In case you’re thinking about board games to keep your extended family engaged, this holiday season, let me share what can go wrong.
From morning routines to family customs, our lives are filled with rituals. I figured there was no time like the holidays to incorporate a new one into my repertoire. But trouble arrived when one of my four children suggested we add a Monopoly game to our holiday boredom prevention program.
My oldest son Ron and his wife Julie had driven into town to stay with us for a few days. Their visits, which typically last just about long enough to digest a meal, are always welcomed. However, this time they’d brought along with them the dog they endearingly called my “grandpuppy,” a wiry-haired, hyperactive mixed breed with a vision problem. To this dog, everything must look like a tennis ball—because nothing is deemed unworthy of a good chase. So as you might imagine, our two cats were nonplussed about this houseguest.
After a food orgy that began at noon and continued well past the point of intestinal discomfort, I commenced pitching camp in front of the television. (I mean, let’s face it; there’s only so much eating you can do before every bathroom in the house is clogged.) It was time to yell, “Back away from the table, and put down your fork.”
But just as I lifted the TV remote controller, Ron blurted, “Don’t turn on the TV! Let’s all do something together. You know, like family bonding.”
First he says he’s staying for two days, and now he says, “Don’t turn on the television”? This can’t be my child.
“I know,” Ryan, my twelve-year-old, said. “Let’s play MONOPOLY!”
Ron’s face brightened. “Yeah. It’ll be our new family tradition,” he chimed.
Right then, I was glad I hadn’t followed through on selling that game in my last garage sale.
As we gathered around the family dining table with Parker Brothers, the dog and one cat joined us. Each gave the other a suspicious eye, though thus far they’d been fairly tolerant.
About twenty minutes into the game, Ron said, “Hey, Mom, I’ll give you these two blue ones for that railroad you’re holding.”
I didn’t really need what he’d offered me, but I said, “Sure,” anyway.
His eyes lit up as he snatched away my railroad card. “Suck-Er-Er-er-er!”
Okay. This is my child.
I’d forgotten how long a game of Monopoly can last.
Ryan was the first to go bankrupt, so he moved into position to help me. Already, I’d given Ron his third of four railroads. What blunders were left?
If any family bonding was taking place, I hadn’t yet observed it. More like it was every man, woman, child, and dog for himself.
My arms vibrated from all the table shaking that Ron’s leg bouncing produced. His childhood tics had reemerged, the ones that had caused him to be sent home from school with report cards that said, “Refuses to sit still in class.” That was back in the days before Ritalin.
Next, it was my husband’s turn. He drew a Chance Card that condemned him to pay the last of his money to the remaining three players. “No-o-o!” he shouted, slamming his fist down onto the table.
The dog yelped. Then the cat, thinking she might be in jeopardy, attacked with a hiss and a few punches to the muzzle. Ryan fell out of his chair, laughing, and hurt his knee.
Julie, who was by now almost out of money, maintained a glum expression. So Ron looked lovingly into his wife’s eyes and asked, “Would you like me to give you five hundred dollars for that railroad, Hon—just to keep you in the game?”
She gazed back at him and smiled. “Would ya?”
“Of course. What are husbands for?” he gushed. Then he whisked the card from her hand and hollered, “All R-R-I-I-I-IGHT!”
No one was surprised when eventually Ron won the game, and he was the only one who went to bed happy that night. My husband felt his position as “head-of-household” had been usurped. Julie had been deceived by her own spouse. The other children had been once again outdone by their older brother. And thanks to this entire ruckus, the dog and cat now had more trust issues than ever before.
That evening, I fell asleep and dreamed about traipsing cross-county to view exterior illumination like most normal families do.
This year, we’ll need to establish a new holiday ritual—because the most I got out of that Monopoly game was the two bucks it brought during last summer’s garage sale.
Excerpted from the book, Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road, by Diana Estill.