyin' and land under the table, typically within Ainsley's grasp.

You know, when the dice skedaddle once or twice, it's no big deal, but, trust me, by the eleventh time, you want to shriek "Settlers of Catan, be gone!" and get a cold compress and a few Advil. We've learned to throw the dice into a plastic tub. No flying dice, no choking hazards, no pain reliever required.

Other troubles are not so easily solved.

We may or may not have a kid who can never ever remember whose turn it is. Like the flying dice, this gets old fast.

There's the kid who can't stand to lose. We have actually rehearsed good sportsmanship lines. Repeat after me: Good game, fill-in-the-blank.

Then of course there's edifying conversation such as the exchange between Virtuous and Kindly that took place this morning:

Virtuous: What's that smell?

Kindly: I thinks it's your face.

At such a point I begin hissing comments about kindness and civility and doing unto others. The message gets a bit murky as my patience wanes, my jaw clenches, and each word sounds like a bark.

I remember suffering through identical trials with my oldest nieces and nephews. Candyland, Life, and the mercifully short-lived, Pretty, Pretty Princess. There were tears and fits and clandestine stacking of the deck in favor of the youngest. Today these same folks are some of my favorite opponents and partners at play.

This afternoon we returned from the pool and stumbled upon those serendipitous moments when the dice didn't fly, the youngest didn't get totally creamed, the babies napped simultaneously, and we laughed and played and enjoyed the simple pleasure of each other.

When that happens, all of us are winners.

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