This week, Mrs L. decided that it was time to cut back on the amount of time we spent watching TV and using the tablet, and so the rather drastic step of banning their use for a week was taken. I was not privy to whatever thought process caused her to make this decision, but when I got home from work to find the kids engaged in activities which required actual interaction, I was very impressed. Later that evening, as we discussed the coming seven days (with considerable dread, I might add), Mrs L. told me that we would be encouraging playing board games, and she had already played Snakes and Ladders with Boy-Boy. As the week progressed, it became apparent that being starved of televisual input was not going to be as painful (for the kids at least), as we had feared, and it appeared that Boy-Boy at least, had fallen in love with slipping down snakes and scooting up ladders. And so it was that on Sunday morning, as Mrs L. lay in bed, enjoying a very rare lie in, Boy-Boy and I began a game.
Now, before we go any further, you must understand, that when I was growing up, in my family winning a game was vital. Unfortunately, as there could only be one winner, this often meant cheating. Not being discouraged by our parents, we turned cheating into an art form; something beautiful to behold, but which wasn’t meant to be seen. There was nothing as amateur as encouraging your opponents to “look over there,” while you rearranged the board. It was almost as though there was an unwritten rule book on how to cheat; the subtler the better, and if I was ever caught, I felt a certain sense of failure, not because I’d cheated, but because I’d been noticed! Often I would snatch defeat from the jaws of almost certain victory, usually as the result of a piece of terrible inattention on my part, and a deft piece of cheating by the victor. But even on the few occasions when I won, (by nefarious means) I didn’t feel especially proud of myself. I know that it sounds trite, but the victory always felt hollow and as though I didn’t deserve it. This is the problem with cheating. If you win it isn’t especially gratifying, and if you lose it’s just rubbish. Perhaps that is just sour grapes though.
Fast forward twenty something years, and I sat at the breakfast table wondering whether I should annihilate Boy-Boy or let him destroy me. As it turned out, he wasn’t really all that interested in winning, and to be fair neither was I. His only real interest in the game was rolling the dice (or “shakey shakey” as he calls it) and seeing what number he got and he wasn’t worried about moving his counter along. True, he liked it when he went up a ladder and I went down a snake, but he was equally excited when I prospered and he had a run of bad luck. I am proud to say that no cheating took place at all and the two of us had a really lovely time together.
Well, we did for the first ten minutes anyway. Have you any idea how difficult it is to win at Snakes and Ladders? I always thought that it was an easy game to play, and with two players, it would be all over within quarter of an hour tops, but after twenty minutes we were no closer to having a winner. We continued to play for another ten minutes without any break in the monotony. Unfortunately, I think I must have slipped into a coma (or at least a catatonic state) because the next thing I knew an hour had passed, Boy-Boy and my counters were almost exactly where I remembered them being, and Mrs L. was gently waving a hand in front of my eyes. Boy-Boy was still happily playing shakey shakey, but I realised that he still wasn’t remotely interested in who won. So I reluctantly packed up the board and the counters and after a few minutes (and a mini tantrum) later the dice and shaker joined them.
As I put the game back into the cupboard, I felt strangely proud of myself, and then realised how pathetic this was. I hadn’t cheated, playing a game with a three year old, and not just any three year old, my own son. What right did I really have to feel proud of myself?
Even so, it would have been really nice to win!