The holiday season is that wonderful time of the year when you get to spend more time with your family. Family time means all sorts of things from quiet moments to laughing fits. But as happens in most families, this family time rarely crescendos in scenes that someone would find in an Ozzie and Harriet TV show from the 50s, more like a vignette from the Simpsons.
Our youngest boy is now in second grade. Given his prowess at manipulating simple numbers, we figured a game of Monopoly was in order, so a day before Thanksgiving, while we were still visiting the in-laws, we christened a new game.
Our youngest was the most excited about the prospect. He tore the plastic off of the game, and started setting it up in his own way, since he really had no idea what he was doing. He was also too impatient to read the game’s directions, for which he had the reading skills, but he was hampered by the manic energy of a seven year old who wanted nothing more than to be the car in the game.
I sat this game out because – and here’s the sad note – because I was doing some work for one of my clients.
As most games of Monopoly start out, everyone was having fun. I was soon to become a vocal peanut gallery, finishing my client’s work only ten minutes into the game. This allowed me to watch an interesting, and inadvertent duel form between our youngest, and his grandmother.
Our oldest walked out of the game after an unfortunate twist of fate. My wife was was out soon thereafter, and finally my father in-law, all because my mother in-law had captured the crown jewel of the game: Boardwalk and Park Place.
The game came down to our youngest who was excelling because of an early acquisition of a lot of property, and my mother in-law with her two plum properties, upon both on which she now had hotels.
As fate would continue to place its hand on the game, our youngest landed on Park Place. Next stop: bankruptcy. Reaction from our youngest: unbridled wailing.
We were all shocked. He went absolutely ballistic and was utterly inconsolable.
My mother in-law felt terrible; it wasn’t as if she was trying to bankrupt him. She wanted to go in and apologize, but both my wife and I saw this as a wonderful teaching moment. It was time for our youngest to know that how he reacted was not acceptable.
The first thing we needed to do was to get this hysterical boy to stop crying. He had worked himself into such a froth that he was having a hard time stopping himself. Maybe our approach wasn’t helping either because we were being gentle, using those little “hey buddy” comments some parents of young boys use when they know their son’s feelings have been hurt. After a short bit, however, we saw the approach was getting us nowhere, and we were getting impatient as well; neither my wife nor I thought he needed to be rewarded for his behavior.
And so it began.
“You don’t act like this when you lose at soccer.”
“This is not the mark of a good sport.”
“You seemed to think it was OK to laugh and have fun when you bankrupted your mother.”
On that last one, it was hard to hold back my own chuckle.
I mentioned earlier how we were all surprised by how our youngest reacted, and we were. So we were not surprised when it did not take him long to regain composure after we took this new approach.
Eventually he was rational enough to listen and understand how he needed to not only apologize to his grandmother for how he acted, but to also congratulate her on playing a good game. After all, a good sport recognizes the triumphs of his competition.
Later that night as my wife and I lay in bed, we wondered what it was that set off our son, that sent him into his uncharacteristic tailspin: something we hadn’t seen in at least three years. We had been away from home for five days at this stage, and our youngest son is a total home body. Without over-thinking the episode, we came to the conclusion that he’d been away from familiar surroundings for too long.