Friday, October 26, 2012

Candy Addict

Towards the end of our busy summer, my four-year-old son Kyle met up with one of his friends at the playground.  Already too cool for Dad, Kyle immediately ran off once we arrived, leaving me alone with his one-year-old brother Adam and his friend's parents.  After a brief exchange of pleasantries ("Nice weather, huh?" "What do you do for a living?" "How are your child's bowel movements?") the friend's mother said, "I'm so glad the summer's over.  I can't imagine watching our kid all the time.  My mind is turning to mush."  I told her I agreed, as I wiped away some of the brain that has been oozing out of my ears for the past four years.

Yes, it's not easy watching over the little monsters, and with both of them home almost all summer, my mind was very much pureed by September.  I often felt out-numbered, with each kid shooting me with a barrage of demands.  Adam would want me to walk him around the apartment, while Kyle would want me to sit and play Legos with him.  Kyle would ask questions over and over again, while a tired, hungry, or needy Adam would just scream over and over again.  Adam would grab my legs and pull me in one direction, while a hyper Kyle would grab my arms and pull me in another direction.  As soon as I'd figure out how to calm things down, something would happen - usually Kyle taking a toy from Adam, or tackling him - and it would all erupt again.  So all day long I'd deal with two opposing forces, demanding my attention but taking me for granted, contradicting themselves and neither making much sense.  Many times I'd find myself just begging them, for the love God, please stop and be quiet.  It was like watching the presidential campaign. 

Fortunately, there were some quiet moments, too, mostly while Adam napped.  But that's when Kyle asked to play his new favorite game: the mental mush-maker known as Candy Land.  For those of you unfamiliar with this beloved children's game, here's how you play it: You pick a card.  You move. You pick a card. You move.  You pick a card. You move.  Over and over again. That's it.  No skill needed whatsoever.  I must have played Candy Land about a hundred million times over the summer, and yet today I am no better than I was when I first played as a young child decades ago.  The cards reveal colored squares or candy images that direct you along a multi-colored road to the game-winning Candy Castle, leading you past the Ice Cream Slopes, the Gummy Hills, the Licorice Lagoon, the Chocolate Mountain, and Tooth Decay Volcano.  The game pieces are shaped like gingerbread men, and come in four different colors.  Kyle likes to switch up the colors each game, providing the only mental stimulation: trying to remember that you're the green piece this time, and not the red one you had in the last game.  Often that's how I lose.

I've been trying to figure out the ultimate Candy Land strategy, but there seems to be none.  Even counting cards doesn't work.  That action lets you know when you're going to get zinged by a "bad" card, but doesn't help you prevent it. Yes, there are "bad" cards to choose - say, if you're close to the end of the game and you draw a card with a picture of a cupcake, you have to move your piece all the way back to the cupcake square which is near the beginning of the game.  Cupcakes are, as everybody knows, pure evil.  Tragically, you can't trade the card away, and you can't hold it to spring on your opponent later.  If you identify the card early, you could try letting your four-year-old take two turns in a row (out of "kindness") and stick it to him that way.  Sadly, though, these four-year-olds catch on quickly.  So I give up and just sit there with Kyle, putting my brain on auto-pilot, flipping cards, moving pieces, and listening to the constant nudge of "It's your turn, Daddy." 

There's gotta be some way to make it more exciting.  Jennifer thought of having a candy prize at the end, but then I feared that Kyle would find a way to win every one of the dozens of games we played daily, and then I'd be in trouble.  So the prize idea is out.  Maybe I'd have a greater appreciation for the game if I saw it played on a grander scale, with higher stakes and, if possible, bigger risks...

    "Yellow card, Mr. Bond," said the dealer.  Without taking his eyes off the villain across the table, Dr. Necco, Bond slid his blue gingerbread man to the yellow square, just four spots from the game-ending Candy Castle.  Bond did not need to look at the board.  He's James Bond, after all, and he knows his Candy Land. 
    The crowd surrounding the players watched intently.  There was not a sound in the room, except for the crush of licorice between Dr. Necco's teeth.  He nodded at the dealer, who drew a cupcake card.  The audience gasped.  Dr. Necco slid his red piece all the way back to the cupcake square near the start of the game.
    "Time to give up candy, Dr. Necco," said Bond.  "I'd say your sugar high is about to crash."
     But just then one of Dr. Necco's thugs jumped up from behind and put a dagger under Bond's chin. Dr. Necco laughed. 
     "You thought you had me beat, didn't you Mr. Bond?," he said.  "Looks like you're about to get a cavity - in your neck. Sorry you won't be able to win. You see I am the true king of the Candy Castle!"
     Bond smirked, and then jerked his head back, knocking out the goon.  He grabbed the dagger just as Dr. Necco rose from the table and reached for his gun.  Bond flung the knife at Dr. Necco's hand, slicing it and causing him to drop the weapon.  Some blood landed on the board and deck of cards.
    "Looks like you drew a red card," said Bond to Necco.
    "And you, Mr. Bond, have a purple card!" said the dealer.  "You win!"
    "Sweet," said Bond.

Nope... the game still seems boring to me. 

With Kyle back at school, we don't play Candy Land as often as we did during the summer.  Strangely, I do miss the game a little bit.  Maybe I just enjoy seeing Kyle get excited over it.  I know I will miss these moments someday, even if I have trouble staying awake through them.  Now that I do play the game less, I won't go as far as to say that my mind has recovered; I believe some of the damage might be permanent. Yet, after a month or so of a quieter apartment, with silence during Adam's naps, I can do simple things again, like think in complete sentences.  It's a good start, and maybe I'll be able to keep it going... at least until Adam hits the terrible twos.