It’s raining again. I’d woken up hoping for a pool day with my six-year-old daughter. I’d wanted to recline on a chaise lounge in the sun while pretending to “Watch this, Mommy!” behind my sunglasses. Here we are instead, playing what seems to be an endless game of Candy Land where I’m impossibly stuck in the Cherry Pitfall, drawing every color except blue — the one I need to get out, of course.
Today I can’t stand Candy Land. I’m in a bad mood, and truth be told, I kind of hate most kids’ board games and I haven’t won one since somewhere around the winter of 1983. Obviously I’m not playing for a victory here, unless we’re talking about a victory over the tedium of a rainy afternoon. Come to think of it, maybe I’m not winning that either.
Call me the worst mom in the world. I know that I’m supposed to love getting down on the floor and playing with my child like this, and I do love playing with her if we’re hiking, exploring, going to the beach, or any outdoor activity. I like cooking with her too, so I feel like I should be given a free pass when it comes to Candy Land, sort of like a “Get Out of Jail Free” card (wait, that’s Monopoly). The problem with my daughter’s favorite game is that I find it a little depressing sometimes. I’ve yet to play it without succumbing to an existential crisis.
I have a hundred things to do and no energy or will to complete them all. Last week, right after an awesome vacation, I broke a molar. One unexpected root canal with no dental insurance later, I find out I still may lose the tooth. It was the real-life equivalent of drawing the ice cream card first, thinking you’re totally winning at life, only to pull a miserable candy cane card a couple turns later, sending you straight back to the beginning of the board. All that progress for nothing. It can wear a person down if you let it.
My daughter lands on purple and scores herself a shortcut through the Gumdrop Mountains. Lucky kid. Finally, after at least 35 cards, I draw that blue and I’m on my way again towards Home Sweet Home, inching along, green square to red to yellow. There’s a part of me that likes the ease of this part of the game. There are no surprises here. It reminds me of our daily routine during the school year. I wake up at six, exercise, make breakfast, pack lunch, drive my daughter to school, go to work, pick her up, come home, cook dinner, and on and on. It’s fair and predictable, moving forward one day, or a purple brick on a winding road, at a time.
I haven’t even reached the Crooked Old Peanut Brittle House when I turn over the lollypop card and I’m almost there, so close I can practically taste the gingerbread. My optimism is restored.
“See, Mommy. Things always get better!”
My daughter gets it, probably better than I do: Candy Land is a metaphor for life.
Some of us get the good cards early on. I know I’ve envied friends who always seemed to be “winning,” but I’ve seen them get stuck in the Molasses Swamp plenty of times too. It happens to all of us, and every once in a while, it’s our turn to draw a double yellow, or to land on the rainbow trail and skip a quarter of the game board ahead of everyone else.
Just as easily, we can be on top of the world, our goal easily in sight, and find ourselves sent back to the Candy Hearts, losing everything we’ve worked for all at once. When that happens, our only choice is to be a good sport, to continue playing, and to keep on drawing the next card, accepting what we get and moving on. Sometimes our lot in life is as arbitrary as a deck of cards shuffled by a kindergartner, and we can’t control many of the random situations we end up in — like being stuck at home on a rainy day when we’d rather be tanning poolside.
The only thing we can control is our attitude. Do I want to focus on the pitfalls? I ask myself. No. I’d rather be the little blue gingerbread girl who doesn’t give up, who knows that life is fun because she’s still playing, and knows her time will come. It’s in the cards, after all. I just have to wait them out.
I don’t win the game, not literally anyway. I get trapped on another black dot while my daughter sails past me and finally clinches it with a double blue. She gloats, I tickle her in mock revenge, and she begs me to play again. “Just one more time, Mommy.” I smile, warm up my tea in the microwave, and sit back down with her on the living room floor. Before we begin, I check my email on my phone and find, to my delight, that the manager of the job I applied for is requesting an interview! My first card is a yellow and I scoot forward only one space. I am one square closer to making it.