Our family loves geeking out with board games. At least once a month, we host Game Day. Friends and family come over to play all the live-long day. We play with cards. We play with dice. We play party games, boys v. girls, couples v. couples, and head-to-head. We play cute stuff, serious stuff, robot stuff, antiquities stuff. We make volcanoes explode and we pursue trivia.
The little ones witness our board game love and want to be involved, but often they can’t keep up. Starter games like Hi-Ho Cherry O! and Husker Du! are a great way to get them into the family hobby. Over time, pieces get lost and they end up playing Candy Land with a Parcheesi marker, a Monopoly shoe, a minifig, and Goldfish cracker. Not cool. I decided to give the three little boys a chance to start over fresh, so they received Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders for Christmas. I found the vintage editions so they don’t have to slog through the horrors of Queen Frostine and the Bratzification of modern editions.
This doesn’t mean the little boys leave their modern sensibilities behind.
Teddy and my mom were the first to play Candy Land. They were the lucky ones to unseal the cards and free the gingerbread people. Teddy, who is in kindergarten, readily understood what to do. Their two gingerbread dudes set off down the colored path. I was around the corner in the kitchen when I heard Teddy shriek about “the bad guys.” Yep, Land O’ Candy has a villain who resides in the Gingerbread Plum tree. It turns out this is a portal to another world. If you land on the corresponding square, God help your soul. God help your soul.
Run, you fools!
They continued to play until they reached the end. I heard reports of my mom’s gingerbread man falling into the ocean. Both survived peril along the way. While I was poking baked potatoes, a sugar-coated Jumanji was unfolding. The Lollipop Woods were dark and deep. The Molasses Swamp might seem jaunty and colorful, but it is full of despair that hasn’t been seen since Gollum lead the Hobbitses through the Dead Marshes.
Later, I played with Teddy, Ollie, and 15-year-old Sam who joined after I begged him to help balance the odds and bear witness. If Teddy was right and a portal lurks betwixt the cloying sticky leaves of the Gingerbread Plum tree, we would need a messenger to set things right. When Sam was swirled up The Rainbow Trail on his first card—his first card!—I knew this was the wisest move. He dodged the portal and was able to light beacons along the way as I seemed to plod along, card by card, never drawing the coveted double-colored square cards. It seemed hopeless. It seemed like a three-part, nine-hour commitment.
But then I drew the Ice Cream Floats card and was lifted upon the wings of a great eagle and flown directly to the corresponding square. I woke in a gauzy-light soaked room built of discarded popsicle sticks. Sam plucked the next card, a tesseract that enabled him to move from somewhere near the deadly Crooked Old Peanut Brittle House to the Lollipop Woods. He soon caught up to me and it was a race to the end credits and Home Sweet Home. I stepped through the mirror first and opened the wardrobe door wearing a fur coat atop a mithrill shirt. Kate Blanchett did that gentle smile thing she does.
Meanwhile, Teddy and Ollie were left befuddled.
Little kids learn to be good sports when they lose games, so I didn’t feel bad at all. I should have left them with the words of dreamy Aragorn: “Deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised” or better yet, from Guardians of the Galaxy: I am Groot.
I had foil-wrapped tubers to glare at in the kitchen. The game was packed away.
I can’t wait to play Candy Land again!
I can’t ask my dad what he wants for Christmas this year. He died six months ago, but I still remember his voice and still hear him share his one-line Christmas list. Always and forever, be good.
This frustrated me when I was a kid. I was good! I ate the canned wax beans my mom served to round out dinner. I made my bed. Good grades, check. I never made my siblings bleed. Certainly, I could try to be better? I’d rather give him a Hickory Farms summer sausage or a Denver Broncos mug, though. He could enjoy those much more than my terse agreement to do the dishes on the second request rather than the third. Plus, how to wrap good behavior? How to display it under the tree? Most years, I plowed ahead with a gift of my choice for him, including summer sausages and Burger King gift certificates—useful stuff in a kid’s estimation.
As I grew, his Christmas wish was continually defined by be good. Be good. It’s free, it’s simple, and “Clark, that’s the gift that keeps on giving throughout the entire year.” It also felt like a throwaway answer, something to change the subject or give us an out. He knew what we got for allowance. It’s shabby to expect a gift from someone who makes five dollars a week and has a banana seat bike. Sometimes, our grandma would give each of us $20 to shop for our parents, which seemed like a princely fortune but bought little even in the 70s and 80s.
Now I’m a mom who is asked by small, medium, and big children what I would like for Christmas.
I say “be good.”
They laugh or roll their eyes. A couple of them nod their heads somberly. No, what do you really want, mom?
I’m not going to tell them about the earrings I saw at Anthropologie or my banal desire for a new doormat. The pots and pans are aging. I haven’t had cranberry-scented body butter in awhile.
So I tell them I want them to be good and I do. But I mean more than that, and so did my dad, I suspect.
I want them to be healthy, happy, strong, and curious. I want them to love God and the people in their lives. I want them to anticipate the needs of others before they’re expressed, to have tender hearts, to be encouragers. I want them to live up to their potentials and find contentment in work, school, and friendships. These aren’t revolutionarily odd hopes a mom would have for her children. I’m not alone.
My dad never intended for “be good” to mean I needed to improve or modify my behavior. He loved me at my most ninny-headed moments, when I scowled with my full body, when I sassed like a sassy-sasser, lost his watch on Halloween, and ruined the screen window trying to sneak out of the house. Who am I kidding? I did sneak out of the house.
Still, be good.
Still, I hear him and I echo him.
1. “No, I’m his mom, not his grandma.”
2. “Get off that super high playground structure or I’m going to have to crawl up there to get you. Never mind. Carry on.”
3. “That’s Laverne. That’s Shirley.”
4. “Please don’t play with mommy’s orthotic shoe insert.”
5. “No, no, you wouldn’t like mommy’s special yogurt for grown-up ladies.”
6. “Doc McWho? Let’s watch two hours of old school ‘Sesame Street’ clips at YouTube.”
7. “We are only going to Target to pick up my prescriptions.” (then, you actually only go there to get your prescriptions)
8. (spitting out a mouthful of Quik into the sink) “I remember when Quik had real sugar and no vitamins!”
9. “I’m old enough to be his teacher’s mother.”
10. “I may or may not have gone high school with Santa Claus.” (said braggingly)
11. “My Little Ponies used to look like actual horsies.”
12. “Legos came in only five colors when I was little and that was enough for us!”
13. “Oh, you don’t like your Happy Meal Toy? Let me tell you about robot pencil toppers.”
14. “Can you pull my shoes off? My back hurts. No, leave the socks, my feet are freezing.”
15. “Hmmm. I remember Beefaroni tasting better.” (then sing the “Thank goodness for Chef Boyardee!” jingle)
16. “Oh, we have to leave the party by 7:30. His bedtime is at 8:00.” (and you’ll be happily asleep by 8:30 on the couch)
17. “I’m counting the ice cubes!” (said while battling a hot flash) “Uh, there are 38?”
18. “Yes, when mommy was a teenager we liked our hair to be very, very tall and big. To the moon big? Yes. Even bigger than a brachiosaurus? Yep.”
19. “I got a crown for my tooth. Not my head. Yes, it’s disappointing.”
by Tommy White