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The Game of Life
“Mommy! Mommy! Come play a game with us!” giggles seven-year-old Daisy.
She looks nothing like her twin sister, Lily, who is throwing pillows onto the floor of their shared bedroom. Daisy has blond hair and brown eyes with golden flakes dotted along her irises, just like her father’s. Her skin is golden, too, and emits a luscious, light brown glow. Lily is quite pale, has black hair, lots of freckles, and green eyes, like me.
Daisy and Lily are hard at work setting up a board game called “Life.” It is one of the few Christmas gifts they received this year. They love playing it, entering a make-believe life. The girls arrange the game on a bed.
I put down the dirty clothes heaping over in the laundry basket and force a smile as I walk to the lower bunk bed. My back aches as I sit down for the first time in hours, and I think that a mother’s work is never done.
Lily grins, stretching her dimples on her cheeks, as she hands me some yellow play money, a pink game piece in a blue car, and a career card.
The career card says “Entertainer,” and has a picture of a cartoon illustrated lady wearing a red dress. Her mouth is wide open as though she is singing, belting out a Broadway show song. The card explains that I can make a maximum of fifty thousand dollars annually. I sigh. It is much more that I am making right now, in real life, as a part-time waitress at a local diner. I would have taken a full-time job, but then who would care for the girls? Times are hard, and money is real tight. I am working harder than anyone I know, including my dear husband, to make them better. I work to make money. It keeps my girls happy. They need me, but I am just not good enough to help them get-ahead. First, I need some help.
I thank Lily for the card, and pinch her cheeks softly, in jest. She pushes me away, anxious to begin her “life” through this game. She rolls the dice and as it scratches against the board, I think of my husband, David, of nineteen years. He lost his cashier job a few months ago, because of his poor attitude and a blow out fight with his boss. He comes home one day after I had taken a long shift at work and tells me how horrible a day he had. I ask him, “What’s wrong, sweetie?” and he goes on to tell me he got fired! He told me his boss, a fine, rich, understanding man, increased his hours and decreased his pay for nothing, so he complained and got himself fired. If you ask me, he probably wasn’t working hard enough, so he was punished. He’s so selfish. Now I am the only one who has been providing for our household. One small income is not enough to pay for a tiny apartment and for two adults and two growing girls to live on. I am constantly reminding my spouse of this, but he makes no effort in helping me out. He’s stuck on the side of the road somewhere, wasting away, his life needing a tow to move on. He told me about an hour ago he was going out to look for a job, but God only knows where he is right now, wasting time and energy and probably gambling away what precious money I need, I think staring blankly at the board game.
“Hello? Mom? It’s your turn!” Daisy pulls on my arm, her exasperation giving me a nudge.
“Oh, right, sorry, honey.” I roll a “four” and move my piece to its designated spot. The tile I land on reads “Get Married.” Lily hand me a blue character, and I put it in the car next to me.
“Mommy is getting married!” Lily laughs. “I want to get married, too!”
“I want to have three daughters!” Daisy plans.
I smile as I think about how happy I was when I married David. He was so handsome and so good to me. He cared about my path and the road we were taking together. We had money. Everything is so different now. Angry words over money, angry fights spitting burning words in front of the girls. He blames our current poverty on me, and says I shouldn’t go out spending money every free chance I get. It isn’t fair to me. I like the finer things in life, and I need to relieve all of this stress somehow. He should understand that, and help me out. He just doesn’t care anymore, coming and going as he pleases. What kind of life is this? What is he trying to accomplish?
Daisy and Lily take their turns. Lily buys a family pet, and Daisy goes to college.
It is my turn again and I roll an “eight.” It is a high number and I can’t help but to feel a little excited of landing on a good tile. I’m aiming for “Pay Day.”
But I land on a funny tile because it reads “Double” and sports a picture of two babies and a happy mother. It is a lot like who I am, except caring for two children is not something that makes me happy. They give me grey hairs. Horrible.
“Just like us!” Lily exclaims.
“Just like you!” I tickle my girls and they giggle heartily.
They take their turns again. Daisy donates money to the poor. Lily buys a new sedan.
For my turn, I must pay for a family physical. I give up most of my play money with a grimace and a sigh. Daisy and Lily laugh and tease me, but I don’t find this funny, and think “it figures,” as I can’t win an easy life even in a board game. The girls let me go again, and with the roll of the dice, I lose my retirement fund through bad choices.
My next roll calls for sending my children to summer camp. I have to give up five thousand dollars for each child I have. That’s ten thousand dollars. I don’t have ten thousand dollars left.
“Mommy! You lose!” Lily laughs. “But that’s ok! You don’t have to stop playing! We like playing with you!”
“Yes, Mom! Finish the game with us!” Daisy agrees and gives me more play money.
I have such sweet, caring girls. They don’t mind if I’m a loser, but I really wish I wasn’t.
“Are you ok, Mom? Your face is red,” Lily is concerned.
“I’m fine, thank you,” I smile. “I’m just going to get a drink of water.”
“Can I have a juice box?”
“Me, too! Me, too! I want grape!” Daisy yells, bouncing up and down, as Lily tries to hold the game pieces in place.
“Sure thing.” In the kitchen, I grab a water bottle and a couple of grape juice boxes. There are only a few left, and there aren’t many other foods, either. I sigh. It’s time to go grocery shopping again. More time and energy lost and more money that could be used for other things down the drain. Couldn’t David have gone shopping while he is out?
“I’m going out to look for a job, honey!” I mimic my spouse in a whiney tone.
I run back to the bedroom.
“Here you go, girls!” I give them each a juice box, taking a seat on the bed again, the three of us in a cozy nest, as the car games pieces tumble about the blankets.
“I played for you,” Daisy explains and points to how much farther my game piece has traveled since I left the room.
“Thank you, Daisy. You did a good job. What would I do without you and Lily?”
“I don’t know!” Daisy replies automatically. She is used to me asking her this question.
“Mommy, it’s your turn again,” Lily tells me and hands me the dice.
I tossed the dice across the board game. I have rolled at “ten,” so I move to the designated tile. It is the second to last tile on the game board. The tile reads “Retirement” and explains that I need at least one hundred thousand dollars to retire. Life before, I do not have enough money.
I can’t provide for my family because I am poor. I can’t stop working because I am poor. I have no help in getting money and so I am poor. The only person, David, who might be able to help me, won’t, and blames our misfortune on me.
“I lost, girls,” I say with a trembling lip as I realize that life is not possible as long as I am with David. Because I can’t get help from David, I am just going to have to live for myself. I have decided to leave David – he can take care of the girls – and take life into my own hands, and drive my own road to be a winner.