I must confess, playing Candy Land recently with my two grandchildren was quite an experience for me. My daughter and her three little ones came over for an early breakfast at the beginning of this week and the kids’ visit quickly transformed into a rapid succession games and toys with the theme “Which Toy Can We Play With Next?” And we played with just about every toy and game I have in my family room including Legos, coloring, the kitchen set and play food, the pirate and castle set with pirates and knights, the new jumping monkey game – and much more. I’m not complaining because I truly enjoy their wonderful visits, but the kids were moving to and from each amusement with a ‘quicker than usual’ pace than ever before. When the kids asked to play Candy Land my mind was saying, “Oh no! Not a board game,” while my heart was saying, “Oh just play the game with them. They are so excited to play with you.” So I said, “Yes!”
I hesitate to play board games with preschoolers, yet my opponents were two of my favorite preschoolers – my granddaughter Chiara, age 4 (going on 24), and my grandson John Paul, who is turning 3 this week. I’ve played board games with them in the past and there’s usually a lot of distraction going on, and for a type-A, highly focused person such as myself, well, let’s just say the game should come with a label: “WARNING: Extreme patience required.” I told myself, “Just go with the flow and see what happens. Have a little fun with the little ones.”
The first test of patience came as the two discussed what color game piece they wanted to have and all the reasons why they might pick a certain color and what their favorite color is and why a certain color is no longer their favorite color.
By the time game pieces were selected five minutes had gone by. Next we shuffled the cards which I know from past experience is difficult for the kids, not so much the number of cards to be shuffled in their tiny hands, but for the temptation my granddaughter has to slip a few of the picture cards to the top of the deck as she offers to go first. A charming ruse, but this grandma was not fooled as I shuffled the cards and placed the deck on the game board.
And so the game began and we started taking our turns. When my grandson’s first pick immediately propelled him to the top of the board with a picture card of Queen Frostine, my Chiara was immediately crushed.
I am sure she wanted that card for herself, so I began to act very excited and happy for John Paul and said outloud, “Oh great job buddy! I’m so happy for you and I bet your sister is, too!” But it was a tough sell and she was frowning loudly. I told her that there are several picture cards left and I bet she’ll get one soon – a small consolation, but the game went ahead.
After a few turns, the toys in the family room proved too much a distraction for my grandson and he began putting the extra game pieces from Candy Land inside the kitchen set compartments. They occasionally fell from the fake microwave onto the game board located right below and sent our actual game pieces skittering around. Thankfully my granddaughter has a memory like an elephant and returned them to their correct places. We proceeded to take a few more turns when John Paul picked another picture card and got Plumpy which sent him back to the beginning.
And Chiara was happy to be back in the game with a real chance to win.
A few more turns proceeded. John Paul eventually wandered off and Chiara tried to take her turn a few more extra times than allowed, so grandma started selecting the cards and moving game pieces for everyone because it all started to meltdown and the rules for taking turns were getting hazy. I looked over at my daughter who was sitting nearby and was a witness to the craziness as she fed the baby – she just laughed and shook her head.
As the game progressed I was in the lead, Chiara was in second place, and John Paul was dead last when he asked to play with Play-Dough. Friends, Play-dough is the KING OF ALL TOYS with these grandchildren and if it is mentioned by anyone in our home there is a Pavlovian response from the grandchildren, “YEAH! LET’S PLAY PLAY-DOUGH!!” But I said, rather indignantly, “What about Candy Land?! Aren’t we going to finish?” And my granddaughter said to me, “Grandma, let’s just say that whoever is in the lead can be the winner and NOW WE CAN PLAY PLAY-DOUGH.”
And just like that the game was over and they were onto the next fun thing. I was declared with winner because I was in the lead and Play-Doh ruled the day being much more fun than Candy Land. I must say, though, I thought about this game for the rest of the day. The excitement to begin, the stop and start progress and childlike distraction throughout, and the joy to move onto the next thing reminded me of a big part of my spiritual journey – Lent.
Ash Wednesday falls on February 14th this year – Valentine’s Day and Easter is April 1st – April Fools Day, can you believe it? Lent has been popping up in my thoughts recently. Each Lent begins with my huge anticipation of offering something profound as a personal sacrifice to Our Lord in thanksgiving His great sacrifice for me – a lot like selecting the right game piece in a game of Candy Land. Should I sacrifice something big or try to do many small sacrifices or do something ‘extra’ or attempt something new?
Once I’ve decided on what my offering will be, I start off strong on Ash Wednesday and as the weeks go by I get a little distracted and wander off the plan – similar to my three year old grandson. Life presents a lot of distractions and I get a little weak along the way. But much like those picture cards in Candy Land, I have the great blessing of Confession to propel me back on the right path.
And I look with great eagerness towards Easter and the joy of the next big thing to celebrate, just like the Play-Doh in this story. I think God must laugh at me and shake His head a lot, like my daughter did during the game. He sees the big picture, me with all my desires to do well and try hard, knowing I’ll likely make some mistakes along the journey, but loving me anyway and giving me His grace to continue the forward.