Falling Over the Competitive Edge

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“In your FACE!” my 5-year-old daughter yelled at me from the back seat of the car.

Apparently, I had been wrong. She had been right about something. Either way, there are very few times when “In your face” seems like an appropriate response. She said it with such gusto, leaning forward in her carseat poking her finger in my direction for emphasis. I admit, I laughed. Yes, it’s my duty to teach my child how to behave, but I also have a sense of humor. And it’s not very sophisticated.

When I recalled the incident to my husband, he wondered where she had heard it from.

“Um, you?” I offered.

A couple of nights ago, my husband, daughter and I were engaged in a fierce game of Candy Land–and by “fierce” I mean that Ray and Ava played with exaggerated excitement, taunting one another. I was ahead. But if you know anything about Candy Land, you know that it never really ends. Being in the lead simply means that you’re destined to pick the damn peppermint-stick-of-death card that sends you limping back near the start. And so it goes for 30 painful minutes until someone either cheats or falls asleep. On the rare occasion, someone may even win.

I clearly don’t enjoy Candy Land all that much. In fact, I don’t enjoy most games. I like to follow the rules, which seems to make me out to be some sort of Parker Brothers Pollyanna. Yes, my little red Gingerbuddy was in the clear lead when I drew the peanut card, but that’s because Ray had messed with the deck. He had pretended to shuffle the cards, but he was actually arranging it so Ava got every chance to advance, while he and I were made to fail.

“You’re cheating!”

Ray smiled innocently, as if to say, “Aw, let the kid win, Andrea.”

Not on my watch. On my watch, we play by the rules. On my watch, 5-year-olds learn to lose. I don’t feign stupidity to stroke their egos. Adults spend a better part of the day building up preschoolers–you’re so smart, you’re so special–so a little Candy Land schooling isn’t going to hurt anyone. In fact, I think it’s good for ‘em.

I used to baby-sit my neighbor, a highly competitive only child whose parents always allowed him to win. When I beat him at Memory, he’d throw the cards all over the livingroom and scream, snot and drool his way into a massive tantrum that I found rather amusing. Then he’d spend the rest of the evening in his bedroom pouting, allowing me to catch up on “Three’s Company.” (I never said I was a good babysitter.)

I think of that kid (who turned out great–not in spite of me, but probably because of me) while playing Candy Land with my family. Whenever Ava draws a double-color card, she stands up, shakes her booty and sings, “Oh yeah, uh-huh. Oh yeah, uh-huh!” And when Ray draws a single-color card, he pretends to cry, which makes Ava swoon with delight. Between their freakish taunting, I sit and quietly draw my cards, advancing around the board like a zombie in a sugar coma. I was a mere two spaces from the finish line when Ava declared, “I don’t want to play anymore.”

That little stinker didn’t want me to win. More than that, she didn’t want to lose. Cutting the game short technically keeps her from realizing certain doom.

Now that I can respect. I’ve always believed that if you can’t win, don’t play. I won’t play tennis against my husband. I won’t play the Lottery. And no one will play Boggle with me. It’s like going up against Gisele Bündchen in a swimsuit contest; it’ll only make you feel bad.

“She can’t always win,” I tell my husband later that evening.

“No,” he agreed, “And neither can you.”

“I won fair and square!”

But really, there is no “fair and square” in Candy Land. It’s so stupidly random and requires no skill. You don’t even have to be fully conscious to play (Ava’s stuffed unicorn beat me once). Ava will discover soon enough that there are kids who think and run faster than her. She certainly won’t always win. But Ray’s right. When it comes to games of chance, I can lighten up and take some pleasure in watching her win while she can.
 

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