Yesterday I was babysitting my niece and we decided to play Life. As I soon discovered, when you are in the middle of a mid-life crisis, that game takes on a whole new meaning.
It started out simply enough. Each of us chose our career from the pile of cards. I was a teacher and my niece decided she wanted to be a doctor, so she looked through all of the cards in the pile until she found the right one. I guess the first lesson in Life is that everyone doesn't always play by the rules.
Then we got to choose our salary cards. I got $70,000 a year, which is pretty good for a teacher. My niece ended up with $100,000 per year. As she put it, "I am going to be rich!"
Next, we got to pick our houses. My niece opted for a nice two-bedroom condo in the city. Then she chose a more modest cabin in the woods for me, since I would have to live off of a meager teacher's salary. So far, I was feeling pretty good about my life in the game of Life. Then things started to get interesting.
Each of the major decisions along the board has a red stop sign, which means you have to stop and take action. The next stop sign was for marriage. Unlike buying a house, getting married is not a choice in the game of life. Everyone who lands their car at the red stop sign has to pick up a spouse and place him or her into the passenger seat.
My niece gladly reached into the box and picked out a little blue husband peg. "His name is Roberto," she declared with a smile. Then it was my turn to pick a mate.
"Well, what is his name?" She looked at me eagerly as I held the blue peg in my hand. I had to think about it for a moment. Then the name Daniel came to mind. "Oh, that's a good name," my niece told me. So Daniel and I set off on our journey to see what else the game of Life had in store for us.
The next phase of the game focused on having and raising children. Interestingly enough, there is no red stop sign forcing the players to make a decision about having kids. There are spaces scattered throughout that section of the board that say "It's a Boy" or "It's a Girl" or "Twins!"
On her next spin, my niece landed on the "It's a Girl" space. She announced her daughter's name would be Alice and she carefully placed a pink peg in the seat behind hers. On my next spin, I landed on a space for paying my taxes. "Yeah, that sounds about right," I thought to myself.
My niece then landed on the "It's a Boy" space. She named her little blue peg Derek and then it was back to me. As I spun the wheel I found myself hoping to land on one of the baby spaces, as if having a child in the game of Life would somehow make up for the decision not to have children in my real life. I spun a three and landed on the "It's a Boy" space.
"Well, what's his name?" my niece asked. That one was easy. It was Henry. I have always loved that name and I knew that if I ever had boys, they would be named Henry and Max. My niece rigged the spinner so she could land on the "Adopt Twins" space and with the addition of Lucas and Carol, her little family was complete.
It was the first time I noticed that the "Adopt Twins" space was the last one before entering into the mid-life section of the board. The makers of the game sure tried to be true to reality. I guess that is pretty much where I am at in my real life as well.
As I moved through the rest of the game, everything seemed easier with Daniel and Henry by my side. Henry went off to college at a cost of $20,000 and Daniel and I ended up owning a race horse. And I ran for mayor as well.
By the end of the game, Daniel and I were set up for a pleasant retirement in Countryside Acres. My niece, of course, ended up in Millionaire Estates. She invited Daniel and I to move in there with her so we could all hang out together.
Playing the game felt like a parallel universe where I could explore what my life would have been like if I had made other choices. And I have to say that I was pretty happy there.
These past few months, as I have struggled to find meaning in my life, I often find myself revisiting the choices I made in my 30's. Especially about getting married and having kids.
Back then, I was so certain that it was not at all what I wanted. Now here I am at 42 and I wonder if I had it all wrong. I am getting close to the point where having a Henry in my life may not be a possibility. But hopefully my Daniel is still out there.