What Playing Monopoly With My Children Taught Me About My Own Mother
In late January we moved the TV from the game room upstairs to the bottom floor in order to accommodate guests who would be occupying the suite where we once gathered as a family. When I say “we”, I really mean “they”: my children. The soft glow emitting from the television has long been a comforting presence in my children’s life. Unlike their mother, television doesn’t tell them that they’re talking too loudly or ask them if they heard what it was saying. Television makes no demands of their time and talent (like taking out the trash or picking up their toys), and yet they have always been willing to devote more and more time and energy to it. I am not ashamed to admit that there was a brief stretch in time when PBS and later, Cartoon Network, babysat my four spirited kids. It is what it is. But something happened when the set got moved to a different location in the house – a crossing of some wires, perhaps – and then one day, without warning, DSTV floated out of our lives like Mary Poppins drifting slowly, steadily and permanently away by the power of her magical umbrella.
(Speaking of umbrellas, have you read my hilarious book ‘Madness & Tea’? If not, you should.)
Now that cable is no longer a fixture in our lives, we are forced to interact with one another. We are compelled to find different ways to entertain ourselves. My husband has indicated no inclination that he’s willing to sort out the problem (probably motivated by the R500 we’re saving a month) and so it’s often left to me to contend with the oft-repeated phrase, “I’m booooorrrred!!!!” from little lips and doleful eyes. I kid you not it’s in those moments I’d rather be convalescing, post brain surgery.
We’ve just come off of a long holiday weekend in celebration of Worker’s Day. In those five days, the kids discovered an unpacked box of board games in the garage. They asked if they could bring them into the house.
“Why not?” I replied, watching them scurry off with two playmates in tow. A smile played about my lips. It was almost like watching my own childhood unfold in front me all over again. Ahhh, those simpler days when kids were kids, rather than programmed consumers of lurid pop culture and whatever it is that supposed to pass as food these days. Soon they re-emerged from the garage, arms laden with games we’d either purchased or inherited a decade or more prior.
“Yoh! Many of these games are brand new,” exclaimed a boy named Jordi, one of the kids’ generally more enthusiastic friends.
“That’s because we rarely get a chance to play board games,” I explained. Which was not entirely true, but I saw no reason to explain my aversion to interacting with my children on that level to t a 14 year old.
“Can you teach us to play, Auntie Malaka? I’ve forgotten the rules.”
I smiled benevolently at the six sweet faces staring expectantly at mine.
“Of course I can,” I trilled.
As the kids unpacked the brand new board and accessories, it suddenly dawned on me that I had forgotten the rules to Monopoly as well. The last I played the game was in 1997 during a church retreat. A crazed girl named Cecily was such a ferocious shark at the game that it put me off Monopoly completely. I swore I would never play it again. Shuddering as I recalled the memory of that particular spring afternoon, I shook off the vestiges of that vow and read the rules aloud for the edification of all.
As the two oldest kids distributed $1500 in Monopoly money to each of the players, a more pleasant memory took the place of my earlier negative reaction. My mother had taught my siblings and I how to play Monopoly when we were all still relatively young. The sight of green, yellow and white ‘dollar’ bills brought to mind the sound the sound of my mother’s soothing voice encouraging us each to buy property. (My mother’s voice was always very soothing whenever she was talking about the acquisition of property and money. Alternatively, it took on a more shrill quality whenever there was waste or loss.) The little deeds printed on cardstock brought back flashes of exited laugher elicited from my siblings and I felt whenever we announced that a player had to pay us rent for landing on our property. I imaged that my children and I would share similar moments as we settled down to play this game that required shrewdness and savvy.
Yes, dear reader, you may begin smirking now.
“I want to be the dog!”
“No. EYE want to be the dog!”
“Okay. Fine. Fine! You be the dog then. I’ll just be the horse. …Who took the horse?”
“Wait. Why am I in jail? How do I get out of jail?”
“No fair. I don’t want to pay her rent!”
“Oh my GOD! You have to move six spaces! 5 plus 1 is SIX!”
“Stop rolling the dice onto the floor!”
“But I don’t have any more 50s. I can’t pay the taxes. If I give the bank this 500 bill, I won’t have any more money! (You’ll get change back…) Really? Yay!!! I get $450!”
20 minutes. That’s how long I lasted. 20 minutes! It was in those moments and those following that I discovered something about my mother: In this regard, she is a much better woman than I.
My mother played many rounds of Monopoly with us, some bouts stretching for hours. Monopoly is the never-ending story. The only way a game of Monopoly ends is when one or more players eventually goes bankrupt, all the players eventually lose interest, or that ONE player brings the game to a jarring end by bursting into tears. I left the game by handing my second born all my cash and deeds, and as I should have anticipated, the game ended a 15 minutes after I bowed out when my youngest burst into tears.
To quote Donald Trump, it was a disaster.
It takes a peculiar sort of parent to guide her children through the crucible that is this Parker Brothers creation. Monopoly requires the player to develop a ruthlessness bordering on sadism. These are not traits that we look to instill in children, and yet my mother patiently and methodically made sure that we understood and enjoyed playing this game. And for that, I thank her. Without saying it, it was her way of informing us that this capitalist world we inhabit is a cruel, unjust place. There are always going to be people who try to screw you at every turn. Some of those people may be your family. Be unswindleable. Stay ready!
Had I been a better student, I would have had the stamina to train my own kids in the dark arts of Monopoly. But I am weak and I fear I have been defeated by those first 20 minutes. When I am braver and ready to strip them of their childlike innocence, we shall revisit the endeavor.
I tip my top hat to you, mother.
Have you cried during a game of Monopoly? It’s okay to admit it if you have. Go ahead…admit it in the comments below. We won’t judge you. Okay, we WILL, but it won’t be too harshly.