The Games We Play

Posting this memory of just a few weeks ago… it’s still vivid as we fall into Autumn… wishing back Summer days…

These are the last days of summer. We plant ourselves deep in the wildness of Tofino, B.C.. Our family doesn’t camp, so ‘wildness’ pertains to the nature around us, not our accommodations. We splurge, choose a private cottage at a quintessential west-coast lodge, twist our way up and over Highway 4 from Port Albernie to the Pacific Rim. It takes forever. We all feel carsick. But it’s worth it for the experience of moss dripped ancient cedars, sharp mountains shrouded in fog tops, the first glimpse of Long Beach and surfers carving over a cold sea. It’s worth it just to be here together. Who knows how many more family holidays we will have. Our three kids are teenagers now.

This Summer has been about intense jobs and camps and independent travel … hence, a lot of time apart. We reconnect here before College and High School and the predictable overflow of our September schedules take over. The lodge offers panoramic Cox Bay beachfront, a surf club, a movie library, private hot tubs and fresh regional fare. We choose well.

We relax and forget, and after our first day of intense book reading and shell hunting on the beach, we find ourselves in the lodge great room, cathedral beam ceiling and huge windows spreading the Pacific Ocean wide and wonderful for the pre-dinner crowd. The room smells faintly of salt and cedar, decorated with First Nations artifacts including a huge Sea Eagle mask hanging above us. Someone suggests a friendly game of Monopoly, just for fun. But games are never fun.

“Shut your yap,” you say.

“That’s it,” I say, “I’m done.”

My game face cracks. I rise abruptly, vacate the club chair and leave my monopolizing family to what remains of their game. I am sick of table talk, underhanded deals and evil eyed assessments of my properties and pile of paper money.  I take a break, visit the restroom, try to gain composure. There really is no other mature choice, so I rejoin my loved ones, son mid-merger with husband. I look at my daughter and roll my eyes.

Our family games always go this way, girls side with girls and try to make deals that are win-win. We are relational first. The guys are competitive, all about hostile takeovers, long term acquisitions, intentionally withholding real estate that opens up the possibility to buy houses or hotels. Personality traits are amplified. History repeats itself, emotions run strong. I am defensive from the first roll of the dice. I align myself with the youngest first, protecting them from my husband. Only our teens don’t need protecting. (side note… I just took a Myer’s Briggs Test and discovered my personality is INFJ… “the protector”… hmmm)

For me, it’s not about winning… at least that’s what I tell myself at times like this. As a child, my parents enrolled me in cooperative programs like Rhythmic Gymnastics and Pioneer Girls and piano lessons rather than competitive sports. Maybe that’s what makes me such a poor candidate for games of any kind. I believe you can play without losing friends and offending family. My husband believes all is fair in love and war and games of any kind.

Easy to see why “Family Game Night” is a fail for us. Hasbro equates playing games together with quality family time, but for us, game nights are chaotic, not bonding. If we host other families, it’s a bit better. With others we Charade and Murder Mystery, and sometimes even Ping Pong. As long as my husband and I are on different teams, as long as he doesn’t raise his eyebrows, as long as he plays fair, I’m OK. There’s even opportunity to celebrate winning. But it’s like walking on thin ice, one wrong step and relationships drown in raging competition. It’s all rather melodramatic!

I’m certain that playing games is good for you, and educational. You can learn strategy, defensive and offensive moves, and teamwork. You can also learn to take offense and develop passive aggressive tendencies. Yes, so much to learn.

Back to our family vacation game of Monopoly. We finish our game, and believe it or not, I win!!! (and right about now you are wondering if what I said earlier is actually true… that I don’t care about winning?) The tables turn late in the game. I choose self preservation over table talk. I buy hotels, I land on Free Parking, I go to jail once, and I make some deals that even my husband would be proud of. Only by this time, we aren’t talking to each other. For a couple of hours. And that feeling of self-satisfaction I have soon ebbs into a feeling of loneliness at the top of the game chain. Why oh why do we play games?

Our Tofino end of summer vacation is opportunity for us to quieten schedules and cell phones and laptops and personal agendas. We feed our senses and souls with epicurian delights, the serenity of the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere, quality and quantity time together as a family, and even have space left over for personal interests and reflection.

And, at around 5 pm each day, we make time to meet in the great room of the Long Beach Lodge Resort for another Monopoly rematch.

I guess we are gluttons for punishment.

I guess we just don’t give up that easily, at games or anything else.