Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Long and the Short of It

On my last trip to Target I fell prey to Product Placement and Retail Suggestion: in the "$9.99 and Under" section was a "Boggle to Go!" set which I could not resist. Honestly, though, who needed a travel version of Boggle? It wasn't exactly an unwieldy game in its original inception. On, by the way, I learned that you can pay an extra dollar to make this game LESS portable.

It would be fair to say I was seduced by Price Point. But actually, it was more sentimental for me. It was time for me to own Boggle. And my daughter, I thought, is just maybe ready to try it.

Tonight our kindergartener's homework ranged from identifying which ribbon is longer or shorter to understanding and correctly placing quotation marks in a story (Gulp! We're still working on this skill with 11th graders?). I held the Ribbon Game as a Homework Holy Grail as we toiled through sh- and wh- worksheets.

The Ribbon Game was simple: Cut out the pre-printed strips of paper featuring "ribbons" of various lengths. Place them in a bag. Each player pulls a "ribbon" and compares. Whoever has the longest (determined by the kindergartener, of course), keeps both. The person with the most ribbons at the end of the game wins.

I frontloaded this activity by suggesting to my competitive daughter that some games require skill and some are based on luck. This one, we agreed, relied on good fortune, as there would be no way to "try harder."

Okay, cool. We're ready to play; let's hope for no tears.

And guess what? I won the first round, with a strip of stars longer than her line of stripes. But the next two in a row were all hers. I watched her begin to stress out. Her shoulders slumped as her ribbon proved longer than mine in the third go.

"What's wrong?" I asked, curious.

"I want you to win, Mama."

"Hey, this is a game of luck, kiddo! Don't worry! It's okay if your ribbon is longer! Let's pull another."

And the next pair, she acknowledged with an audible sigh, was hers too. She handed me both crumpled papers. "You keep them, Mama."

Suddenly tears sprang to my eyes, and I thought of Boggle.

My grandma, my father's mother, loved word games. She was crazy about crosswords, and she also loved Scrabble and Boggle. When she came to visit us, as her oldest grandchild I was often the focus of her attention, which translated into hours of Boggle at the kitchen counter.

I became pretty good at that game, though I played it almost exclusively with my Grandma. There was something about her and my sense of her pride that made me want her to win most of the time. In order to maintain my interest in the game but also allow her to prevail during most rounds, I created some unspoken rules for myself. The 3X3 Boggle grid allows for words of three letters or more to count; I would limit myself to writing down words of four letters or more. When the little hourglass ran out, if Grandma were still immersed in word-finding, I would try to imperceptibly stop writing as she jotted a few more answers.

I'm pretty sure she wasn't on to me.

And I didn't think a lot about that little private arrangement I had with myself and my Grandma until tonight. It was the newly-acquired Boggle game which provided the triangulation for my amazement that even at the tender age of 5, my little daughter usually so bent on winning--not annoyingly yet, but certainly notably--was working on her own accommodations for those around her whom she perceived needed her TLC to Stay in the Game.

"Why do you look sad, Mama?" she queried as she simultaneously registered her disappointment over "winning" the game of Paper Ribbon Strips and noticed my emotional moment.

"I'm thinking about my Grandma, Sweetie," I swallowed. "And I am also feeling grateful that you wanted me to win."

Grandma, I want you to know that the Online Bogglers are cheaters (and those who aren't are SCARY smart). And that you would appreciate your little wordy great granddaughter.


me said...

Tears in my eyes.

Mama Deb said...

That was really sweet!