It Was My Family, In the Kitchen, With a Board Game…

My memoir about Family Game Night begins with that time the younger daughter swallowed a chip from her Headbanz board game. The incident required two weekend visits to the emergency room and started with a hypothetical question, “What would happen if Cici swallowed a piece from a game?” she asked.

I replied not thinking too much of it, “Well, it would depend on what type of game piece it was. What are we talking about here?”

“Maybe a flat blue round chip from a game?”

“Really? Well, we would probably need to take Cici to the emergency vet if she did that.”

(Insert child’s blank terrified stare.)

Finally realizing where this was headed, I panicked, “Wait, did YOU eat the flat blue round chip from the game?”

Needless to say, the hypothetical situation quickly turned to reality with a trip to the human emergency room where the six-year-old’s throat and gut were thoroughly checked via X-ray. The chip was translucent, so it never showed up on the images. The ER doctor assured me that was a good thing; it must not have gotten lodged and, therefore, wasn’t blocking any essential bodily functions.

They sent us packing, but first told us to “watch for the chip” if you know what I mean.

But we were back the next day after she complained of feeling ill. I had pictured the piece lodged in an important spot. In retrospect, she probably had only pangs of guilt. The entire process above repeated itself.

PSA to Children and Childish Adults: Do NOT swallow the game pieces.

These things happen though. My older brother, six years my senior, reportedly once shoved a bean up his nose. Something he found in the yard. It quickly got stuck in his nasal passage and required his own ER visit. My most memorable trip to the hospital warrants its own full story, so I will be sure to write about it soon, but I’ll keep you in suspense about it for now.

Speaking of injuries and hospitals and games, everyone knows the traditional board game Clue results in a murder. The victim is Mr. Boddy. My older daughter recently observed “With a name like that, you’re just asking to be murdered.” She has a point.

For the under 8 crowd, there’s Clue Junior. We discovered it earlier this year. Rather than a gruesome shooting or stabbing or clubbing of the head by The Candlestick, the non-violent mystery to be solved is “Who ate the chocolate cake?” You follow a trail of crumbs straight to the culprit. This is what happens in my house every night. I come home from work and identify who has eaten what for their after-school snacks based on the morsels and bits I find on the counter, in the sink, and all over the floor. Just call me the Snacking Sleuth.

In the classic version of Clue, the colorful cast of characters and suspects includes the well-known Miss Scarlett, Mrs. White, Miss Peacock, Mr. Green, Colonel Mustard, and Professor Plum. We have a newer version of the game in which Dr. Orchid appears on the scene. Where did she come from? I wonder what kind of doctor she is? The kind who sees children who eat stuff they shouldn’t? I am skeptical of her, the same way I am typically skeptical of the new person in Book Club or the new neighbor who moves in across the street. This is a tendency I’m not proud to admit.

Just ask my dear friend K. about it. When she showed up as a coworker at my office 15 years ago, she wanted us to be friends. I resisted aggressively for months. Back then, in my early 30s, I was cocky and thinking I had plenty of friends and didn’t need anymore. But K. was determined to prove me wrong. She made it her mission to make us friends. Ultimately, she won. Thank goodness, she did.

My hesitance to befriend Dr. Orchid aside, Clue is one of my favorite games to play with The Precious Pair. However, the past several times we have played, one of them has beaten me. Yes, I am in the transitional stage of life when my kids are starting to beat me at board games. What does this mean? Am I losing my edge? Or, most likely, am I overthinking games (and everything) in my middle age?

The last time we played Clue, the younger daughter claimed victory, having guessed the suspect, the room, and the weapon accurately before I had even a clue about any of the solutions. (Pun intended.) I had carefully marked my Ex’s & Oh’s on my tracking sheet to show who had what cards, or what cards I thought they had. In the end, I was way off the mark.

I need to work on my board gaming strategies. I am a competitive person, so losing all the time against them is not going to work well for me long-term. As these two keep maturing and getting smarter, I need to up my game. I need to get back in touch with my childhood Family Game Night roots so I can dig into their little psyches and better understand how they’re playing…

Yes, Family Game Night has represented something special to me since I was a kid. As a lifelong devoted eater of food, my memory goes directly to the snacks! Salty stuff like popcorn or a cheese & summer sausage tray, and sweets like ice cream and, to wash everything down, ALWAYS “pop” – as we called it in the Midwest. That older brother of mine, the one who shoved the seed in his nostril, had a game night comedy routine where he would guzzle his pop, burp loudly, and pretend he was drunk. Yep, it was the classic teenage boy comedy act. Circa 1980. His 8 year old little sis – as in me – loved it. Even better were the nights when my stepmom would join him in this silly gig. My dad has it captured on movie film.

Few would disagree how priceless it can be to have family members coming together like this, even for just a few hours, with common goals: to focus, to compete and, yes, to win. And it’s okay to want to win. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. That’s why it’s called a game. Our family was competitive, and when we sat down to play Trivial Pursuit, Uno, Pictionary, and many others, we weren’t messing around. Each of us was there to win, even our baby sister when she came along. She learned a love of games and the family art of competing at an early age. That edge stuck with her, and today she is the most successful of all three siblings, as an attorney in the often intense area of family law.  

But even more important than winning, we were all there to bond. And to laugh. And to sit in close proximity to one another, where we could enjoy each other’s company and comedy routines. Sharing a game creates the ultimate example of togetherness among families, friends, neighbors, classmates, and even coworkers. (Wow, you have not seen true competitiveness until you meet the people where I work!)

Board games on the kitchen table with their playing tokens and pretend money and indigestible chips do far more for family bonding than today’s modern digital gaming habits. I pray for board games to stick around. To think my grandchildren might not enjoy the tradition of my own childhood and that of their mothers’ childhoods, well, that would be a shame. May the power of video games and apps and virtual reality never snuff out the real intimacy and down-to-earth entertainment value of Family Game Night.

In It To Win It,
Meesh

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