I slept in, blowing my 4AM writing time out of the water. 4AM’s the time when the peace of the universe and a fine cup of coffee combine to create a force field from intrusion. I’m sad–even when I sleep in I could still make work in plenty time if it weren’t a weekend.

I look at the clock. The boy went to bed late. I calculate. I’ll get in an hour of drinking and writing before he’s up. I should be okay.

I hear a rustle. I look up. Terror strikes my heart. He’s in the doorway.

“Mom, do you want to play a board game?” He upgraded the “Mom’s relaxing” app on his imaginary iPhone. He carries it in his pocket just like his mom, and takes it out to communicate with his imaginary friends. The Mom app helps him destroy my yoga, meditation, or phone calls. This version ruins morning writing as well.

“A board game! Mom! Chutes and Ladders!” I see the little silhouette jumping up and down until it bounces two feet from my face. I close the computer. I say yes. He’s been asking since last night and I do not play board games once my evening tea is by my side.  I measure my “do not disturb” moments in hot beverages. Evening, tea. Morning, coffee–a system that’s worked, until now.

“But it’s chess Mom!” he’d said last night. “Strategy! It’s good for me. You don’t want me to be smart!” Guilt cannot trump tea. I sent him to bed, unsuccessfully.

We set up Chutes and Ladders. It’s the Sesame Street version. He never lets me be Ernie. I love Ernie. He makes me be Elmo because I hate Elmo. He’s an evil seven-year old control freak in training. Today, he has a proposition. Gambling–it’s the one-sixteenth Irish in him, or maybe the one-sixteenth Native American, though Mic Macs don’t have a casino, just an honorary place in Stephen King books.

“If you win, you can be Ernie.” Now, I really want to win. Give people an incentive and they’ll come through. We play. Up the ladders, down the slides. Sometimes going down a slide puts me in a position for second try at a really big ladder. I’m sliding down to go up in life.

This game’s got some deep philosophy, I think. And math. I show Declan how I spin the spinner and add the number to the one on my square to jump to the next space. He starts adding instead of counting one by one.

I leave math behind and recall some personal slides in life–my setbacks, how they’ve put me in a place to climb some impressive ladders. For real. I smile. I like this game. I win. I destroy the boy and put Ernie on the board.

We play again. “Mom, if I get a three, I can win! I got a lot of threes today,” he says. “I hope there’s one left. Please, please, please!” Every time he spins a number I want, he claps. He thinks he’s stolen my number. I tell him there’s an equal chance I’ll spin that number again, but getting tons in a row isn’t likely.

I realize he’s calculating probability. My little boy’s trying to reach proficiency in the Common Cores! I’m so proud. I turn this into a lesson on the spot, because I’m a teacher and teachers are jerks. We can’t simply have fun. We’re always teaching about something.

“Hey, what are the chances of you winning right now?” I ask.

“I’m going to get a three.”

“There are six numbers. You have one chance out of six to win. I hope you win!” I really don’t hope he wins, but he’s seven and he’ll cry so I don’t tell him he has five chances to lose. He spins a three and does a way-too-loud-for-this-early touchdown dance.

“Do you like Monopoly, Mom?” I tell him I love it. My brother, sister, and I used to play. I was the banker and I cheated. One of them must have retaliated by snatching the game when my parents moved to Florida. I’ll buy it again.

Today’s Monopoly isn’t like the Monopoly of old. There’s one with a credit card machine. I wonder if there’s an app for online banking, too, so the banker can’t cheat. If the banker can’t cheat, it won’t be very realistic.

Monopoly’s the opposite of Chutes and Ladders. In Chutes we help each other get to the top. In Monopoly, we crush the opposition mercilessly, sending them to jail whenever possible. Then we go about making our personal fortunes. There’s no card for “You’re a social entrepreneur, have some good karma.” It’s all about letting the other guy die a slow, painful financial death. Chutes and Ladders inspires me but Monopoly’s real. I promise Declan I’ll get it.

We put Chutes and Ladders away. The boy goes to play Minecraft, which he assures me is about learning and strategy, and I refresh my coffee and set about writing. I promise myself we’ll do more board games and fewer screens. Screens separate us. Board games are fun and bring us together.  I like to see Declan smile and respond to the wins and losses. I throw a game once in a while, but sometimes he gets close to beating me for real.

Maybe he’s not ready to dig deep into the philosophy of ladders and slides but he gets so excited to win. Then he says, “Mommy, I love you. I’m glad you always play with me.” I’m glad that’s the memory he’ll have of me when I’m gone.

Someday, he’ll learn the lessons, but right now, he feels the love. For that, I’ll put my “do not disturb” sign away, for a few years, at least.

All the karma I didn’t get in monopoly is coming to me now in the face of a seven-year old’s smile.


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