The other day, I was sorting through some of the kid’s toys and ran across the “Mouse Trap” game that John had received for his sixth birthday. If you’ve never played it before, you’re really missing something.
“Mouse Trap” is an intriguing array of rickety old stairs, suspended bathtubs, winding chutes, wheels, cranks, and even a catapulting skydiver, which the players build as they progress around the game board, winning pieces of cheese as they go along. The object of the game (and you must time things just right) is to trap the other players’ mice in a little mouse cage that comes plummeting down on top of them. If you’re the last “free” rodent, you win.
Now, in general, John is a very loving and generous kid. But, whenever anyone else wins “Mouse Trap,” he considers it simply scandalous. You might think it’s due to an out of whack competitive nature, but it’s not. John likes to come out on top like most of us, but he has no inherent desire to crush others. No, the problem with someone else winning John’s “Mouse Trap” game is that it’s his game, given to him as a birthday present and therefore he feels that he should be the one to win it. Every time.
I’ve tried repeatedly to remedy this malady with motherly affection and reason, but to no avail. I’ve tried to explain to John that the winner of the game is not determined by who owns it. But, he’ll have none of that. Telling him that it’s up to chance would be even worse, because, thanks to our incessant drilling, he believes that everything that happens is part of God’s loving plan for us. And what kind of God would make a kid lose his own “Mouse Trap” game?
“John, I can see you’re upset that you didn’t win the game,” I say to his sweaty, tear-washed head buried in my lap. “But you can’t expect to win every time. Sometimes you’ll win and sometimes someone else will win.”
He says nothing as smothered siren cries rise from my rapidly soaking lap.
“John? Did you hear what I said? Do you understand that we all take turns being winners and losers?” I prod.
John heaves a great sigh. “Yes, I know that. I know I have to lose sometimes…but not my game!”
Then it’s my turn to sigh as I tenderly stroke his bewildered head. How very childish he is. How much he still has to learn about life. How difficult it is to teach him how to be accepting when things don’t turn out his way. How complicated it is to show him that the pieces aren’t always going to go together the way he expects them to. No matter how I try, he just doesn’t see it.
How very much he sounds just like…me. How I hate to lose my own game. How I hate it when the wheels and cranks don’t turn the way I want them to. How I absolutely abhor it when someone else gets to take a piece of cheese and not me. How I hate to give up a turn, lose a chance to erect a part of the trap or when the rules say I have to do something that I don’t want to do. And please don’t tell me to calm down when I’m planning on a course of action and the mousetrap comes plummeting down on top of me.
I’m referring to life itself. Isn’t it just like a game? Always moving forwards and backwards, always at the mercy of someone else’s moves, always facing the unexpected. And just when you think you’ve decided on a course of action, you suddenly find yourself landing on the ‘Go Back to Start” space. This is my game – my life – and I want to be the one to say when and how I’m going to move. I want to be the winner of my own game.
If not for my own human weakness, I’d realize that the game I play isn’t mine at all. It was created for me by the Master Game Maker and presented to me by my parents. Yes, it’s a gift, but it isn’t really mine to keep. I’m only a player at the mercy of the rules and chances, twists and turns worked into the game by its Creator. There are choices I can make during the game, but whether I find myself caught in the trap at the end is up to him. It’s all a matter of a roll of the dice.
My Master Game Maker will assure that every roll lands in the way that is best suited for me. Although it may not seem opportune to me, he knows exactly when to catapult my skydiver. And when I’ve made the wrong choice, he’ll gently put me on the “Go Back to Start” space so that I can get back on track. The game at times may seem perplexing and aggravating. I may rant and rave because my bathtub has collapsed. I may become completely confused because I wonder where all my cheese has gone. But it’s my own near-sightedness and ignorance that keeps me from being able to see the order of the fame and the way the board is laid out before me. If I could do that, I would certainly find it much easier to allow myself to be moved by the hand of the Master Game Maker.
(© 2003 Marge Fenalon)