Everything I need to know, I learned from the board game Life. Decide early if you want to pursue the college or straight-into-career path. Lose your job, and reconsider higher education. Give generously to celebrate your friends when they marry. Unexpected lawsuits cripple even the financially blessed. Life will throw you curve balls, unexpected adventures and losses. But there’s no divorce in the game of Life.
On Saturday before exciting excursions to the Blackbeard Pirate’s Festival and Fort Monroe Beach, Charming and I recovered from our work-weeks by playing a board game at the dining room table. Encompassing the board were dollar bills of varying denominations, bank loans, Spin-to-Win and Life tiles, property deeds, and a mass of career cards. Charming popped a blue peg into his green car’s driver’s seat and met my pink peg in a blue car at the starting line.
Not surprisingly, we both started on the college career path. My boyfriend drew the Computer Consultant. As I randomly chose my card, I hoped I wouldn’t get the Teacher. Let me dream a little in this game, and I did, as an Accountant. Charming was way out ahead of me early on, both in distance and money.
Then he got married, and I was admittedly jealous, hating to fork over $10,000 to celebrate his success in the face of my own failure. I played by the rules, as I have so often done in the past. Countless friends have married and started families, and I dutifully gave gifts off registries and from the heart. When my little brother announced they were pregnant two Christmases ago, I cried.
I was happy for them but simultaneously shocked and jolted. It hadn’t occurred to me that, five years my junior, he would be a father before I was a mother. I could still remember holding him in my skinny pre-pubescent arms; my own living doll was going to have a son. In the living room, busying myself with cleaning up torn wrapping paper and ribbons, I felt the weight. Always an auntie, never a Mom.
When that giggling bundle was placed in my arms for the first time this past Christmas, those initial sentiments were long-forgotten in the abyss of things our families all know about but never talk about. I think it’s possible to be genuinely happy for another person’s success and still grieve your own losses, but envy is never profitable. At Charming’s behest several months ago, I cleared the air with my sister-in-law the day I met their son. It was good to consciously unburden myself of the jealousy, thereby undercutting its power over my subconscious.
So it shouldn’t surprise me that the first reaction in a simple game mirrors my personal, natural reaction. I couldn’t know that the tides would soon turn, that a completely random spin of a number would move my car just the right number of spaces to unleash my jealousy on my opponent by suing him for $100,000. He had to take out a loan to buy his starter house. Now, I was succeeding.
I’d sue him two more times before the game was over, but that was only after we’d both married and lost our jobs. See, there are certain spaces that all players stop on for major life events. Getting married is a guarantee in this game. Losing your job is another. And in these two spaces are one beneficial life lesson and one common misnomer.
While we may advance through our lives and never lose a job, the likelihood that we or someone we know will experience that major life event warrants a game played for fun that also helps prepare us for potential courses of action if we find ourselves there in reality, decades after playing Hasbro’s game. While at play, we reevaluate options the way we must at every decision point.
I opted to go back to school, supporting myself as an Entertainer to finally earn my MD and essentially seal my win over my opponent who’d foregone more schooling and chosen a living as a policeman… but he made money off me for speeding a few times whenever I’d spin a ten. I couldn’t be satisfied. He had three children, and I had none. I sued him again.
I had a daughter just before hitting midlife, and my career was flooding my bank account. I sued Charming a third time. If this were real life, I would think, “What have I become?”, but luck was shamelessly in my favor. I thought my chance to have a son was over when I entered the stretch before retirement, but at the last possible space to offer the chance, I had a tiny blue peg in the back seat. Charming had three kids to put through college on nothing but bank loans, and I’d bought a bigger home out of pocket.
This was the life, right? Family, career, financial freedom? But in this game, a marriage at least, was guaranteed, a stopping point on all players’ journeys. There is no divorce. There’s never a question if you ended up with a kid (and I’m sure if I counted the tiles, the odds are statistically in your favor) that you didn’t first have a spouse to shoulder the burden, or at least take the wheel and find my pink peg in the passenger’s seat (which you can be sure actually happened).
On the game board, there is no chance that the person you claimed forever as the love of your life won’t be around for children or grandchildren. Charming and I have both witnessed our marriages bite the dust, both seen missed opportunities like those spaces we’d hoped we would land on if the numbers had just worked out. They didn’t work out.
And there are no instructions in the game of Life for that. Maybe some things I needed to know, I learned from a game; however, there are more curve balls possible in real life than there are spaces on a game board. The most important take-away from a Saturday morning beating Charming at Life is that you make choices and they have predictable and unexpected outcomes; you will experience the good (publishing a book, family vacations) and the bad (being sued, breaking a leg).
On a lesser note, I suppose a most encouraging reminder in my late-life pink peg’s surprising fertility is that time is not against me. And for Charming, perhaps he would be encouraged to take a occassional risk in life as he did in the game, letting it all ride on a Spin to Win bet and gambling his way to a close second-place finish that saw his kids through college.
I’ve always loved this childhood game. When I play, I feel like I have a chance to get it right. Maybe the real, practical lesson in Life is that we always have a chance to get it right further down the pathway.