In a workshop exploring equity and access, I was instructed to play Monopoly with five people. The spark of my competitive spirit lit, I engaged in battle mode. I frothed. I raved. I had to win. There was a catch, however. An obstacle to victory. An intended trip-up: each person got to “enter” the game at a different time, and I wasn’t first. Two people started the game and got to go around the board one full time before the next group, in which I was placed, was permitted to join. There was a third group, but by the time I entered the game, I had a singular, selfish objective: gain control, and make each member of the privileged, first group pay through the nose. And, that’s exactly what I did, showing no mercy to either the group that entered first, or the poor, underprivileged people who were last to enter the game. I was on the come up, and no one would stop me.
I’m one competitive bastard.
The activity’s message was not lost on me; life is easier when you “enter the game earlier.” You are given access to opportunities that others are denied, and achieving some level of success is far more likely, yet the activity didn’t provoke sympathy or understanding from me while playing. In fact, it had the opposite effect – I overcompensated, became aggressive and protective, and felt compelled to achieve in spite of my diminished privilege. My need to achieve outweighed my sensitivities.
My competitive spirit is not very attractive
Apparently, this intense drive to win is genetic, and I’ve unleashed a monster unto this world. My apologies.
My passion for competitiveness was likely sparked by my parents – unintentionally – who encouraged me to play board games or cards, and I have fond childhood memories engaged in this type of play. So many of today’s toys are attractive because of their flashy, techy components: the lights, the sounds, the remotes. Admittedly, toys are much cooler now than ever before, but their prescribed purposes may, at times, quash creativity or the potential to interact. Simply put, I have a place in my heart for simple games.
Keeping this in mind, I decided it was time to introduce Ezra, now almost four, to board games. I have to admit, I don’t love the backbreaking nature of playing with a low-to-the-ground child. I’ve spent more time on the floor, bent into awkward yoga-like positions in the past four years than all my previous years combined. Pushing trains, digging in the dirt, or rolling microscopic cars across hard-on-the-knee tile have taken their toll. Board games mean sitting, an added bonus to playing with my child.
Ezra has an ability to sit and stay on task for longer than some of my middle-school students, and for that, I am incredibly thankful. He will sit through a movie, stay still for meals, and push his Thomas the Train (and three dozen friends) around for an unexpected amount of time. Being an only child, he is capable of playing alone, but, at his age, still likes to interact with me, which puts him in a very exclusive club.
That’s how I came to buy Candy Land.
Maybe the mentioning of the game conjures up nostalgia for you: the plastic, gingerbread figures attempting to traverse the colorful board, pitting players against each other in a race for sweet, sweet domination. The instructions are simple enough: choose a card, go to the designated color or candy. Winning, and the emphasis here is mine, seems to be based entirely on luck – luck, I’ve learned, I don’t possess.
In addition to having another way to bond and spend time with my child, I thought, in my limited parenting wisdom, that a child’s game like Candy Land would be a practical learning experience: my child would learn that games like this could be fun, but he’d also learn how to lose with grace – but that would require him losing. Seriously. If it weren’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all. If I were a batter in baseball, my average would be terrible. I suck at Candyland.
Since we began playing a couple of weeks ago, I think I’ve won, maybe, ten times. We’ve played, I’d estimate, over two hundred games, and Ezra hasn’t had much opportunity to learn how to be a gracious loser let alone a humble winner.
Each game varies in its sequence, but most end my loss. “Daddy, I go first,” Ezra directs, and foolishly, I let him.
So as to not spoil him, I urge a reminder. “Ezra, what’s the rule at school and with other kids?” Hoping to emphasize a pillar of sportsmanship and healthy play, I await his response.
“I take turns,” he answers (correctly).
In the version of Candy Land we own, if you get a single blue on your first draw, it takes you across a lovely, dulcet river, advancing your gingerbread of choice quickly. Of course, you could also select a candy card and be transported magically to the matching space. The worst card to draw first, the single red, moves you a measly, single space. Sometimes, I get lucky, accelerating my traversing of the board on a sugar-fueled path to destiny. Most of the time, I slowly crawl, a few spaces at a time. My child, by leaps and bounds, kicks my sorry ass, all the while chanting something to the effect of “I’m definitely going to win this time!” or “I’m gonna kick your butt!” in a not-so-adorable, sing-song voice of mockery.
The sad thing is, he’s right. He usually does kick my butt.
The worst is the last leg of the board, the spaces following the ice cream cone. For some reason, no matter how quickly I reach the top of the board, as if by some act of destiny, my acceleration slows to a crawl, single space cards being my luck of the draw.
“You’re going to get the peanut!” Ezra curses me, sending all sorts of toddler bad juju my way.
Rounding the bend to the final spaces (the ones where, unless you draw a single card, or a candy, you are pretty much guaranteed victory), my need to win kicks in, even if it means defeating my own child.
He has to learn to lose, I think to myself. At this point, though, I’m not convinced it’s for his social well-being or for my own ego.
But, alas, the Candy Land gods are unkind, and they don’t smile down on me. In their cruelty, my journey does not receive their blessing. I end up marooned on some licorice island, denied a turn only to watch Ezra’s always-yellow gingerbread man leapfrog over my frozen green one. Or, inevitably, I do select the peanut card – or the peppermint –whichever card sends my spiraling backward in a collision course with defeat, and he’s smiling the whole damn time, smug little person.
Maybe it’s my losing that brings him joy. Maybe it’s the fact that I take time to play with my kid. Maybe it’s a combination of both, but I do end up a bit sore after losing, convincing myself that if I had gone first, I would be the supreme, ultimate Candyland victor. Instead, I am just the model of gracious defeat, consistently reinforced by the sheer frequency of my losses.
It’s just a game, I tell myself. Besides, I may win next time. Yeah. Right.
The bitter sting of defeat is often cooled by the joy our time together brings. Thinking of being a kid, I recall more the joy of winning than the pain or losing and although I am sure I pitched a fit (or ten) about losing, my competitive spirit has never been quelled.
Little does he know: Monopoly is in his future, and I will show no mercy.