16 Sep

When I was growing up with four older sisters, I always wanted to be a part of what they were doing. Being their baby brother many times meant I wasn’t included. So when I was invited into the weekly Monopoly tournament, it was a big deal.

We would order pizza, subs and wings from Santora’s Pizzaria in Buffalo. It was without question the nighttime meal of the gods and I have yet to experience anything of equal culinary excellence. They were typically 45 minutes to an hour late but we only cared until the food showed up and we dug in. And truth be told, there was bonding to be had in the complaining about how long it took for them to deliver a ham sub, large pizza and a bucket of wings.

But back to the game. My sisters had turned Monopoly into a ritual and a right of passage. They were ruthless and at times down right ugly. The events of the week could see two of them teaming up against a third and games, with the help of some lofty house rules, could go deep into the night. As a young lad of 7 or 8 to be included in this barbaric Milton Bradley skirmish, was what I’d been waiting for my entire life. I knew nothing about money, real estate or luxary tax, (not like now) but I was damn well ready to find out.

Monopoly with my sisters. Ah yes, I can still hear the screaming, the name calling and arguing. The accusations of stealing from the bank, the disputes over deals gone bad and the challenges over the rules of bankruptcy. Mind you I knew nothing about the game, a fact my sisters were often more than happy to take advantage of. I’m sure I was the victim of more than one bad deal come trading time. Looking back, a financial advisor would likely have been a sound investment. Regardless, those are nights I look back on as some of my most cherished memories. Staying up past my bed time, hanging with my siblings, being yelled at by our dad for not being in bed by 10. And of course, it was where my devout love of chicken wings was born, back before they were known anywhere outside of Western New York.

And so, as a dad I had looked forward to the day when I would have the opportunity to pass this tradition on to my own kids. And tonight, that dream was fulfilled. We ordered pizza and wings, albeit not Santora’s (no offense Pizza Hut, but it’s not the same), got out drinks for everyone and set up our little battle ground. We had already gone through a couple of practice rounds so that everyone would have a basic idea of how the game worked. And so it was that we laid out our money, picked our game pieces and off we went on our first time around the board before buying any properties.

In preparation, I also made sure I was fully prepared for the emotional roller coaster that would ensue. Three kids, staying up late, poppin’ back lemonade after lemonade, stressed out over potential financial ruin. Finally they would be able to relate to my own world. And I was not to be disappointed. The ingredients were all there for a fairly descent sized nuclear bomb and as advertised, the fuse was occasionally lit.

But that’s why I wanted to be there for these initial games. More than once I had to intervene as one would try to basically scam another by convincing them trading a monopoly for Baltic Avenue was a good idea. Or buy a house on Vermont and then try to move it to Pacific Avenue. There was some name calling, a few choice words, attempts to make up rules mid game and I’m pretty sure I saw one or two hotels fly across the table. But somehow we made it. All told, the game took about 4 hours. Our youngest was the first one out. But he took it fairly well. Better than I expected actually. Then the second youngest and finally, despite a valiant attempt to survive with the Baltic & Mediterranean combo with hotels, all it took was one flesh wound from landing on a fully developed New York Ave followed by a lethal blow to the bank with a stay at a hotel on Boardwalk and the game was essentially over.

But the groundwork had been laid. The tradition established. And one day dad will be left out and the three will have an opportunity to bond even tighter as siblings.

So a quick assessment reinforced to me the importance of evenings like tonight. They seem so trivial in some ways, but the bonding that takes place; it’s un paralleled. The kids loosened up to a degree I rarely see them.
The joking, the sarcasm, the snide remarks typically meant for school chums, now being tossed at dear old dad. There were of course deals made, handshakes, conflicts resolved but most of all, a ton of laughter. To have those moments when defenses are down seems to open doors I otherwise would never have the chance to peer through. To me that makes the roller coaster ride worth every roll of the dice.

Now, before I wrap it up, a word of caution. Be prepared for confrontations. Monopoly can be a stressful endeavor for a 7, 8 or 10 year old, let alone all three of them. There will be crying. There will be tempers. Just do your best to use this experience as a teaching forum on how to handle stress and conflict, because they will both be encountered, most likely more than once. It can get ugly so do your best to be patient and keep it light hearted. You WILL need to be the voice of reason more than once, so be prepared. Just sayin’.

And so it is that our little tourney has been established. The foundation laid. And when all was said and done we all learned a little something about our family tonight along with how to count money and broker a deal. We laughed, we cried, we all passed GO and collected 200 or so terrific memories, along with maybe 2 or 3 that we’ll all laugh about ten years or twenty years from now.


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