Chutes and Ladders

When I was three, my favorite game was Chutes and Ladders.

My parents bought me the game. To the best of my memory, it was the first game I ever had. It was either that or Candy Land, which was also a fun game but the chocolate goo monster kind of scared me.

I remember how bright and fun the board was and how clear the colors were – unlike my crayon drawings. All the game pieces fit so neatly in the box.

And I remember that I wanted to play that game. All. The. Fucking. Time.

At three years old that game was the most exciting activity I could think of. Who would start out in the lead and would that lead hold? Will the person in first place land on an unlucky chute? Would this be one of those games where I landed on that crazy tall ladder? (It almost never happened, but the thought of it was such a thrill.)

I’m 29 now. Over the course of many years, many lessons, and much hard work on my part, I have come to learn that Chutes and Ladders is a shit game.

It’s shit. Just shit.

In spite of my understanding – my deep, deep understanding – of game mechanics, tactics and strategy, dynamic win states, and my general taste for high-brow entertainment, I somehow feel tonight that same feeling I had as a child for the shitty game of Chutes and Ladders.

It’s not often I have an experience like this. And, maybe, it isn’t a common one (though I wouldn’t consider myself to be truly unique in any way and I’m absolutely positive this experience is far more common than I am aware). But somehow tonight, some 26-year-old neural pathway has been activated, bringing back the memory of asking my dad over and over again for another game of Chutes and Ladders.

And maybe this should be some kind of emotionally cathartic experience for me? Maybe I should feel some sort of tender nostalgia for my relatively-comfortable early childhood development. But all I can think is:

My poor dad. What a shitty game to have to play over and over again.

And, like, what can he do? There’s an innocent, little three-year-old, sitting there only wanting to do the most exciting thing they’ve ever experienced in their short life and what are you going to do? Tell them “no” because it’s actually a shitty-ass game??

Of course not.

So my poor father (and he’s not a patient one – another wisdom I’ve learned over the course of almost three decades) plays this boring-ass game over and over again just to appease a tiny little guilt-tripper (me, but small).

I just can’t imagine the balance of guilt and resentment: guilt if you don’t play, resentment if you do.

The generational gap between my parents and me is astounding. In this, I don’t mean the differences between their generation and mine, per se. I mean the difference between what my life looks like compared to theirs at the same age (I’m knowingly misusing a common term, get over it).

My dad was a little older than me during the Chutes and Ladders era; my mother was nearly 10 years younger. To that, all I can say is:

Thank God I don’t have kids.

There is no way I would be able to balance that guilt and resentment in a healthy way.

Kid shit is boring.

I cannot be the only one who’s willing to say it! And it’s not an insult to children – they literally know nothing else! Every damn thing is new to them and new shit is scary! It’s totally understandable why kids want to play games with 100 spaces that rely on pure chance: 100 is the biggest number they can conceive of and adults kick their ass at everything skill-based. It’s just good business.

On the other hand, I have boring adult shit that I want to do.

I am an adult with fully-developed emotional and social needs, not to mention a frequently overwhelming number of taxing responsibilities and demands (and I don’t even have a kid). When I can’t successfully manage each and every one of my needs and responsibilities, I have a loaded arsenal of healthy (and unhealthy) coping mechanisms that I rely on to get me through whatever temporary obstacles lay in my way.

The child, on the other hand, has a developmental inability to interpret social interactions or maintain relationships that are not entirely concrete and rhythmically in their lives. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the kid, they’re just a kid! And as the child grows and learns and develops, they will start acting like whatever a human being of that age generally should. But at three-years-old, the kid is almost entirely physically, emotionally, and socially dependent on its parents. It’s just biology.

And I have to say, that scares the shit out of me.

Because when I imagine what it’s like to have a child, the first thing I feel is the anxiety that I could never meet the emotional and social needs of that child. I remember my favorite childhood game and immediately think:

I hope a three-year-old never asks me to play that shitty-ass game.

I could never play that game without resenting an innocent child for stealing five minutes of my important, grown-up time. And, remembering in full consciousness what Chutes and Ladders meant to me, I could never refuse a child a game without feeling soul-crushing guilt.

If you think this is a joke, I promise you: It is 2 o’clock in the morning and I am feeling some kind of way.

And if you thought this post was heading toward some enlightening conclusion, you done thought wrong. I had no idea what this was going to be except maybe a classic example of oversharing on the internet or some kind of unsettling open-book e-diary. This is just me writing down my feelings and feeling like a mf wordsmith as I real-time revise my own orthography. (bars)

On average, my generation is having kids at a much lower rate than previous generations. I couldn’t tell you what shared phenomenon is causing that change for the masses. But what I can say is that, in my case, it’s not necessarily for a lack of wanting kids – I’m just so afraid that I’ll fuck them up because I’m fucked up.

In the novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain, someone explains that children grow up to be the opposite of what they hated most about their parents. Well, apparently my solution was to grow up to just not be a parent.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my parents. I have a good relationship with about half of them. And against the others, I hold no harsh resentments. Candidly, feelings of anger and resentment have melted into pity for a person who probably felt a lot like I do now, writing this post (except in their case it was too late to change their mind).

This is starting to derail, so I’ll ad hoc a conclusion.

If I ever have kids, I hope they grow up to be the opposite of what I hate about myself. And I’ll never buy them Chutes and Ladders. That’s just good parenting.