A couple of weeks ago I called into the other room to Maggie, “want to play a game?”
She was looking at a website on the family computer and I was aimlessly searching the web on my laptop.
“Sure,” she said. “What do you want to play?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Anything except Monopoly Junior.”
“What about Sorry?” she asked.
And so she dug through the games and pulled out sorry. I cleared off a side table and put it between us. She unfolded the board and put it down.
“What color do you want to be?” she asked.
“I don’t care. You choose.”
“Well,” she said, “we’re missing a lot of pieces. The only color we have all the pieces for is green. You can be green and I’ll be a mix.”
“O.K.,” I said.
She handed me the cards to shuffle. It looked as if half of the cards had gone to wherever the missing pieces were. There aren’t a lot of decisions that have to be made in Sorry. You need a special card to move out of your starting position onto the board. You move your way around the board and into your goal area.
At one point Maggie had a real choice to make. She was allowed to switch one of her game pieces with one of mine. One trade would benefit her more but the other trade would hurt me more. She thought a long time about it and then made the switch that benefited her more.
This is the point at which Elena would always shout “no fair, I’m not playing anymore.” Then she’d leave the room. Elena never liked Sorry. She took it personally whenever anyone bumped one of her pieces. Particularly when she was younger, she didn’t have the ability to see the big picture.
Maggie would just shrug it off. If one of her pieces was sent back to the beginning she’d say “oh well.” Maggie knew that just because she was losing now didn’t mean that she would end up losing the whole game. She also didn’t particularly mind losing that much. I love seeing those reflections of myself in her.
I remember playing basketball with my brother as a kid. Despite being older than him – or maybe because of it – I was never as good in sports as he was. I never minded losing to him and I think that that bothered him. That’s not a comment on the man he’s become – more of a memory of the boy he was. He didn’t just want to beat me, he wanted me to feel beaten.
Maggie never feels beaten. Actually, that was some of the joy of Elena. Despite her being a bad sport about Sorry, she really didn’t mind losing. She minded when someone sent her back. It made her a terrible Old Maid player. Whenever she picked the old maid from someone else’s hand she shout with anguish so that everyone knew she had it. Whenever she managed to give it to someone else she would whoop with glee.
Elena never had a poker face.
You could always figure out where in her hand the old maid was by watching her face. As your hand hovered over the old maid her eyes would light up and you knew to pick another card.
I don’t know why, but Maggie always played out Elena’s game. Often she’d win for Elena. Elena would come back to the room and Maggie would tell her “you won, you know.”
This particular night, Maggie fell way behind. I had sent two of her pieces back to the start. She looked unphased. As I reshuffled the cards we chatted about school and a science project they were working on.
Slowly, she worked her way back. I kept drawing cards that sent me in the negative direction while she moved towards her goal. She ended up winning and was pretty happy about it. She doesn’t mind losing, but she does enjoy winning.
I look in her goal at the variety of colors and realize that she’s still moving both her pieces and Elena’s around the board.
“Want to play again?” she asked.
“O.K.,” I said.
“Actually,” she said, “what about Mancala?”
And so we played Mancala.
The three of us used to play Mancala in a round robin. Whoever won would play the person who had just sat out. Elena had gotten quite good at it and had been able to play evenly with us. Unlike Sorry, she loved when someone pulled a sneaky move and was able to capture a lot of stones.
I never let my girls beat me at games but I love when the do. I love watching them outsmart me. Elena would make a series of moves that I would think were capricious and a sign of her getting bored with the game. It would lull me into a false confidence and I would play conservatively. It would turn out that she was two steps ahead of me. She knew I would fall for her tactics and she would turn it against me.
“Dad,” she’d say, “how could you not have seen what I was doing?”
“I don’t know,” I’d answer. “By the time I’d figured it out, I didn’t have any choices.”
She’d rub her hands together, like a villain in a story, and put on a cartoon voice and say, “You fell right into my trap.”
Maggie and I played three quick games. We tried different strategies in each and she still ended up beating me by a stone or two in each of the games. Throughout, we talked about our day and reminisced about playing games with Elena.
“Remember when we used to play Monopoly Junior?” Maggie asked. “She’d never remember to ask for money when people landed on her property and so she’d always lose.”
I remembered. Really, that’s what I love about playing games. The computers are off. The television is off. Just me and Maggie, talking to each other while playing a game. Rehashing the day. Making plans for the future. Remembering the past.