Monday, January 21, 2008

Building a better mousetrap

Julia has raced home from school, anxious to attack the pile of gifts which she received at her birthday party yesterday. The party timing was unfortunate; by the time the gifts were all opened and recorded onto the thank you note list, it was really too late in the evening to do much playing. It now appears, however, that anticipation may just have made the spoils all the sweeter. Julia has apparently spent the better part of the school day discussing her haul with friends and deciding which of her gifts she will play with first, and she is tearing plastic off of shrink wrapped boxes before I've even removed my coat.

First up is a board game which made Paul groan when he saw it come out of the wrapping paper last night. "I had that one when I was a kid," he had told Julia. "It's a pain to set up." I guess it's just as well she's selecting it now, as we have the whole afternoon ahead of us to figure out the set up. I've spent countless hours punching out cardboard squares and affixing decorative stickers and inserting Tab A into slot B in my career as a mother. I'm sure that I'm up for the challenge of a new board game.

Twenty minutes later, I've lost all of my bravado and am swearing softly under my breath as I survey the oddly shaped plastic pieces spread all around me. The incredibly detailed direction booklet, which I originally thought would be my salvation here, is mocking me. Nothing fits as it suggests. There are tiny rubber bands and weird cardboard cutouts to contend with. Completing Step 4 should feel like a small victory, but the knowledge that I have another dozen or so steps to go somewhat dulls any satisfaction I might otherwise have felt. The picture on the box isn't helping at all. The directions aren't much better. I am trying to resist the urge to simply duck tape the whole thing together haphazardly. My children, meanwhile, are ooing and aahing as they watch my progress over my shoulder. They are so excited to play this game. I'm doing this for them, of course. And it is for them, I tell myself, that I am swatting their hands away and screaming at them every time they so much as reach out to touch my handiwork. "Don't touch! Don't play with that!" I snap again and again. So far, this is really fun.

They wander off to check out a few gifts which require a bit less assembly, but my mission continues. I am not going to let this game defeat me. I am an educated, intelligent, capable woman. Surely, I can put together a board game. "I can do this," I mutter repeatedly as I doggedly work my way through the directions. And, it turns out, I can. I really can assemble a board game. I am gleeful in my victory until I notice that it has taken me just under an hour and a half.

The children return to see what I've accomplished and are delighted to see the game set up. I still have a page and a half worth of directions to read before I'll be able to teach them how to play the game but first, my new bible informs me, we should check to make sure all of the traps work correctly. The children drop three small marbles (sure to be gone by nightfall) into the plastic toilet to start the game. This in itself is worthy of hysterical giggles, of course. I'm so glad that I've taken the time to put this game together. Ceremoniously, they flush. Only one of the three traps I've built so laboriously appear to work correctly. "If a trap doesn't work," the directions advise me in the kind of large red lettering which leads me to believe that I may not be the first person to encounter this kind of difficulty, "see the relevant section and check all parts are assembled to the board correctly." I sigh and flip back a few pages.

The children start touching things again. Every single time they lay a finger on anything, it falls apart. As I resolve a problem on one part of the board, they create 4 or 5 others. I'm no longer even quite certain what needs to be fixed. If they can do this much damage just admiring the board, what's going to happen when there are dice and game pieces and the joy of victory and the agony of defeat to contend with? I can't think about that now, though, not if I'm going to get this thing done. I shoo the kids away again, begging them to just keep their hands away from the board for a little while longer. "I'm almost there," I promise. "Pretty soon, we can all play." I try not to notice the look that passes between Julia and Evan. I have a sneaking suspicion that they may not have all that much confidence in my abilities here. "It's OK," I assure them. "This is going to be a great game."

They smile unconvincingly at me and then Julia turns to her brother. "Come on Evan, she says. "Let's go play The Magic Tooth Fairy Game." Evan crows with delight and they race off to find the box. Minutes later, I hear the happy laughter of my children as they enjoy a board game together. I sigh and push away the still-incomplete Mousetrap board. My legs are so cramped that I can barely get to my feet. I may not be able to put together a board game, I tell myself with a wry smile, but I can see the future. And it is because of my amazing fortunetelling abilities that I know with absolute certainty that this game is going to get lost in our move back to the U.S.


Blogger Kristy said...

At least you have a legitimate "excuse" as to the reason behind the sudden, but convenient, disappearance of certain toys. Me? I just toss them in the trash when they're not looking and hope, beg and pray they won't notice...

6:24 PM  
Blogger Iota said...

Don't ever buy Rumble in the Jungle. Even though the advert makes it look so easy and such fun.

2:22 AM  
Blogger Liesl said...

My parents always refused to get me this game because it had a reputation for being a nightmare to assemble. I always figured it couldn't possibly be that difficult; I was planning to get it for Liam (well, OK, me) someday soon. After reading your post, I will definitely revisit that plan!

2:23 AM  
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3:23 AM  
Blogger mumof4 said...

I am glad for the heads up on that one - I'll make sure to avoid it in the aisle at Target.

5:22 AM  
Blogger pinksundrops said...

I vaguely remember that game as a child! I do remember LOVing it.

11:00 PM  
Blogger Steph said...

I loved the game as a kid, and had it on a list of future purchases for my girls. You have just successfully convinced me to change those plans... :)

4:05 PM  

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