So I woke up this morning to Hobbes chattering at me about pillows and bad guys, and that was at 7:30 am. It is now 7:34 pm. The fact that he hasn’t stopped talking since he woke up — and I include those periods of time when he was either eating or ostensibly napping — gives me the uneasy feeling that something has gone horribly wrong with my life. It’s like a story out of a Philip K. Dick anthology, where at the end you discover that the main character is an AI trapped in a virtual simulation of schizophrenia brought on by isolation so that scientists can study the effects of long-term space travel on the clinically deranged and the voice that won’t ever ever shut up is in your head and won’t stop not even if you beg him to because he loves you so much and wants you to know all about how his feet smell like poopie and why doesn’t poop have feet? why not? why? why? why? why?
Mom has listened to my complaints on this subject with the satisfaction of a good woman seeing justice done. “I remember,” she said nostalgically. “When Sako was little, we were worried because she never talked. We thought there was something wrong with her.”
“There is something wrong with her,” I said automatically, as is my responsibility as a big sister.
“Yes,” she said, and beamed happily at me. “It was you. You never stopped talking, so she never had a chance to say anything.”
I hung up on her.
It’s not the talking that I mind so much — actually, I do, but let’s set that aside for a moment — It’s the constant demands of why. It is endless, and persistent, and even when I give the same answer 5 times in a row, it continues to come.1
“I didn’t do that when I was a kid,” I texted self-righteously to a Japanese friend.
“That’s because the word ‘why’ in Japanese is so hard to say,” she pointed out2, and suddenly I started to wonder about my parents’ decision not to teach me English.
Gameplay goes as follows. The player picks a card from a deck, which when flipped over shows either a square of color, two squares of the same color, or a picture of a sweet. Now, here’s where it gets tricky, so follow closely here. When it’s your turn and you flip over a card, you take your piece (a thematically apropos plastic gingerbread man in green, yellow, red, or blue) and move it to the next square on the board that has the same color or picture. If your card has two squares of the same color, then you go to the next square but one. The goal is to get to the eponymous Candyland at the end of the road.
This is the kind of intellectual challenge that prepares children for careers in fast food service. According to its Wikipedia entry, it was invented in 1945 by someone recovering from polio. I can only imagine that the long hours of being trapped in bed drove the designer into a black pit of insane rage, the kind that needs to inflict pain on others and leads people into careers as oral hygienists.6 There are about 300 squares on the board, and it moves at a glacial pace. Playing through an entire game is like watching radioisotopes decay. I would do pretty much anything to get out of this activity, up to and including selling my child to Mongolian yak-herders.
“Play with me,” Hobbes said.
This is how my day usually starts to go downhill. My inner monologue said, oh my GOD. Out loud I said, “Honey, I have a headache.”
“Candyland. I will get it.”
At which point, my inner monologue said, oh my FUCKING God, which I didn’t say out loud because I’m a
good decent not completely incompetent mother. “Headache,” I said again. “Ache in the head. Ache is another word for pain. I don’t think I feel like playing right now, Hobbes. Because of my headache. Which hurts.”
He was setting out the pieces on the floor, completely ignoring me. You know those Charlie Brown movies, where adults are always portrayed with that weird wah wah, wah wah, wah wah sound? This is exactly what Hobbes hears when I talk.
“I need to set up the cards,” he said.
“I don’t understand why you get to make entertainment choices in this household.”
“Open your eyes, Mommy.”
“Headache,” I said again, while Hobbes carefully gathered up handfuls of cards from the box. “I have a headache, so I can’t play. Get used to that, because that’s what’s in your future. You should thank me. I’m preparing you for future relationship hurdles. When a woman says ‘I have a headache,’ what you’re supposed to say is, ‘That’s terrible, what can I do to help you feel better?’”
“That’s racist, sweetie. We don’t say ‘yellow.’ We say ‘Asian.’ And we don’t say ‘blotchily pink,’ either. We say ‘honky.’”
He put the yellow piece on the starting place on the board, then put the red one next to it. “Yellow is your favorite,” he informed me.
“I was kidding just then, honey,” I said. “We don’t really say honky. That was the pain talking. We call them gaijin. In fact, everybody is gaijin except for Japanese people and your father, who married into honorary Japaneseness. Because gaijin means ‘barbarian,’ and that’s what they are. Barbarians. They eat rice with forks.”7
Hobbes ignored me. He’s good at that. He started putting each of the little playing cards on the floor, one at a time — which, you know, I hate this game with the fire of a thousand burning suns, but you should still play it right.
“You’re supposed to stack them together, face down,” I told him.
“We’re going to play it different,” he announced. “You pick the card you want and then you play.”
Even through the headache, it only took me a split second to realize that this would make cheating a lot easier, thus making the game a lot shorter. Normally I have to cheat by picking up several cards at a time and then picking through them to find the one that’ll skip us ahead to the end. It’s so much easier when you can see the cards upfront.
He finished laying out the cards, then picked up a blue one. “I go blue,” he said, and forwarded his piece three squares.
I leaned over from the sofa and picked up one with an ice cream cone on it. “I pick ice cream,” I told him, and advanced my piece about 270 squares.
I sat back, smug. It may not take much to outsmart a 3 year old, but by God, I was going to enjoy it.
He frowned at the board. I closed my eyes and yawned. When I opened my eyes again, my yellow piece was back at the starting point.
“…Wait,” I said. “What?”
“I pick ice cream,” Hobbes announced.
I admit, I was stung by the unfairness of this. It’s possible that I’m mildly competitive.8 “Why is my piece back at the beginning?”
Hobbes advanced his piece to the point I had it before. “You didn’t play right.”
“How didn’t I play right? You can’t play that card again. I already played it.”
He looked at me inscrutably. “Your turn, Mommy.”
“Fine. Fine. I pick ice cream, too. Again.”
I picked up the card and advanced my piece again, whereupon Hobbes immediately plucked the card out of my hand and moved my piece back to the starting point. Again.
“Why are you putting my piece back there?”
“You’re playing bad.”
“And you’re a big cheater.”
“I like to win. Winning is important,” he said. The boy has the moral compass of a Wall Street banker.
I was outraged and impressed at the same time. Where did he learn how to cheat like that? It wasn’t from me; I am a subtle cheater. “What is wrong with you?” I’m not proud to admit it, but my voice was starting to rise.
“It’s my turn,” Hobbes said, and he placidly picked up another card. “Now I go purple.”
“You can’t go purple. You didn’t pick up a purple card.”
“And now I want to go here,” he said, unheeding. He moved his piece to the end goal, the eponymous Candyland. “Yay, I win.”
I realize that it seems counterintuitive to argue with a 3 year old about the fact that he’s cheating, especially when his cheating will shorten the duration of a game one hates like barium enemas. I couldn’t seem to stop myself. It’s so rare I get to have the moral high ground in these kinds of arguments. Mostly I just have to rely on, ‘I’m your mother and I say so.’ “You didn’t pick up a card.”
“The game is over, Mommy,” Hobbes said kindly. “I won. You lose. Too bad.” He patted me on the hand in a sympathetic fashion. All lies. The child is a sociopath. A competitive sociopath.
“Honey,” I said. “If you cheat, nobody will ever want to play with you.”
That was hypocrisy right there, warm and runny. It tasted like bacon.
“Hobbes, please clean up the Candyland game.”
“Can I be a doctor?”
“Yes, you can. After you clean up the Candyland game.”
“Doctors don’t clean up. They leave a terrible mess.”
“Yes, they do. Which is why you’re going to be a doctor after you clean up the Candyland game.”
So there’s something to look forward to. No worries. He’s got the attention span of a gnat. However, if one day my ethically-challenged son does take his talents into the medical sphere, I apologize in advance to his patients. Sorry, guys. You’re fucked.
- An especially annoying variation of it is when I give the same answer several times, tell him the answer won’t change, and then am informed, “You’re wrong, Mommy.” Which can’t possibly be based on any past evidence. I am totally with Louis CK on this one. ↩
- Which it is. In Japanese, it’s doshite, which you pronounce as DOH-she-teh. For a child who still thinks ‘spaghetti’ is pronounced ‘pisketti,’ it’s almost insurmountable.
There are two ways to look at this. One way is to view it as an example of how the Japanese culture at large doesn’t encourage questioning of the status quo by the young. The other way is to view it as an example of how Japanese-speaking parents are hella smarter than English-speaking ones. Because the word ‘why?’ It’s just too damn easy to say. ↩
- Yes, I realize that’s redundant with clowns and mosquitos. Deal with it. ↩
- Imagine if Willy Wonka met Sweeney Todd and Snooki in a bar and they got high on heroin together. Then imagine all three of them threw back some mojitos on top of that and went clubbing with the Kardashians, during which activity one of the party — probably Sweeney Todd, because he seems the most likely to have plumbing that worked, even if it might not originally have been his — ended up pregnant. Got all that? The game board looks like it was designed by their waiter. ↩
- Hur hur. “End” product. ↩
- If my oral hygienist is reading this, I just want you to know that I meant all the other oral hygienists. Not you. Please don’t hurt me. again. ↩
- You know how I said I don’t say the word ‘fuck’ in front of my son? This is because it’s redundant with all the other good things I teach him. ↩
- To be clear: I’m mildly competitive in the same way I was mildly pregnant in 2008. It’s the kind of competitiveness that leads me to beat my 3 year old son in certain games.
Don’t judge me. If his legs are really that short, he shouldn’t challenge me to race, should he? ↩
- A Good Idea Followed by a Bad Idea
- Childrens’ Day and other things
- Stories on an afternoon drive
- Bring your kids to work day
- Tech support.
- A little daring
- I don’t know about you….
- A little bit of validation
- In which good intentions mean diddly-squat
- Things I need to remember not to forget
- Sometimes they will surprise you
- England and other errata