Thursday, January 3, 2013

Intense game of Candyland makes for nice lunch respite

Winter break is nearly over. The kids are already lamenting the fact that, in a few days, they'll be getting up early again on school days and heading back to school. No more sleeping in til 11 a.m., rolling out of bed, logging in to Assassin's Creed III or cramming as many episodes of "Breaking Bad" in as possible.

I'm already seeing signs of life returning to pre-break rhythms. The girl has been cracking her AP U.S. History book again, and busily trying to plow through "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" before Ms. Peterson's English class resumes next week at West. The boy ... well the boy is just making the most out of final days of pseudo-freedom before it's back to the Dakota Meadows grind.

I came home for lunch Thursday, my first day back to work as a reporter for a week and a half. The night before, the boy and I had engaged in some good old-fashioned game play. We started with Uno, the Harry Pottler version. Then we moved on to foosball. Then Connect Four. Finally, Candyland.

Remember Candyland? It's a cute little game with colored cards, cute visuals and an easy-to-play style. Even the language on the box oozes cuteness: "A sweet little game for sweet little folks."



I think not. I say Candyland is a cruel temptress, promising victory twice only to snatch it from my trembling hands, sending me all the way back to the depths of despair, otherwise known as the Peppermint Stick Forest.

So when I came home for lunch, the girl was already excited. She wanted the boy and I to join her in a quick game of Candyland while we ate lunch. I agreed, of course, 'cuz that's the kind of dad I am. Down for whatever.

Game set up, soup heated, omelets made, drinks poured -- we were ready to roll.

What happened next was an odd combination of schadenfreude, accusations of game rigging, emotional meltdowns, righteous indignation, trash talk and name calling, the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.

Twice I was within one card of winning it all, and twice I was sent careening to the rear of the game board, once to the jail-like bars of the Peppermint Stick Forest, and once to Gingerbread Plum Tree. Each time was a gut check. I had to suck it up, pull myself up by my bootstraps and somehow summon the strength, muster the courage to keep hope alive, keep hope alive, keep hope alive.

And I wasn't alone.

These setbacks happened to all three of us. Each of us at one point or another got stymied on the doorstep of victory by a 1.5-inch by 2-inch card with a picture of candy cane, or a gingerbread man, or a pair of gum drops.

Each time we persevered until, in the end -- when the omelets had been eaten, the soup consumed, the drinks tipped back -- the girl pulled the final blue card that put her over the edge, beyond the colored tiles and into the gingerbread house.

When it was over, we all smiled. We'd had a memorable winter break hour of hilarity and togetherness. Everyone got along.

Later, I got to thinking. The cruel random tragedies that occur in Candyland are analogous to life in school. You're going along just fine, gettin' good grade, and then ... BAM! You get sideswiped by a chemistry test that came out of nowhere, or shitty day on the basketball court, or a bully who won't leave you alone.

What do you do?

You keep going. You draw the next card. You keep playing. Life is about the journey, right? Even if that journey takes you through a Peppermint Stick Forest.

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