Between a long pumpkin-orange curtain and an east-facing patio door, I lay sprawled on the hard linoleum, trying to soak up what remnants there were from the winter morning sun. Just on the other side of the curtain, also sprawled across the white linoleum, was the game Candy Land in all its glory. Little plastic gingerbread men lay tipped sideways on the colorful board. Patches of colors from cards lay scattered across the floor, where in a fit of temper I had flung them. I untangled my feet from the curtain and beat them against the floor. “Stop doing that,” Mom said, but I wasn’t done yet.
“Mo-o-om", I whined, "you said you’d play Candy Land with me!” She sighed (which was her trademark verbal eye-roll) and turned another page in her book (a boring book with no pictures— I know because I’d looked). I hated being sick, and that day was the worst; all my sibling playmates were at school, and my baby sister was asleep, and I was sick and cold, and couldn’t go outside to build a snowman. It was just so boring! (enough to drive any 5-year-old crazy). “MOM!” Gosh, you had to yell to get her attention sometimes, “you said you’d play with me!”
She turned another page in her book (I could hear it), and cranked her feet up in the Lazyboy recliner (a brief metallic, mechanical creak). “Mmm-hmm” she said. (We always interpreted that to be “Yes”, but it didn’t make sense in this case). Either she was going to get down out of that chair and play with me (that would be a yes), or else she’d keep reading (which would be a no). You don’t say “mmm-hmm” and not really mean it. You don’t read a boring book with no pictures in it when you have something actually fun like Candy Land in front of you, replete with characters like Mr. Mint, Lord Licorice, Gramma Nutt, King Kandy, and my favorite, Queen Frostine. And there were the colors all in squares of purple, green, orange, yellow, green and blue… (I hoped I’d get a lot of double purple cards so I could get to the castle first). I could almost taste the gumdrops and ice-cream floats. I peeked out the curtain; Mom’s eyes were glued to her book. She turned another page. I stomped my feet again.
“Get the cards together then,” she said, “you’ve made rather a mess of things”. I took that as a “yes” again, and quickly extricated myself from my warm patch of sun, and shoved the cards into a sloppy pile.
“Who do you want to be?” I sang (practically giddy).
“You choose” she said unenthusiastically.
“You can be green,” I told her generously (I knew that was her favorite color), and I put the green gingerbread man on the start square. I chose blue (the closest to purple). “I get to go first,” I said, pulling the first card, a green card, off the pile. I moved my blue guy a few squares forward. “Your turn,” I called.
“Mmm-hmm,” she said, eyes still glued to her book.
“MOM!” I burst out “You’re not even looking!”
“Just go for me,” she said, looking up briefly, turning another page (this goes on for several turns). Fun leached out of the game. Colors faded in a moment. Determined, I finished the game, vowing with each new flip of a card that if my children ever wanted to play Candy Land with me, I’d play.
Well, a promise is a promise—something you just have to keep, even if it’s made of long ago candies long irrelevant. And attitude is one of those things that comes back around to haunt you from your own children. Years of forgetting lay between me and that day, but it all came back in full-color one day while reading Watership Down, a great classic. I was right in the middle of one of Dandelion’s stories about El-ahrairah and Prince Rainbow…
“Mo-o-om!” my daughter Dani whines, “You said you’d play Candy Land with me.”
For a second I pause, really wanting to finish Dandelion’s story, but my memory’s story is far more potent. I put down the book and look at my daughter, disappointment in me is obvious in her face. How could I be reading when there was something fun and exciting right in front of me? We play the childish game three times in a row before she’s finally bored of it and I can get back to that book.
I had to tell the whole story to my husband that night, and Dani, over-hearing, has held me to that promise all these 16 years.
So now, when my three-year-old comes pattering into the room holding up a small tin-can of tomato paste and a wash cloth begging for Dani to play dollies with her, we give each other a knowing look. She puts down her riveting book, reaches out and gently blankets the can with the cloth and cradles it in her arms. “What’s your dolly’s name?” she asks.
It’s better than any book.