Image credit Peggy Dembicer

“Mama always said life is like a box of chocolates,” said Forrest Gump in the 1994 film. Yeah, well I think it’s more like a game of Candy Land.

We’ve been averaging about three games a day in our house ever since the kids got the board game for Christmas. And every game the rules change depending on who has the deck of cards.

“I go first, and I get the ice-cream card,” Katherine informs me. “Then you go, and you get the gingerbread card, okay?” She tucks the gingerbread card in back of the ice-cream card in the big pile on my bedroom floor.

“That’s not how the game works,” I explain. “You have to shuffle the cards so that you don’t know what you’re getting … That’s part of the fun.”

“But what if I get all the way to Snow Flake Lake and then I pick the gingerbread man and have to go back all those spaces?” My 5-year-old is clearly petrified, as she should be, because that is certainly a possibility.

She thinks a moment and then asks me, “Well if I pick the gingerbread, will you go back with me, so that I’m not alone?” She flashes the droopy, puppy-dog eyes that she saves for such occasions and I am incapable of forming the consonant “n.”

“Sure,” I say, giving into very codependent and enabling behavior.

Eric shakes his head.

“Absolutely not,” he says.

“Look, we play by the rules or we don’t play at all … ”

That directive is followed by thoughts of what beliefs and values comprise our parenting philosophy:

“Do we really want our kids believing that life is like that … one gumdrop and ice-cream card after another if that’s what you order? What happens when she loses her job because the housing market is in the toilet and so therefore has to start scrubbing down her own toilets and eating grilled cheese for dinner?”

He’s got a point.

“All right, then we will only play with these cards,” Katherine says, as she hides all the pink cards (the gingerbread, candy cane, gumdrop, peanut, lollipop, and of course the ice-cream card … the guys with all the power).

“Bring those cards back here,” I tell her.

“They are bad cards,” she explains. “All of them are bad except for the ice-cream.”

Bad? I don’t know about that. Uncertain? Yes. And uncertain can feel bad, especially right now, in this economic crisis when you feel like you were three squares away from Candy Castle (or retirement) only to be sent back to the bloody gingerbread man.

You can be winning the game by twenty squares and then lose a turn because you landed on a licorice space; you may get an unexpected break by landing on the rainbow trail or gumdrop pass, but then your competitor picks the peanut card and gets to hang out in peanut acre while you’re stuck in lollipop woods. It all seems so random, and, on certain days, so unfair.

But maybe that’s the point. To try to enjoy the surprise and try to adjust, ever so gracefully, to the hand of cards we pick.

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