RELAX. I’m talking about beating my kids at board games. H-O-R-S-E. Cards. Footraces. Arm wrestling.
While I was playing my son, C, (age 10) tonight in a couple of games of Carcassonne,I asked him if he wanted me to take it easy on him. He looked at me kind of funny, with a weird expression on his face, not understanding what I was asking. So I rephrased it, “Do you want me to play nice so that you’ll have a better chance to win?”. His response? “NO! I don’t need you to go easy on me. I can win on my own.” Bingo! I couldn’t have said it better myself. We played two games tonight. I won them both. He has yet to beat me in this particular game and we’ve been playing it for quite a while now. He doesn’t complain. In fact, it drives him to get better. The margin of victory was a lot less in the second game. His strategy improved along with his score.
I’ve been a parent now for nearly twenty years, but I’ve been a competitive game-player for as long as I can remember. I can recall long games of Monopoly with my older brother that maybe got a little bit over the top competitive. One in particular, in which I had him basically beaten, so he said he “died” and flipped the game board over and huffed away. I’m especially fond of that win. While my parents didn’t really play a lot of board games with us I have a lot of very fond memories of playing games with both sets of grandparents. My dad’s parents taught us how to play Sheepshead (although they called it the German name). I routinely lost but as time went on I learned the game and became a decent player. Same for my other set of grandparents who taught me all sorts of card, dice and board games: cribbage, backgammon, chess, checkers, king’s corners, sollitare, burn, acey-deucy and pinochle. I grew to cherish the times that we would spend playing those games, often for hours at a time. Never once do I remember them letting me win. If they did, they did a great job of hiding it. What I do remember, though, is learning to win and lose with grace and humility. There was no dancing and hooting and hollering. Maybe a tiny hooray but nothing extraordinary. Of course, whenever I would beat my grandpa in a game head-to-head I got a certain sense of accomplishment, knowing that I had beaten someone who I considered a really good player.
With our oldest child, I remember when she was maybe four years old, letting her beat me in a foot race across the front yard. The next day her best friend was at our house and my daughter challenged her to a race, boasting about how she had beaten me every single time the day before. Her friend roasted her every single time because my daughter was so slow. I realized that maybe letting her win all the time wasn’t the best idea. It would be okay for her to learn that she wouldn’t always win and that losing might just fuel her to do better the next time. Right now, my fifth child is almost five years old. She likes to play card games like UNO and Spot-It and even Dutch Blitz (with some help). In some of those games where speed is an important factor, I take it easy on her to level the playing field a bit. After all, no kid wants to lose all the time. That’s not fun and would just turn her off to games completely. Yet, at the same time, I don’t go so easy on her that she wins every time. She’s learning how to win and how to lose.
Three years ago I took my son, C, then age 7, on a week-long cruise to Alaska. Since we were “at sea” the entire first day of the trip we spent some time in the game room, where I taught him how to play Monopoly.I warned him that it was a game that would eventually bankrupt one of us, and it would likely be him since he was just learning the game. As it turned out, he had lucky dice like I did when I was a kid (see board-flipping story above) and won his debut Monopoly game. When I asked him tonight if he remembered that game, he beamed, proudly recalling a lot of details, including the fact that he ended up with $4400 to my ZERO!
My older kids, three girls that are all teenagers (for another week until one becomes 20, yikes!) all enjoy playing various games with me, despite my competitive nature. I have not taken it easy on any of them when we’ve played H-O-R-S-E or “Around the World” in the backyard. Or bocce ball. Or Dutch Blitz (a fast-paced card game). Or board games like Ticket to Ride or even Disney Trivia Pursuit. I’m scary good at the Princess movie questions. Don’t judge. In fact, a few years ago, my oldest and I had a running competition in which we played Dutch Blitz for money, a penny a point. Talk about a way to motivate my daughter for pennies. It was so much fun. I think I might have made $5 off her that summer. But, the point is, she didn’t suffer emotional trauma because I beat her (and maybe taunted her, but, in my defense, she was a teenager at the time) and took her money. It was a valuable, if not cheap, lesson in not running your mouth about how good you are in a game if you can’t back it up. To this day we still joke about that competition.
Last summer we managed to clean up our Rec Room enough to actually use the air hockey table. The kids had fun playing it together and my son made the mistake of challenging me to play against him. I told him I wouldn’t take it easy on him, that I would play to win. If memory serves me correctly, it took him 18 games (over several days) to finally beat his old man. But when he finally broke through, the excited hooting and hollering were music to my ears. He knew that he had earned that hard-fought victory on his own accord. We all had so much fun playing king-of-the-table tournaments. I think the longest streak was five wins in a row for one person. We also figured out that it was pretty fun to put all five air hockey pucks on the table at the same time and play.
I’m currently the household king of Trivia Crack and am proud of my trivial knowledge. I love nothing more than to accept the game challenges from my kids, only to crush them swiftly in one or two rounds. Except for that one game last week in which my 13 year old beat me. I ran into some questions about TV shows and movies that I’ve never seen and, obviously, don’t know. After she beat me she told my 15 year old about it. “You beat Dad?! No way! Prove it!” Sure enough, she had the proof on her device. Let’s just say that the games between us have been decidedly one-sided since that blemish on my record.
My ten year old just came near the computer and saw what I’m writing about and smiled. He told me, “It’s okay to go easy on your kids until they’re about six or seven. Once they’re that old you have to go hard on them!” Bring it…and let the games begin!