Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Tao of Trouble

To restore family harmony, we often turn to board games. Somehow it seems to fix whatever has been fouling us up, the four of us together around the table, focused on rules made up by others, by Parker Bros. or Milton Bradley probably. Last night, Eli brought out an old favorite, one we hadn't all played together in a while: Trouble.

As we played, popping the Pop-o-matic with gusto and gaining enthusiasm as the stakes grew, I began to understand why games might help: indirectly, they let you work out all your problems. For example, it looked at the beginning like Oscar was the clear leader, with most of his men out (a move that requires popping up a 6) and halfway around the board toward home, toward a win. I, on the other hand, had not been so lucky, had popped up not a single 6, and was sitting, stuck, right where I had started. Eli and the hubby were somewhere in between.

"I'm going to win, I'm going to win," Oscar began to chant. I just laughed.

"Aaah, but that's the thing about Trouble," I said with a somewhat snarky smile, "You can never tell...your luck could change. Anything could happen."

Oscar then threw something at me I think and changed his chant to, "You're mean, you're mean..." Chastising him but smiling all the same I shrugged, "Sorry, but it's true..."

Shortly thereafter, my prediction was correct and Oscar was basically sent back to the beginning by others landing on him. I was doing well, out after a long wait and moving quickly around the board.

Under my breath, to the hubby, not wanting to inspire more ire from Oscar, who was currently dealing well with his fate, I offered up why I always loved Trouble. "See," I said, "this game is great because it prepares you for being able to deal with setbacks and learn to recover," I said. "You have to realize that you have no control over things..."

Geord looked at me, as usual, as if I had two heads but as if he liked people with two heads. "Only you," he said, "could philosophize about Trouble..."

But it's true! I see in my kids how they learn so many skills from these games we play, how patience plays such a big role in putting up with things over which you have no control, in ceding any semblance of sense over how and why things change suddenly in unexpected and expected ways.

Change. Spring brings on many conversations about change. I have found myself in my building lobby discussing with neighbors how nice it is to feel warmer air, to put away the coats and hats and gloves we have been cloaked with, to emerge into life once again like the buds that are beginning to push out of the seemingly lifeless branches all around. As people appreciate Spring, they often lament the necessity of winter, why we have to go through it at all. I laughed at one neighbor as she hopefully described her perfect weather place, a consistently warm place, not too hot, not too cold, all the time.

"The next time you come up with the universe," I said, "you can create that..." It is nearly true of some places, like California, but, really, being from Arizona, I appreciate the change of seasons here, even the dark bleakness of winter with all that brings, including the true appreciation of the fresh zing of Spring.

On another day recently, I told another neighbor with whom the subject of weather came up just that. "We have to have Winter to appreciate Spring," I said. I got him to begrudgingly agree, which always buoys me to go even further. "Change is life," I said, and, as I said it, a homework assignment of Oscar's rang in my head. It had described over a couple of pages the attributes of living things versus non-living things, something that, beyond first grade, we seem to take for granted. Then, he was asked to answer a number of questions, central among them what are some of the differences between living and non-living things. The number one difference, of course, is change: one changes and one does not.

We are often loathe to change unless we have to, though, even still. It is why I live in a city dynamic enough to demand change often, in a place whose weather and ways requires that I transition more often than I might. Oscar would not have changed the course of Trouble when he was on a winning streak, but losing, as he eventually did, to his father, made him stronger. He will recognize now that things change and that he has to make his peace with it, like we all do, with weather, with the vagaries of daily life, with eventual death that brings with it, sadly, or so we think, the end of the change.

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