We’ve always been a household that loves board games even before we had kids. They have grown up playing some kind of board game even before they could read. It started with Candy land then as they grew we moved onto games like Trouble, Sorry, Battleship and Clue. My 9 year old daughter loves to go to the game closet and peruse the many shelves of stacked games, most of them even older than she is. Recently she took down a surprise entry in our game night selection “The Game of Life.” I only worried the game would be too complicated for her and her 5 year old brother. I had no idea I was going to have to talk about marriage equality and freedom of choice.
I should have known this was coming. I grew up playing board games with my cousins. The Game of Life was fairly popular but not a particular favorite of mine. I found it too long, too complicated, with too many rules that didn’t make sense and rather boring. To be fair I would give in to playing but reserved the right to make bored sighing noises and scoff loudly when necessary. While my husband went about setting up the game I was reminded of two things that bothered me most about the game. The first was the requirement to stop and get married. The second was the requirement to have kids when you landed on the appropriate space. Even when I was my daughter’s age I thought this was unfair and ridiculous. My cousins refused to break the rules so I was always forced to stop at the chapel to pick up my husband and gifts. I would reluctantly take the blue “people peg” then put it in the very back of the little plastic station wagon and declare I had put him in the trunk. I similarly balked at having kids, which meant my car often had quite a full back seat. I wanted to drive unfettered through life.
So there was somewhat of a bit of irony that I had in my real life willingly stopped at the chapel, gotten married, and had a husband that rode in the front seat and children that weren’t crowded in the trunk with said husband. Now I was playing the game with my husband and children. I still hoped the game had changed its rule about marriage requirement but, sadly, it was still an institution. We each made our choices whether to attend college or go into business, received a salary and dutifully stopped at the chapel. My son was first having chosen business rather than college. We explained to him he had to get married and spin the wheel to get gifts. We told him to pick a piece to put in the car with him, it didn’t matter which one. He chose a blue peg to put next to his own blue peg. My daughter’s reaction to this was astounding. She insisted he was supposed to pick a pink peg and made an attempt to correct this.
I was surprised by her reaction only because this is not something I taught her. I’ve always been vocal about pink and blue being a manufactured standard for gender identity. I often told her that this idea had only been adopted a little over a century ago. I have also told her that relationships are not just between a man and a woman but can also be a man and a man or a woman and a woman. A bit simplistic but it’s a start. I’ve also told her marriage and children are not required when you become an adult. You are free to choose when you get older. How is it she was balking at the idea that her brother would choose a blue peg?
I came up with a response as quickly as I could. I reminded her that the color was not important. He was free to choose whatever he liked. She started to argue but then thought better of it. She watched with furrowed brow as we put the blue peg in its slot. She seemed to get over it after a while. She politely said nothing when my son knocked his car over and I commented that his husband had fallen out of the car. I was the one who became more troubled as the game progressed.
This experience, as well as the game itself, put into focus the problem facing a sex positive parent. Try as you might to raise kids with open minds about relationships, gender and sexuality you are always fighting the tide of popular culture. While she was growing up I deliberately didn’t dress her in pink, stayed away from stereotypes in film and television and always told her we were free to be you and me. Unfortunately, most parents are not teaching their kids anything another other than the standard narrative. All of my work to keep an open mind is undone the minute she goes to school. There isn’t a kid’s movie or TV show where someone has two mommies or two daddies. She’s also not seeing anyone in movies or television in an open relationship either; which is a whole other kettle of fish we will soon have to get into.
I later had a talk with a friend about it and she was not surprised. Her preschool aged son stated the other day that parents could only be a man and a woman. This was really shocking because he actually has two Mommies! She pointed this out to him but he was reluctant to give up the idea. Even with the evidence right in his own home he would rather believe what the other kids tell him at school. We realized that no matter how much we work at raising open-minded kids we were going to be fighting the pressure to conform and the teasing of judgmental classmates. As my daughter gets older she will hopefully meet more people that have different approaches to gender and sexuality. Right now we’re in a conservative suburban town and she’s at an age where the pressure to conform is high and rising.
My son thankfully doesn’t feel that pressure yet. It’s also possible that it may never bother him. He easily drifts back and forth between a superhero and fairy costumes and plays just as easily with My Little Pony as he does with monster trucks. One minute he’s pretending to be a ninja, and then next he has techno music on and is dancing with abandon around the living room. I revel in his fluidity even if it may only be because he’s grown up with an older sister. I hope he never loses that. My daughter on the other hand shuns anything “boy” oriented. She is a huge fan of princesses, glitter and the color pink. She is as “girly” as they come. While there is nothing wrong with this choice I hope she doesn’t let her desire to fit in with a group narrow the choices she has life.
The Game of Life has yet to come out again since that night. It might be because it’s long and boring, with too many rules. Some might say that is much like real life. Unlike the game, you have more options to pick from on your own path in life. I remember the old ad jingle used to go, “You learn about life when you play The Game of Life” and in a way we did that day. Perhaps if we ever get to the end I can also teach them that life doesn’t end at retirement.