Last year in a desperate attempt for enrichment I signed Ada up for an online chess class that met once a week after school on Wednesdays. It was doomed from the start because of her distaste for online schooling, and for male-identifying teachers, but it would really go downhill at the part of the class where the teacher said, “now we’re going to play a little game.” At this point Ada would declare that she “didn’t play games with winning and losing,” a stance she has taken since age two, and the teacher would flounder, trying to keep his other three students engaged while one staged a minor rebellion.
He tried to pivot and call it a race, which only made Ada double down. “I hate races!,” she yelled, before going off-screen entirely sniffing the teacher’s desperation. Every few minutes he’d say rather meekly, “Ada? Are you there? It’s your turn,” and from the closet, she would yell back: “I already told you: I’M NOT PLAYING.” As you can imagine, it was a subpar experience for all involved, and I still feel terrible for the instructor.
This attitude towards competition, or the lack thereof, is characteristic of most of our experiences with board games. The combination of strict rules that dictate play, pieces that force a child to choose a color or figurine (and that no two players could have the same), the inherently unequal accumulation of points or properties or money, the idea that there is both strategy and luck involved—are all ingredients ripe for a meltdown.
Despite that, we’ve tried our hand at this supposedly fun activity. For years I was convinced I hadn’t found the right type of game for my kids. In part this was true—they do do better with cooperative games—the diplomatic sub-category of board game in which kids are meant to work together to achieve some goal, but in truth even those devolved for many of the same reasons the other ones do.
In Candyland, Ada couldn’t accept losing and would cheat rampantly, stealing other peoples cards. Julian couldn’t accept that all the cards weren’t candy cards, and would cry when anyone else got the lollipop or the gumdrops. In Sorry, Ada refused to accept that moving backwards was a part of the game. At one point I sent one of her pieces back to the start (Sorry!) and hysterics ensued. Card games have not gone much better: Go Fish is only fun until anyone but the child wins.
This weekend we stayed at a slightly dingy farmhouse upstate that a family member had rented on Airbnb. There were a pile of games in the living room, including a very intact edition of Operation, which I hadn’t played since I was in elementary school. If you also haven’t played in 30 years, let me remind you of the premise: A dopey man named Sam is laying on the operating table because he’s had a variety of accidents that result in needing an operation. (i.e. Sam got a Charlie horse! Sam has a wrench in his ankle from playing basketball!) One has to use a pair of tweezers to fish out said wrench from ankle, or said horse from leg without touching the outer ring encasing the object, else the entire board buzz, and his nose light up red.
It turns out this is quite hard even for for a grown adult with mature fine motor skills, so the game turned into the kids waiting to see if I could extract the objects and then them fighting over who would get each tiny plastic piece. Julian wanted the apple that came out of the Adam’s apple, and Ada wanted the broken heart—a result of poor Sam floundering at love. They both wanted the wishbone, but ultimately it went to Julian. Ada ended up with the butterflies (from the stomach). After I had successfully extracted all dozen or so objects from the board alone, both kids were ecstatic. “This is the most fun game we’ve ever played,” said Ada, with her brother nodding next to her before adding, “Let’s play it again and again.”
Recommendations for the kids:
Draw: Ada has upgraded to a 72 color box of Prismacolor dual-tipped markers that we unearthed during our move. Turns out someone once gifted us $230 markers so they are hard to recommend in earnest, but these other dual-tip ones she was using previously are also great (and $11.99).
Read: Adding a bunch of new-to-us graphic novels to our library queue, including Aster and the Mixed Up Magic, Cleopatra in Space, El Deafo, The Runaway Princess, and the Amulet series, which I’ve also added to the Early Graphic Novels collection at the @kidsbookrecs Bookshop. (thx for the recs, friends).
Stuffies: I think the Jellycat Amuseables are a generally great gift for a child or baby. My kids, collectively, have the watermelon, pumpkin, pineapple, and mushroom. And who wouldn’t want this blue cheese, this pretzel, or this blushing hardboiled egg?
Recommendations for the grown-ups:
Eat: These elderflower Swedish fish while the kids are binging on Halloween candy.
Listen: To this episode of the Freakonomics podcast, The Economist’s Guide to Parenting (10 years later) on great convos with kids of economicsts, and whether all that stuff the research told you to do actually matters (like not eating sugar, learning sign language, etc.).
Read: This interview with Oscar Isaac on NPR.
Read: The wild piece from NYTMag about the influx of sharks to Cape Cod over the last few decades. (It’s worth checking out for Tyler Hicks’ photos alone)
Visit: Realizing very late that at some point during the pandemic, Poppy’s opened 6 days a week and I can’t believe I haven’t been there for a biscuit sandwich yet.
If you are celebrating Halloween this weekend, may the costuming be everything your child dreams of, and the candy collection bountiful.
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