Game of Life
By Kathleen Dennehy
sister was going into labor early so I thought it best to get the
hell out of Dodge, also known as suburban Connecticut. I was already
packed, even though my flight back to LA was four hours away. As
the nanny drove over to watch my sister's other kids she helpfully
swerved her car into a tree, and ended up in the same hospital my
sister was headed to. I suggested we drop the kids off at Emergency
so Mommy and the nanny could watch them from matching gurneys, but
humor was in short supply. So I delayed my flight back home.
nieces, 11, 7 and 5, only knew me until this point as a source of
fun -- good, bad fun. I was the single aunt, the bad aunt, the one
with the low-rise jeans, no savings, bad jobs and worse boyfriends,
obviously dyed hair and blue fingernails. Who else would teach them
how to spit, what naughty words meant, and how to snap gum? I allowed
them to tie up my boyfriend with a muddy garden hose during a christening
party, I proudly introduced them to my patented diabolical fried
donut and ice cream sundae for breakfast, and let them wear my platform
shoes and jump on Granny's good couch. Someone has to be the good,
bad aunt. It's my job, and dammit, I'm good at it. Their parents
always had lurked nearby to brainwash their kids back to civility
with surgical precision. Until now.
the five-year-old reassured her mother, "Don't be scared now."
Molly, age seven, waved, "Have a good baby!" My sister
promised she would, as she left with her husband. An electric charge
of expectation of imminent upheaval followed them out the door.
A burst of cold air escaped inside and made us feel that much more
left alone. Then three little heads swiveled from the departing
vapors of their parents to me.
kids only know they are little kids when they are suddenly parent-less.
Then they realize that parents come in handy. Freedom is scary when
you don't have someone keeping you from it. The girls were suddenly
forced to find their safe harbor in me. As six massive blue eyes
widened and wetted I practically shouted "How about a game?"
A deep survival instinct I didn't know I had kicked in. The girls
mother showed up but headed right for the kitchen, seizing this
golden opportunity to rearrange my sister's kitchen. My mother believes
she has an innate gift of knowing just where other people's measuring
cups really want to live. See, if Mom does something helpful, like
coming over in a jam, then you can't yell at her for being supremely
unhelpful, like disappearing your carrot peeler.
approached solemnly holding out the board game of Life as if it
were a sacramental offering. I haven't played Life in thirty years,
as I've been busy, on the boot-kicking end of, well
As Hannah and Molly threw themselves into fighting over who would
be red and who would be blue, I tried not to count the years since
I punched that pop-o-matic, dreaming big about my far-off future.
organizing the cute, but useless, toy money into neat little stacks,
more money than I've ever held in my hands, real or fake, I saw
that, as in everything else, the game of Life is new and improved.
Now it has squares saying things like, "You start a community
garden! Move ahead three spaces!" It used to say something
like "You turn your play room into a bar. Collect $10,000.00."
began playing. Everyone was given the choice of going to college
or just heading off into career-land. Hannah, the oldest and most
fearful, went to college and bought insurance before she had a car.
Molly and Olivia leapt right into Life, choosing from a hidden assortment
of career options, held in a tidy stack of cards. If only it was
that simple, to pick a full-blown career from a stack of cards printed
in Taiwan. Molly became a professional tennis player and was pretty
happy to earn $80,000 a year until Olivia picked a card and suddenly
became a computer programmer pulling in $120,000 a year. As Molly
fumed, Olivia ran into the kitchen. "Granny, Granny, I'm a
computer programmer and I make $120,000 dollars. Each and every
year!" Granny said, "Great, now you can take care of your
Aunt Kathy." A drawer slammed shut, silverware resettling in
its new rightful place. I pictured my sister, opening drawers while
dandling her newborn, and swearing under her breath. I wondered
how long it would take her to find her knives.
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