the Right Moves
wasn’t a board game kind of kid. I was a let’s-pretend kind
of kid, seriously committed to the ongoing soap opera of my
Barbies and Skippers and Kens. I just never liked the abstract
aspect of board games—spelling a word with seven wooden tiles
or buying silly plastic houses to put on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Chess pieces were only interesting when you made them into
a family—the king and queen the parents, obviously. The rooks
and bishops, aunts and uncles and the pawns were the kids—the
way they are in so many custody battles. The knights, of course,
were the appaloosa ponies dad kept out in the paddock behind
I didn’t like board games any better even after I outgrew
I was forced into playing Risk shortly after meeting my first
husband’s parents. I had to be polite, right? But it was a
tortuously long game. Worse than that, I ended up ruling the
world—which I was sure gave the wrong impression about what
kind of girl I really was.
Then, once I had kids and my kids grew old enough to play
board games, I saw them in a new way. Their childhoods were
marked by progressions from the boring games—Candyland, Chutes
and Ladders—to ones requiring skill or luck. And unlike the
abstraction I’d felt as a kid playing board games, in playing
with my daughters I participated in their progression through
childhood as they outgrew one game for another. I never quite
realized they might outgrow the pleasure of this time spent
with one another.
Linnea was too little to understand the concept of Masterpiece
the year I gave it to her. She loved art, so she simply ended
up bidding as high as she needed to in order to buy the paintings
she liked. It seemed a shame to tell her that the point of
the game was to make a lot of money, not appreciate the art.
Middle school—that three-year trial through which we all must
pass—were the backgammon years for Madeleine. I don’t remember
teaching her how to play. But I do remember playing games
with her when she came home from middle school. We actually
had a backgammon song we would sing while swaying our backgammon
cups back and forth as if we were in a beer garden in Bavaria.
Linnea was too young for backgammon, but she could figure
out dominoes. So we started a tradition of dominoes tournaments
that we’d play over the course of days—nobody can play 15
rounds in one sitting.
When they were both old enough for Clue, I realized I’d have
to cede Miss Scarlett to Madeleine, who fancied herself—rightfully—a
femme fatale. I became Professor Plum. Linnea liked the little
red glass bead from a mancala game that was our stand-in for
Mrs. White. She still calls it the Red Blob.
But sometime during Madeleine’s high school years I started
to feel as though I was living out “Puff, the Magic Dragon.”
She just seemed to have better things to do than play games
with her mother and sister. As more time passed, Linnea had
to plead with her to get her to consent to a round of dominoes.
Then, when Madeleine moved out and before I remarried, it
was just Linnea and me at home. Clue isn’t a two-person game.
So we began to play chess.
But I don’t have a chess-player’s brain. I would spend ten
minutes agonizing over what to do with my rook while Linnea
painted her toenails or texted a friend. Then in her next
move she’d checkmate me, cool as a cucumber. It was pretty
clear she needed a worthier opponent than me.
Now a senior in high school, Linnea sometimes deigns to play
Scrabble with me—a game I still don’t much like. But we do
our own version of it, using proper nouns and foreign words
and nine tiles instead of seven.
I know that in a few months Linnea will be off at college
and the long chapter of laughing over board games with my
daughters will be, effectively, ended. Even now, those times
are still rare.
But recently my husband unearthed a vintage copy of Clue,
one with real rope and a black-and-white board and no Red
Blob for Mrs. White.
Normally, we don’t play games during dinner. Normally, we
watch television, something that I’ve finally figured out
doesn’t mean we’re a dysfunctional family. But there was something
undeniably more appealing about playing Clue together than
watching reruns of House. Or worse, Friends.
So as Mrs. White, Mrs. Peacock and Miss Scarlett, we migrated
from room to room and weapon to weapon, trying not to drip
vinaigrette or chicken curry on the game board.
I’m hoping we can miss a few more episodes of Friends
before Linnea leaves for college. I’m hoping we can sit around
the table together a few more times, laughing, strategizing,
snooping around the mansion hoping to figure out the who,
how and where of things. Like we did the other night: It was
Mrs. Peacock, with the rope, in the library.