“Let’s Play a Game!”

At our house, the phrase is fraught with angst-producing possibilities.  But I say it anyway.  I guess I’m a glutton for punishment; we play games quite a lot.

When I was growing up, my brothers and I played checkers, chess, rummy, monopoly, scrabble and many others.  I can’t tell you the number of times our father killed us at checkers and rummy.  (These days, I die on purpose when playing the former with my son, Simon, just to get it over with.)  Dad was one of “those” parents, who didn’t believe in letting his children win.  And we didn’t, until we finally DID.  Dang, it felt GOOD whipping the old man’s butt for a change.  Now at least half of us are ruthless, die-hard game players who make others cry.  Thanks, Dad.

First of all, you should know that I waited YEARS to play ANY  games with my own family.  I married a man who HATES games.  When we were first married, he taught me to play Cribbage, then promptly REFUSED to play anymore.  He recently learned how to read books in another person’s presence, but before that, all he wanted to do was talk.  And he wanted to talk about all of our family, personal and relational issues.

In my family of origin, we talked enough when we played GAMES.  We might yell or tease or gloat a little, but it was all in a spirit of togetherness.  We didn’t have to figuratively bore holes into each other’s psyches to connect; we just won or lost a marathon game of Monopoly, and laughed or cried and went on with our lives.

When Ryan and I first met, he nearly KILLED me with all the issues we had to talk about.  I couldn’t hide my grumpy mood behind a brutal game of Chinese Checkers, because we NEVER played Chinese Checkers.

The other thing about my husband is that every time he DOES play a game, he WINS!  He doesn’t even try, pay attention, or act like he cares.  He thinks games are a waste of time, and much prefers to “play” outside in Nature.

That’s OK, because now I have three people with whom I can play games:  my kids.  When they were little, we played mind-numbing games like War and Go-Fish.  I develop hives when I see Chutes and Ladders, or HEAVEN HELP US, Candy Land!

Grace is like her father.  She isn’t highly competitive, so she doesn’t freak out about winning or losing.  But she is a warm body when you just want to play a game with someone.  My complaint about Grace is she doesn’t stay engaged with the flow of the game, because after every turn, she picks up her phone and completely forgets we are “bonding” over the Skip-Bo piles, and then I have to keep saying, “It’s your turn,”  until she looks up at me and asks “Is it my turn?”

Her brother, Amsden, took longer to graduate from younger kid games, due to his developmental delays.  He likes UNO a lot, but I can hardly stand to play it anymore, so I introduced Skip-Bo, Pass the Pigs, Monopoly and Yahtzee.

He gets confused with the rules and details of the games, and frustrated when adding his scores in Yahtzee.  I have a calculator in the box for him, but he still needs help.  The end of each game is the same:  “It’s going to be a big problem!  I don’t know what to do.”  And I walk him through the column of numbers as he enters them into the calculator.

Amsden has a healthy competitive spirit.  He beats me often, and I don’t go that easy on him, because I take after my father.  He enjoys winning, but doesn’t usually roll on the floor if he loses.  It’s Simon who makes game playing a psychotic episode.

I don’t TRY to make him lose his marbles over games.  We don’t even play marbles nowadays, although I had a nice collection when I was seven.  Simon is just a LITTLE sensitive about losing.

When he was younger, most games were never finished.  Either he threw the board and all the pieces on the floor in a fit, or the rest of the players conceded the game and evacuated the room to escape Sir Crazy Butt.

Years ago, in an attempt to mitigate the agony of losing, I made a rule that the winner of any game had to pick it up.  I always felt that having to pick up after LOSING was adding insult to injury.  Besides, if a kid lost, he could maintain his dignity and leave the room immediately.  Brilliant, right?

So when Si was “done”  playing, whether or not the rest of us were, or he had lost, he would clean up like a maniac, convincing himself he had won.

Because he is a child on the Autism spectrum, Simon’s goal has never been to “spend time” with his family while playing games.  He plays because his mother makes him disengage from whatever screen he is currently ogling.

He also plays to WIN.  (He must take after Papa.)  And if he thinks you MIGHT (possibly, on a slight chance) win, he is going to cuss, cry and quit.  Not just toward the end of the contest, mind you.  From the very start.

One recent explosion of tears and f-bombs occurred on our front lawn during a game of Croquet.  As you may already know, Croquet is a very CIVILIZED game that people wearing plaid shorts and polo shirts (that are both ironed) and canvas shoes with no socks play.  These people speak with a slight British accent, and gently “josh”  each other as they play (all in good fun, of course, there are MALLETS involved).

So, Amsden asks me to play a game, and Simon wants to play, too.  Boys find it hard to resist anything with a ball and a stick, in my experience.  After everyone has taken his first turn, it starts.

“OOH, I just know I’m going to lose.”‘

We all take our next turn.  “I’m never going to catch up, they are just too good!”

He misses the next wicket.  “I can’t BELIEVE how horrible I am!” He throws the mallet in the air, missing all sensitive targets, and flops to the ground.

I encourage him to take his next turns, and BY THE MERCY OF THE GODS he pulls ahead of us.  “Now they are going to catch up to me, I’m NEVER going to win,” he wails.  (His ball is two wickets ahead of the next person.)

By the way, this is the family-friendly version; his tirade was NOT.  The whole neighborhood has been alerted to the fact that the Hayes’s are desecrating the PERFECTLY RESPECTABLE game of Croquet by their haphazard placement of wickets, disregard for official rules, and the child who appears to be having a Grand Mal seizure on the front lawn for all the world to witness.

I encourage Simon to pull himself together and pick up the game, because LOOK, you crazy, psycho, monster child:  YOU WON.



Joy Hayes

About Joy Hayes

I am a married full-time mother of three children, 12-18 years old. Each of my kids has a learning/developmental disability or autism. I have a "side-ways" sense of humor, which comes from a lifetime of caring for special people. I love to learn and live to read and write, therefore I am the best student I have had the pleasure to work with.