Three spaces into my journey through the Hundred-Acre Wood, I start to realize that it is not the ideal place to look for honey pots. The rules here are always changing, and never in my favor. I can’t even flick the spinner without being chastised. “No, mom, you have to do it like this!” says Ben, lying on his tummy. “Lay here, like I’m doing.” Sometimes the squares, cut in half by the fold of the board, count as one. But sometimes those same squares count as two, depending on how many honey pots are sitting on them, waiting to be claimed. But I have to put my foot down when the back end of the arrow, the non-pointed side, lands on Pooh Bear and Benjamin cheers, “I get to go honey pot hunting!” “You do not!” I object, because I don’t care that he is only four and the middle child, sometimes overlooked to my great shame; I don’t care that his eyes are as big as saucers and his face as animated as a Saturday morning cartoon; I don’t care that he is convinced either side of the arrow is a legitimate pointer… that is just plain cheating.
Board games are not my love language, especially board games played with anyone under the age of seven. The lemon sucking pout on the face of Priscilla, when she is sent back home during a competitive round of Sorry, pokes a slow, steady leak in family fun time. After awhile, our original, puffed up expectations deflate into flat-out disappointment. It is amazing how early on in life the desire to win is instilled. I was surprised this week when Mary squawked at a playmate, whose chubby, bowed legs, out-waddled her own in pursuit of a stuffed snowman. “Already?” I thought. “Take this, or this!” I offered, distracting her disappointment with second-rate alternatives.
I am not, by nature, all that competitive. But every once in awhile I pull my head up from out of the sand and notice a few things. I observe that the guy in front of me just rolled an 87 when I could of sworn the highest number possible was a 6. “H-m-m,” I think, “that is interesting,” and I jot it down in the notebook I am using to keep score. “How come she gets to start 10 spaces ahead of me?” I wonder. And I write that down too, because eventually all these rules are bound to form a logical pattern. Quickly, I start to realize that an awful lot of people are passing me by. I become less of a casual observer and more of a referee, blowing my whistle and calling out fouls. “No fair!” I scream, but the game goes on despite my expressed objections.
While turning around in order to get my message out louder and clearer, I notice them; the quiet group of players who seem to linger at the starting line. No matter what strategy they come up with, it only results in negatives and it breaks my heart. Then the guilt, oh the guilt that racks my spirit. “How could this happen?” I sob, “Where is the justice?” I rip my rulebook and gnash my teeth until I am all cried out and blotchy. That’s when it hits me, it has been ages since I, myself, have moved anywhere. I am suspended between envy and remorse, paralyzed by doubt and confusion.
Do you remember the Un-Game? It was the 80’s answer to poor sportsmanship. There were no sore losers because everybody won. Land on a square and answer a question, like “What is your favorite Christmas memory?” So why did this watered-down, milk toast version of after dinner entertainment die out with Aqua-net and tight rolled jeans? It is my theory that we all, secretly, crave the tension. It is titillating, the drama of losing and winning, of keeping tabs on whose done what and where we stand in comparison. The harder you play, the less likely you are to be bogged down by nagging little whispers and open-ended questions. Competition is a salve to soothe the wounds of being mortal.
Near the end, I start passing out honey pots like Halloween candy. “Look Ben, we each have the same amount!”
“Let’s play again, mommy! Please!”
“How about something else?” I say. “Maybe we can read a book or get out the play-doh.”
“Play-doh!” he squeals. And I find the rolling pin, cringing in advance at the mess that is bound to follow. It can be tedious, this staying home with children, and my chores, and the words that fill my head. Where reminders of frailty, sin, and grace are all around me. I can bear it for a while before I start to drown, before temptations outside weigh heavy on my heart. “What would it hurt to peek, to assuage my insecurities by making judgement calls on whose is writing better or who is mothering worse” I think, “to play a round, to compare myself, and then to come back home?” Because even though I hate the injustice, the rules that change with every turn, I still feel drawn to roll the dice and try to play the game.
“Be Careful,” call the whispers, floating warnings through my understated existence, asking questions in the quiet of my soul.
Let us try to live in such a way that all our actions, our whole life may be, not a sleepy vegetation, but a development — as strong and deep as possible — of all our potentialities; and that this may take place not some time in the future but now, immediately, at every moment. Otherwise, irresolute and slovenly living will inevitably give birth to an impotence and flabbiness of soul, an incapacity for faith or any intense feeling; life will be squandered in vain, and we shall scarcely be able to rid ourselves of the cold scum which covers us — the fire of genuine heroism alone will be all that can consume it in that case.
– Fr Alexander Elchaninov, The Diary of a Russian Priest
With thanks to Grace for posting this quote originally on her website, This-Side-of-Glory.