Snakes and Ladders. I never played this game much in my childhood. On the contrary, I played a lot of Chess, Business world and Badminton. My Summer vacations were all about my three picks on the games and, yes some swimming also happened. And after all these years, after decades of ‘adult-ing’, I was tempted to buy this game after the son (who has joined the primary school this year) spotted it at Big Bazaar. Yet, I held back. Knowing my son’s tendency to clutter the home with his stuff, I refused the son politely. And then, the next time we were accompanied by the wise granny (my mum)………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
The snake and ladder game came home, with Ludo on the other side accompanied by a robot named The Terminator!
The Robot or, what it appeared to be once upon a time, has now been disintegrated into parts I cannot believe, were once a part of the terminator that was shooting its way through every nook and corner of my home. So, after the terminator’s disintegration, it was time for Snakes and Ladder! But for some reason, this game was allowed to live.
My mum taught both of us the basics of the game. The basics have evolved over time and, now there are many variations to the game. We followed a combination of the old and the new.
- One – to enter the game,
- A one and a Six – to get a second chance (In improvised versions, one is not counted for second chances any more. But we applied it, nevertheless 😛 )
- A triple six – back to one,
- A chance to climb the ladder assures yet another chance.
- Step on the snake’s hood and you slide down (feels more like the free fall in real life)
I was pleasantly surprised when the son picked up the game in the first go. Besides, his counting skills were being honed in the process. Son won the first round. Followed by me and then, by my mum. The game seemed to have no end. After subsequent wins, the son had his first brush with diminishing luck. After all, who can decide how the dice shall roll. So it was the seventh round of game and, he could not even enter the game, given the elusive 1 that had, for some reason decided not to unveil! A few more rounds of defeat deflated his motivation and, inflated his anger by leaps and bounds. He threw the dice and the pawns on the ground and, walked away. A while later, I saw him facing the wall in anger with the tears that just won’t stop!
For some reason, at that moment, I became more a sibling and less a mother. And, I flew in a rage and growled – “Arjun! You aren’t sportive at all! We also lost the initial rounds. Did we get angry and cry like you? What is wrong with you?!!”
My mum instantly took me aside and calmed me down saying, “What are you doing? He has not even turned six years yet and, you are treating him like your sibling. What you said is right. But, the way you said it will have no effect. Because, at the moment, he is not in the grid where he can listen. Give him time.”
The day passed slowly. The son was not talking with me. My very first win dented his chest of ego. I wasn’t surprised. I had behaved far more unreasonably when I lost a game of chess to my mum at his age. Like mum said, I gave him time to lick his wounded verve. After he came back from park, he decide to play with my mum. Granny won. He lost, yet again. But this time, he was far more composed and, played yet another round. Round 2 was a win for him. He wanted to play more but, my mum gently explained about the cons of addiction. And, he listened quietly. He relented.
Then his tantrums stopped while my mum played. However, they escalated when I went ahead of him. I slowly sensed the feeling of competition my son was harnessing within him towards me. Although I am a sibling mommy (a mommy who reprises the role of a sibling), given that I am single child, this time I decided I will let it pass. Later, my parents had to go back to the hometown for a short while. So, it was me and him again. Hubby is away on work and, the home alone saga was not the vision we had in mind, again. Nevertheless, we played the game almost everyday before sleeping. And, he slowly went back to phase 0 where, winning mattered and, winning was all that mattered. We played two rounds of the game everyday. And, I let him win most of the time for two reasons:
- One, I was dead tired towards the end of each day, with absolutely no mood or intent or the energy to tackle his vigor filled with rogue electrons!
- Two, my mum tells me that a child must go to sleep at night in a happy state.
So, his winning spree continued. Most times, in the right way and sometimes, due to my self induced complacency. I was in touch with my mum everyday and, yesterday I mentioned about my parenting woes, in a passing comment. It was then she said something and, I realized I had to undo the wrong I was doing.
“Narayani, game is a game. You cannot bend the rules all the time for a child. It is like opening a cocoon even before the butterfly has developed its wings. A child’s mind is like the wet mud on a potter’s wheel. Once shaped, nothing can be done. Even though it is just a game, it is a very serious thing. You cannot let him win because he will throw a tantrum if he doesn’t. And, the very game you are playing teaches you this – Life is full of snakes and ladders. So, if he loses, so be it. He has to learn to deal with failures. And, you have to let him do so, by himself. What I told you that day was the same – Use the right words to explain to him. And you, knowing how to play with words shouldn’t be asking me how to draft such an important message for your child. Right?”
Right. I thought over for a long time before hitting the bed, yesterday. And then, I had an idea, a vague idea that shall take a form the next morning.
So, today that happened to be a lazy Saturday morning started with the game, unusually. The son was motivated and charged. But before beginning the game, I told him that I will play with him only if he listens to a story from me. The expressions changed slowly and, he sat with folded legs on the bed and, looked intently at me. After some pause, he charged – “What are you waiting for? The story please!”
And then, I began,
“Somewhere in the year 1968, a young girl of 12 was studying in a municipal school in the district of Coimbatore. Municipal schools of those days weren’t exactly the part of elite schools team. They were for lower and lower middle class families. All the children did was, play, play, play! It seemed fun to this girl too. However, her father thought differently. He suddenly decided that she must go to a better school and, hence put her in an elite school. The admission test was writing a simple essay, which the girl wrote. Although teachers had reservations about taking her in sixth grade given her poor foundation in English, the principal felt there was some hidden verve in the girl and so, she was taken in.
The girl on knowing she was going to a different school broke down for two reasons:
- One, she was being separated from her friends. The realms of familiarity had ended for her.
- Two, fear of unknown.
But, she was her father’s daughter. And since, her father meant world to her, she proceeded with the decision. The first day felt like being blindfolded and let in a jungle. She did not understand a word being taught in class. Besides, she was bullied too. Since, English was never a medium of communication before, she felt traumatized by the words and tones of this foreign language”
The son now looked at me intently and asked, “What happened then?”
“Well son, the first two weeks were a nightmare. But with a little help from a kind classmate and a lot of encouragement from a kind teacher, she discovered the essence of hard work. She came back home one day and began to study an English lesson. Having come from a Tamil Medium school that had no subject of English, the first day felt like reading gibberish. She understood nothing. It felt frustrating. Her teacher encouraged her – “Try and try and you will succeed”. So, the second day she tried again. Again, no results. A week passed like that. And then, gradually she started reading with little fluency. The teacher too helped her in school. Yet another week passed. She read with a fewer pauses. As weeks progressed, the first unit test came and, she fared just ok. For her though, it felt like having taken the first step of the run in the long marathon! A few more weeks progressed and, it was time for quarterly exams. She studied hard, very hard indeed. She kept herself awake through the night and, revised in early mornings. And, during the exam time, she revised again.
The results came. And, the girl had topped the class.
The son’s eyes gleamed with joy. He exclaimed – “YAY!”
“Now son, do you know how many times she stumbled before reaching the pinnacle? Countless times! But eventually, she aced her test. Now, why did I tell you this story? Because life is also a test like that. And, this game is one of the chapters in the test.
When we play a game, we either win or lose. When we win, we are happy. When we lose, we become sad. But a failure comes with a hidden cookie – “the chance to do it again!” So, if you lose in this small game, what is the big deal? You again have a chance to dodge the snake’s head, right?”
Suddenly, the son’s eyes twinkled as if he understood where I was getting at. And, he candidly replies – “Ok! I will not cry if I lose. This time you will win.”
I corrected him – “I am glad you will not cry if you lose. But at the same time, you must not give up. Begin with the thought to win. And, end with the hope that if you lose, you will strive for better next time.”
And then, we played for an hour in which we both had our wins and flips. But this time, the defeats were not a scene of howling/yelling/crying/cajoling. It was rather a scene of acceptance that came with the hope – Next time shall be good.
As we ended the game, I asked my son – “You did not ask me who that little girl is?”
The son suddenly looked into my eyes – “You know her? Where is she?”
I said – “You know her too. She is none other than your first girlfriend – your adorable grandmother – Seetha paati, your favourite Bajju Paati, my mum :D”
Lessons learned for both the mother and son:
Life is full of snakes and ladders. Sometimes, you fall. Sometimes, you rise. Sometimes, you get the chance to try again. Sometimes, you are forced to take a pause. Sometimes, you win and, you feel elated. Sometimes, you lose and, you feel dejected. But all the time, there is one thing that you do – Keep doing what you do. Don’t stop your journey. Keep going. After all,