This week at Homework Club my task was to converse in English with the adult women who accompanied their children. Ethiopian, Eritrean, Mexican. Most speak a pretty solid basic English. Vocabulary is what is needed. To that end, we got out a game called Rory’s Story Cubes. Basically, you throw a bunch of die with pictures on them and try to tell a story. Have you ever tried telling a story in a foreign language? It was tortuous.
When we lived in Mexico, my friend Martita had a theory that the household help in Mexico loved to play Barbies and other games with the children because they themselves had never played with them as children. Mostly, this theory of hers made sense, although some of us are just not good at playing with dolls. I was never a good player of Barbies and perhaps had a total of three of them, at least one of which was a hand-me-down with bubble hair from the ‘50s, now worth a fortune. My mother pitched them all at some point. (In any event, I was always about the Dream House). The bottom line was that these women could play for hours with the children, down on their knees, imagining new and different worlds in ways that Martita and I could not.
In any event, there are no Barbies at Homework Club. But there is Candy Land. With Martita’s words ringing in my ears, I pulled out the classic board game. None of the women had ever played it with their children (and why would they?). Invented in 1949 by Eleanor Abbott who was stricken with polio, this game is so basic three year olds can play it. For those unfamiliar with the game, you do not know how to read and need only be able to count to two. Color recognition is the primary skill set needed. The goal is to travel a plastic Gingerman along a path and end up first at the Candy Castle, thereby winning the game. Cards with color squares on it dictate how far one travels along the path. There are also special cards with characters on them. Drawing Queen Frostine moves a player ahead to the Ice Cream Sea and picking up Mamma Gingersnap will send an unlucky player back to the Molasses Swamp. Landing in a licorice patch will make you lose a turn. The game involves no strategy – pure luck – and is a player’s introduction to the lesson Life Is Not Fair. The Luck of the Draw determines one’s fate. Most players do not appreciate this lesson but grow into it, moving on to the more strategic game of Parcheesi, which teaches treaty-building and the value of alliances.
This Life is Not Fair theme has been rattling around in my head all week, while Baltimore has been on fire and Thing 1 has been deciding whether or not to accept a job there. She is well suited to the job (a noble pursuit) but the hours are long and the pay is crap. It will be difficult to make ends meet, especially having to pay her student loan and her needing to eat. As her mother, I have been attempting to open her eyes to the arduous ascent to the Gumdrop Mountains and the fragility of the Peanut Brittle House. They look tasty but how expensive are they? How safe will she be as she navigates the Rainbow Trail? What if she encounters Lord Licorice? Coming from a legal background, I am all about damage mitigation. In life, she has not drawn the best of cards but she likewise has certainly not drawn the worst.
On my own pilgrimage to a Candy Cathedral (Santiago de Compostela), I was a tortoise. I am a sloooooowwww walker. And as I walked, reveling in my surroundings, the scripture came back to me over and over, “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first”.* Now, Jesus was not talking about walking (but maybe it applies in some other cosmic sense). He was really talking about the poor. I like to think that, in the end, I will be holding the door open for all those who drew lesser cards than me, for reasons that neither of us understand, inviting them forward. “Adelante, my friend, adelante. Scootch on up to the front.” Some of us were blessed with brains (to help us navigate that path and look out for the pitfalls), some of us have brains and have been blindsided, some have financial health, some physical, some mental. Some are blessed with good friends, a wonderful family, or a guardian angel that rides herd. Never do we get it all. Some have precious few of all of the above. But in the end we were all blessed with something. Can we find it on that colorful path? Can we help others to find their blessing? How about just being a blessing?
As we ended Homework Club, the mothers were howling with laughter. They especially loved it when I got sent back to the beginning – I lost both times – and wanted to know where they could purchase the game so they could play it with their children. So much better than TV!
As the Charm City faces another night of unrest, I am praying that it ends well and that the Holy Spirit makes a special appearance. I am praying Thing 1 sees the Peppermint Forest for the trees and is at peace with her decision, taking into consideration a mother’s concerns while following her heart and not taking the Gumdrop Path shortcut through the decision making process. Furthermore, I am hopeful the PC police will not change the name of the game to Veggie Land, plonking rutabagas, radishes, and rhubarb along the path, headed to the Organic Farmer’s Market. Pour some SUGAR on me at the Candy Castle! Even if I get there last – having made a bizillion mistakes – it will be oh, so sweet, and worth the long, twisted journey. I’ll meet you there, no matter what cards we draw.
*Matthew 19:30, 20:16; Mark 10:31; Luke 13:30 (repeated several times – impressive message!).