My son, Jax, is obsessed with Monopoly Junior. He thinks it is the best game ever invented, which let’s be honest, is slightly unfortunate for those of us around him. We play it after dinner, before breakfast, on the iPad. It’s a lot of Monopoly Junior. I feel like I am participating in a Monopoly-marathon, but with no glorious finish line in sight.
But I’m playing. My all-airplane-all-the-time son has found something that isn’t aviation-related, and this seems like a good thing. I’m going with it.
Jax hasn’t been in school much this year. We tried, we gave it a go, but due to the combo of autism, anxiety, medical issues, and an increasingly small comfort zone, we landed at home with a teacher coming to the house two days a week. It’s not ideal, for him or for me, but it’s where we ended up.
His academics are stagnant. My son is almost ten, and his special education goals stayed at first grade level all year. And he didn’t meet those goals.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about setting more realistic expectations for my son. It’s hard. But first grade, you guys. First grade. My son is scribbling on math worksheets as if 6 + 2 is a foreign language to him. He can’t sound out the word “twin,” and his academic frustration level is through the roof. I talked to the teacher, looked at the progress, watched the behaviors. None of it was hopeful. It’s just too hard for him.
I might be playing Monopoly Junior, a game designed for young children, for the rest of my life. That’s ok, if that’s where my son lands, that’s ok. I’ll admit that a part of me wondered why a kid who can tell me about minute features of Boeing aircraft is unable to learn basic addition, but I’m not an educator. I’m just a mom, and the worksheets speak for themselves.
“Hey, Mom, pay attention! It’s my roll.”
Jax rolled a six and a two.
He tapped his token along the spaces, saying nothing.
Something was off. I waited for his next turn.
A four and a three.
“Yeah, seven! Free parking!!” This time he moved the token, without tapping, directly to the right space.
Jax didn’t count to six and then to two. He didn’t count to four and then to three. He didn’t count at all, he knew what the dice totaled.
“Jax, what’s six plus three.”
“What’s eight plus four?”
“Twelve. Mom, your turn.”
“If I roll a five, where do I land?”
Immediately, “GO TO JAIL!!”
The next time we played, which was a whopping three hours later, Jax brought out the original Monopoly, not the Junior edition. I got nervous. The money in the junior version is all ones, and the rules are much, much simpler. But he insisted.
I divvied out our money, started the game, and prepared myself for the inevitable frustration when Jax realized that the game was too complicated for him. Those scribbly, intensely challenging worksheets were looming large in my head.
“BAH!” he said, perfectly mimicking his dad. “I landed on Income Tax! $75!”
He handed me a fifty, a twenty and a five.
I didn’t understand this. It takes my child a herculean effort to add 4 plus 4. They told me this, I’ve seen it. The worksheets, the goals, he is barely progressing. He is topping out at a first grade level.
But Jax bought properties, he read their prices and paid with the exact bills. He bought houses, charged me the correct rent, read the Chance cards. We were playing Monopoly. My kid was reading and doing math, and we were playing Monopoly.
I landed on a utility, and because I owned both, he owed me ten times the number on the dice.
“Haha!” I said. “You owe me ten times what the dice is! The dice is ten – this is tough, but I’ll explain…”
He cut me off mid-sentence. “A hundred.”
I stared at him as he dug through his pile of bills.
I held up three twenties. “What’s 20 x 3, buddy?”
“Sixty. Your turn.”
That’s when I started crying.
My kid can do math, he can read the words “advance” and “income tax,” he can play this game.
But that’s not why I was crying. I was crying because I was so deeply, deeply ashamed of myself. I let others inform me of my son’s capabilities. I listened and nodded and took it straight to heart while I watched him fail, over and over, at the presented curriculum. They put him in a box, and I didn’t just allow it, I kept him there. I believed the worksheets – the stupid, boring, meaningless worksheets.
My kid can learn. ALL of our kids can learn. It’s not about worksheets or what they are supposed to know or how other kids learn or sitting still at a desk. It’s about motivation and interest and kicking round holes to the curb for our square-pegged kids.
I will not lose faith in my child again. I will not lose faith in myself again. I am just a mom. And there is nothing fiercer.
God, I love Monopoly.
Rebecca Masterson is a writer, speaker, and an advocate for children. For more from Rebecca, follow her on Instagram.