Monday, October 13, 2008

I Can't Believe I'm Losing To A Wooden Dog...

So tonight was one of those nights where order ruled in the household.

Sort of. The kids were actually holy terrors. Not even playing George Winston managed to calm them down. They were making all kinds of silly little-kid jokes that weren't even funny the first fifty times they tried them, let alone after that.* And then there was the kid who intentionally gagged on the food she didn't want to eat, and the other kid who just up and dropped his plate on the floor when he was done with it....

So Daddy blew his stack and sent child number two to bed early. And then he took the now ironically-named Happy Boy for a walk around the block (in the dark) while everyone else cooled off. And then after the Happy Boy went to bed, Daddy played the last fifteen measures of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata (first movement) over and over and over again until serenity reigned.

And once again, order ruled in the household. Funny how things calm down when you only have to deal with one kid, and she's nearly six.


So while I was using the piano to establish a more serene mood in the household, Tonya pulled out our Mancala board to teach a little strategy to the Pillowfight Fairy--something we've been intending to do for some time. Mommy taught the rules to the Fairy, from the instruction sheet that came with the board.

Incidentally, I played a version of Mancala when I was a kid, and the instructions that came with the board were totally different than the instructions I knew. There are many different versions of the basic Mancala game out there.

Well, the Pillowfight Fairy did her manful best, and did OK--she actually came within one stone of tying Mommy. Now, Mommy prefers playing word games like Scrabble; she's not much of a look-ahead-five-moves kind of strategy player. So she wasn't surprised that the Fairy did as well as she did.

So then I asked if I could play. By this point the Fairy was rather intrigued by the game, and agreed. And, being Daddy, I demolished her. ;-) And that was even with the occasional helpful hint about how she really didn't want to do that move--because if she did, I'd be able to capture all those stones in that pit right there...

But the funniest thing happened at the end of the game: she didn't break down in tears at the unfairness of the universe in not permitting her to win! This is, so far as I can tell, a serious breakthrough. So, I went off to do something else...

...and when I got back, she was practicing strategy. And she had picked out a foe worthy of her talents:

She would make a move from her own side. Then, she would pick up the wooden dog, dance it over to one of the pits on the other side, and make its move for it--with a suitable running commentary on what the "dog" was doing, of course.

I had come back about halfway through her game with the dog, and she was clearly winning against the poor hound. So I decided that he needed a little help.

"Now if I were the dog, here's the move I would make, and this is why..."

And then she would try to make a move that clearly would set up several of her stones to be captured, and I would warn her: "But if you do that, the dog can do this, and then..."

Surprisingly, she didn't object to the fact that the dog was now benefiting from my kibitzing. Not even, mind you, when the dog started to win again. Instead, I noticed that she started employing some strategic thinking of her own--moving the stones from the pits that were threatened with capture, counting stones to see how far they would go, that sort of thing.

Finally, that game ended and we started counting up the stones in great anticipation... and it was a tie! The Pillowfight Fairy, and the little wooden dog, had each taken 24 stones! This made the Fairy very, very happy, and she started to jump and bounce around:

"We both won! We both won!"

So after an appropriate celebration, we reset the board, and she started to play again. This time I "helped" the wooden dog all the way from the beginning of the game, and at each move, I warned her what the dangers of various moves were--what the dog would do if she made certain moves. She did Ok, but this time the dog came out victorious.

The Fairy, again, took the loss well in stride. She did make some comments that were vaguely Rodney-Dangerfield-like, about how she just lost to a wooden dog! But these comments weren't accompanied by weeping and gnashing of teeth, so we consider the night a success. And most importantly, she is now hooked on a (non-computer!) strategy game--which I see as a big, big plus. Strategy games work the brain, help to train up logical skills.

But I fear we'll have to find her an opponent she can win against once in a while, lest she lose interest. And that means it can't be as tough as that durn wooden dog. Maybe the Adrenaline Junkie? Ah, but then we have to find someone the Junkie can win against on occasion. And the Happy Boy would just eat the pieces at this point, I'm afraid.

Maybe I can learn to play Blindfold Mancala?

*Although, in as foul a mood as I was, I admit I couldn't help laughing when I overheard this exchange just before dinner:
Exasperated Mommy: What are you doing?

Pillowfight Fairy: I'm straightening my tongue...

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