Playing the Game of Life

As published in The Rye Record on December 6, 2012
The Game of Life and the master of that game.

The great thing about Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders is that they can be played in less than 15 minutes and take very little mental effort. Even so, when my husband comes home from work, I can still add “played a board game with the kids” to my list of heroic accomplishments. I could be on the phone (or even writing this article) and breeze through one of those games, no problem. Unfortunately, my 5 year old has developed an unhealthy interest in The Game of Life, the only game I own that is possibly more complicated than life itself.

At first I try to convince him that the little cars that lead us down life’s path are there to be zoomed, and that whoever gets to the end first wins. But he isn’t having it. So I figure if we were going to have to play, we’ll do it right. I’ll teach him a few Life lessons and get the dialogue going about the world around us. You know, actual parenting, like on TV. We are just finishing up the ten minutes it takes to set the game up when I remember that he doesn’t know how to read. I resign to read the events of his life to him as they unfold.

The game starts at age 18, and I am pleased to see that he chooses to go to college. Having made such a wise choice, he is faced with many career options after graduation. I encourage him to choose the accounting job because it comes with the possibility of the highest salary card. To my horror, he chooses to be a singer because, he claims, that’s what he likes to do. Why would he spend his life doing something he doesn’t like just for the money? Sigh. He’s got a lot to learn.

Meandering through Life, we each stop to get married. He thinks carefully before choosing a pink peg for his spouse rather than a blue one. He buys a house, which he chooses for its color. Later, I have to inform him that his house was robbed and that he should have bought the insurance as I told him to. I didn’t know I’d get robbed. Ah, an actual Life lesson! He rejoices every time he lands on a square that gives him another baby. He fills up his car with the allotted four children and then hoards the extras, laying them at the feet of his other kids in the back seat. (I have another son who likes to collect the child pegs too, but leaves them on the side of the board with his money, claiming, “I don’t want those kids riding in my car.” I like to refer to him as The Smart One.)

Life gets more complicated as you move along. He wants to know what a Pulitzer Prize is and if it comes with candy. He wants to know who has the Solution to Pollution and why anyone would want to swim across the English Channel. I can only answer one of those. At some point I find myself explaining what a stock is, then what a dividend is, and what taxes are for. And how dividends are taxed at a lower rate than ordinary income and why Warren Buffet doesn’t really like that.

As Life winds down, we are laden with cash and real estate and lucky heirs, and we race toward retirement. Now retirement is a tricky thing, if you can afford it you get to go to Millionaire Estates and if you can’t you’re relegated to Countryside Acres. Before you enter either, you sell your house, the price of which is determined by a random spin of the wheel. That actually sounds about right.

Life ends, and I realize I’ve just spent a full hour explaining to a 5 year old how life works. I wait for the applause and maybe a little confetti as we each count up our money to determine who wins. And because I chose the rejected accounting job with the coveted yellow salary card, I have the most money. I tell him with great humility that I have won and he has lost. He shakes his head and tells me, “I have the most family. I win.” I may need to rethink a few things.