Board Games Feel Like Existential Punishment

Nothing strikes fear in my parental heart more than hearing one of my daughters say, “Mama, can we play Candy Land?”

Even when I was a child myself, I never enjoyed board games, because I have two personality traits that make them excruciating: I’m easily bored and incredibly competitive. I recall sabotaging games of Monopoly when I was in elementary school, just because waiting for hours for somebody, anybody, to win felt like an existential punishment.

Alternatively, I attempted to perpetrate many Monopoly bank heists because I couldn’t bear losing. This streak of competitiveness paid off in my teens in field hockey, where the physical activity entertained me and the competitiveness meant no suburban girl was safe from my elbows.

There was a blissful period that started then, in high school, and lasted until my 30s, when board games didn’t come up very often. There were other kinds of games for me to destroy — once in college, a similarly competitive friend reamed me out for not taking duck-pin bowling seriously enough — but mostly I spent leisure time at house parties and bars where games were in short supply.

Then I had children, and board games returned to my life with a vengeance. I can keep it together through one game of Candy Land before I try to steer my girls to literally any other activity. I can put tiny Perler beads on peg boards in elaborate designs all day, but I would rather stab my eye out with a fork than get lost in Lollipop Woods for the thousandth time. During the quarantine, I almost snapped when my 7-year-old daughter tried to teach me how to play a collaborative game called Hoot Owl Hoot, but I managed to struggle through one round.

I’m lucky, though, to be married to a man with the patience for board games, and I can at least appreciate the joy they bring my children when I’m not forced to play. My 7-year-old learned how to play chess right before the coronavirus hit, and she and my husband have played many games to pass these hours at home.

Even more heartwarming: My father found an online chess program that he and my daughter can play virtually. We set up phones so they can FaceTime each other while they play on another screen, so even though she doesn’t get to see her grandpa in person, they can bond while he teaches her strategic moves and the nuance of each chess piece. I can watch from afar as my daughter soaks in the knowledge and love, listening to the sound of my father’s gentle voice beaming through a device.

It’s bliss, as long as nobody asks me to join in.

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