Games of Life

It’s 8 AM on Sunday. Normally, if I had naturally woken up at this hour, I would be attempting to go to Meeting for Worship at one of the Quaker meetings in town. Instead, I am taking advantage of this early hour and am going to finish this blog that should have been done on Friday. I apologize; I am a creature of habit, and very much wanted to post my blog on Friday, as I always do. However, I was in a frenzy of sleep deprivation and the need for one last night of practice before my bellydance performance at a Saturday market the next day. It turned out beautifully, in case you’re wondering. I haven’t performed solo in about three years, so this was a lovely welcome back into the performance world. When people who aren’t my friends or family approach me and tell me they loved my dance, I consider that a huge success. Not that I don’t appreciate the cheers of my loved ones; it’s just a nice addition when I get accolades from a stranger. Dancing for a crowd feels good! I love the call and answer of the dance. It’s like a fun game when I shimmy and get the crowd’s response in return. That kind of energy is really great!

I could write about it for hours, but I must get to the point of today’s post…

Every week an NPR podcast called Pop Culture Happy Hour (PCHH) is downloaded to my iTunes. It’s an uproarious mish-mash of pop culture and hysterical personalities. To be honest, I can’t relate to half the stuff they talk about. I’m not a Harry Potter fan, I don’t know anything about video games, and I didn’t follow the royal wedding. Nevertheless, one of my favorite things about Monday morning is knowing a new PCHH podcast will be in my queue when I turn on my computer. Any topic can be entertaining when the hosts make it so, and that is why I listen, even when I don’t know why they are giggling so hard.

This week’s PCHH was about games. The hosts spoke of the unbearable heat in D.C., which is where they are broadcasting. Games and movies are just about the only activity they can muster at this point. Growing up in the Midwest, I could relate with the heat, and games were definitely the summer evening activity in my family. One of my favorite memories involves playing Spoons around my Uncle Glenn’s dinner table in Pennsylvania. My family would pack the car and drive to Pennsylvania from Ohio every summer of my childhood. Most of my dad’s family lived in a concentrated area, so I got to see a lot of my paternal cousins while I was there. The most amazing part is that, even after my parents divorced, my paternal uncle still welcomed my mother, sister, and I into his home every summer. Obviously we would always be his nieces, but I thought it was really special that he didn’t think twice about continuing the tradition with my mother after the marital ties with my mother and father had been broken.

I started thinking about how games we play represent the stages of life and our development into adulthood. First we play Chutes and Ladders. My sister and I played this game for hours when we were little. It’s a simple game of chance where you move a few steps and are either thrust down a chute, or are able to climb to higher ground on a ladder. For me this game highlights what little control we have over anything at that stage in our lives. When you’re eight years old you can pretty much only go with the flow. You may not like going down the chute; you may love it. Eventually you’ll move on to a place in life where you are entitled to make your own decisions and be responsible for your actions, but right now it’s not up to you. So hold on for the ride! Or rather, slide!

The next two games I thought of were Spin the Bottle and Twister. Our fragile knowledge of sexuality and carnal relationships were just starting to bloom at the dawn of adolescence. These two games in particular helped develop my sexual curiosity. Spin the Bottle was the more obvious ploy to learn about boys. There were so many times my sister and I had “movie nights” in our basement while our mother was upstairs, unknowing. Now that I am older, I think she probably knew exactly what was going on, but trusted us enough to know it wouldn’t get too crazy. I can still remember my first Spin the Bottle kiss, and after, my first real kiss.

Twister was a great way to learn about bodies. When you play, you are not necessarily seeing the whole of a person. You glimpse an ankle, an elbow, sometimes a breast peeking out of a shirt. Twister made me feel like a variety of body parts, not like one whole person. At that age this was perfectly acceptable; I didn’t really like my body. I was overweight, self-conscious, and generally terrified of boys. But playing Twister was different. Maybe they would catch a glance of my left foot (My left was totally skinnier than my right.), or see that my neck was long and slender when stretched out over Blake’s kneecap. Maybe Gary would like me more if he saw me that way. Maybe we would get in a compromising position over a game of Twister and he would see the real me: smart, quietly beautiful, and willing to write romantic poetry about his glorious left upper thigh. You can see how games were not just games at this stage.

As I got older, I learned more intellectually-stimulating games like Poker and Canasta. The draw of these games was not only to stir my competitive side, but also to point my cognitive skills in a different direction once in a while. As we approach adulthood, we need constant reassurance that we are not acting like children. We want to be older, cooler. We want to make sure that everyone knows we are independent and self-sufficient. Cruising Maple Avenue and finding someone to buy me alcohol may have been fun, but it didn’t give me any aspirations, and it certainly didn’t help me build a life strategy. Kicking my dad’s butt in Poker, however, made me feel smart, powerful, and at the same time bonded me to him in a different way than before. It was the start of a new type of relationship with my father.

Growing older and forming strong relationships with family and friends has been one of the best parts of becoming an adult. Playing games with them gives me a type of knowledge that I am in the stage of life where my choices are my own. I am choosing to spend quality time with these people. I don’t have to be there; I could be anywhere, but my plan at this point in my life is to spend time with people whom I love, and value this time with them. I’d say that’s a great strategy.

Look for the parallels next time you play a game. Games are all about the similarities between real life and fantasy. Strike up a conversation about it with your opponents. Maybe it will distract them long enough so you can slip the ace out of your sleeve.

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