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Ruling Games


by Marrit Ingman

My son has entered middle childhood.

He’s too old for Thomas the Tank Engine—gratefully but somewhat guiltily, I’m sitting on green to eBay our collection of paraphernalia, turning gantry cranes and breakdown trains into school clothes and shoes—he is too young to willingly pump himself on the swings or walk into a darkened room. He is at once too young and too old to like girls, and if he sees younger children at the store or the library, he “webs” them like Spiderman. He’s old enough to be fascinated by superheroes but young enough to be terrified of their nemeses; currently, our front door is rigged with a booby trap made from a watering can and a bungee cord to “keep out bad guys.” He waltzed through the door of kindergarten round-up last month and puts his shoes on the right feet.

But what really tells me that he’s growing up is yesterday’s Monopoly game.

We’d tried board games before. Candy Land was an exercise in frustration. I patiently offered the rules, but he preferred maneuvering all over the board while I read and reread the box insert, regaling him with the exploits of Lord Licorice and Gloppy, “the molasses monster more goo-some than gruesome.”

Neither did we progress sequentially through Chutes and Ladders, which was too dreadfully fatalistic for his imagination -- our moral choices decided by a spinner -- and the rewards and punishments too abstract. Mow the lawn and go to the circus? Sweep the floor and go to a movie? That’s mom logic. For him it made perfect sense to eat the whole pan of cookies (#49) and subsequently grow taller (#44). Nor were the rewards consistent: some model behaviors advance the player farther than others. Eating right (#36) moves the player ahead only eight spaces, while rescuing a cat (#28) is worth a staggering 56 spaces. I thought returning a lady’s lost purse (#71) was as honorable as mowing the yard, baking a cake to share (#4) as virtuous as tending a plant (#38). We could not accept this randomness. That wasn’t how we rolled.

Now rules are our friends, the world our board game. “Don’t step on that line,” he dictates along the sidewalk. “You have to jump ahead.” We race against time and count cars.

And bingo? Forget about it.  We play travel bingo, alphabet bingo, and Dan Yaccarino’s geography bingo. Now he wants me to take him to the bingo parlor on our street. “But they have cash prizes,” he insists, reading the electronic sign as we drive past. “You like cash prizes.” This is true. And I’m sure the place is full of grandparent types, smoking furiously the way my grandparents did. He can already work a dauber—packaged for children as “dot art.”

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So when I found a magically complete set of Monopoly Junior recently at the thrift store, I sprang for it. It had all kind of rules, and at first even I was fuzzy on why there is a $3 “tramway” to the restroom, which is the junior version’s equivalent of jail. (How’s that for an association we don’t want to make? It hasn’t been that long ago the kid was in diapers.) Money paid to the utilities—which are reconfigured as fireworks and a “water show” costing $2 admission—collects on a space called “Uncle Pennybags’ Loose Change,” which confused us somewhat because the game only uses bills, in $1, $2, $3, $4, and $5 denominations.

We pressed on anyway, and after a few false starts I’m happy to say that yesterday we played long enough for me to go broke.

First we had to establish that the bank holds most of the money. Never too early to learn this lesson.

“But I like money!” he protested.

“Of course you do,” I said. “Hey, what’s that?” A bright orange bill had found its way into his pile—a $500 from the regular Monopoly set. His father, who is very funny, had pressed it into his pocket when the boy was costumed as a police officer for Halloween, hoping he’d stop writing us “tickets” in marker and arresting us with plastic handcuffs. It didn’t work, but it made the costume more realistic.

“That’s my money.”

“Not that one. Nope. Sorry. We have to be equal.” Never to early to learn this lesson. We had to at least start with a level playing field.

Then there was the die, which he rolled by twirling it between his thumb and forefinger until the desired number appeared. “Look, I got six!”

“It has to leave your hand and land on the table.” Again, fairness. Always, fairness.

“Awww. I like my way.” He rolled a two instead and landed on the property called Roller Coaster, which he bought for $5, eventually bankrupting me.

He won fair and square.
 About the Author:
Marrit Ingman
is a freelance writer, film critic, occasional educator, and constant mother. She is a frequent contributor to the Austin Chronicle, and her writing on popular culture has also appeared in Brain, Child, Fertile Ground, Alternet.org, Clamor, and Venus. Her first book, Inconsolable: How I Threw My Mental Health out with the Diapers, describes her experience with postpartum depression and was published in 2005 by Seal Press.


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