Property Brothers :: Money, Mercy, and Monopoly
Flashback to New Year’s Eve, 2021. That night, we stayed in as Covid cases had spiked and gifted us with the Omicron variant. I would eventually become well-acquainted with Omicron a few weeks later. But on this quiet and cozy evening playing board games, laughing, and enjoying the “Mini Sweet Tooth Buffet” I’d pulled together following a last-minute Target run, I looked around and felt better than I’d felt in months.
That night we played Monopoly as a family for the first time.
It had been at least a decade since I’d opened the game, and pulling that lid off stirred so much nostalgia. I laughed as I watched my boys examine the game pieces with a reluctant curiosity.
“What is this supposed to be?” my 11-year-old asked, holding up the thimble. I smiled wistfully. I’d never learned to sew, and was pretty sure their grandmother used a more modern version.
“It’s something that you use in sewing. To protect your fingers from getting pinpricked.”
“Neat!” he said, dropping the thimble, scooping up the tiny top hat, and immediately trying to balance it on his head. My older son, 15 at the time, chose the battleship to represent the “powerful domination” he planned to display for us.
It wasn’t long before the questions began.
Mom, wouldn’t it be better if you just saved your money?
Should I buy this, Mama?
Why is Boardwalk the most expensive?
Get out of jail FREE? WOW!
What’s a Community Chest?
Wait if you pass ‘Go’ you get $200? Just for passing?!
As the game progressed, I could tell my younger son was a bit disturbed.
“Mama, if you land on my property and don’t have the money, can I just adjust the rent price in case you need to pay less? It would be okay if you don’t have it.”
My older son scowled and said “That’s against the rules! Right, Mom?”
Thinking he was doing the smart thing by saving his money, my older son declined almost every opportunity to buy property in the first few rounds. As his brother bought each vacant property he landed on, my older son shook his head in playful disappointment.
“Yep. You were always the first to run out of credits at Chuck E. Cheese.”
But, it wasn’t long before he was loudly protesting as he began having to pay the rest of us for landing on our real estate.
“Wait, Wait! … but … but I can’t buy anything now because I have to keep paying everyone else rent! How am I supposed to do this?? So I was supposed to grab everything immediately just so I could charge you guys for it?”
The 11-year-old was upset to see his brother panicking with only a single property purchase (Baltic) and his bank balance dwindling with each turn.
“I can just give him one of mine, Mom. I have three times as much.”
We laughed and told him it was against the rules.
Finally, the younger sighed and said, “I don’t like this game. It’s kinda mean that everything is about trying to take everything just so you will have more for yourself.”
I replied, “Well, it’s not like we are paying you for nothing. You bought those properties, right?”
And then he said, “But what if I don’t even need all these properties and stuff? It just doesn’t seem …. fair. It’s mean.”
Whoa. Out of the mouths of babes.
This stayed with me for months. My sons were incredibly conscientious during a game that more or less mirrors the values we are strongly encouraged to adopt and calls it “the American way.”
I kept thinking, what will they say to me when they grow up to realize that they’ve been in this game since the day they were born?
And yet, I was hopeful.
It showed me that my kids were not only paying attention, but they were quick to express that something didn’t seem right. While all of us grownups were living in horrified, dystopian confusion as another year of uncertainties presented itself, my little ones were still wise enough to call the emperor naked.
Fast forward to now – 2023. My “Saver Son” (who lost his first game of Monopoly to his little brother) is a high school senior and is hunting for his first job. He recently started driving and now seems to exist in an ongoing state of sticker shock.
Why is everything so expensive?
How is anyone supposed to pay for anything?
How much are they paying at this job? $15 an hour? Are you serious?
I think about how in 2023, most daycare workers make less than that per hour. I asked him how much he thought his beloved Miss Catherine made as his daycare teacher.
Oh, she deserved six figures for sure!
His face fell when I told him what the average salary was.
Mom, that doesn’t make sense to me.
Well, I said. If your generation wants something much different than what we have now, get out there and change things!
Although the times that we live in may seem frightening, and although our hearts were not ready to break that much these last few years, the capacity of our children to not only speak out for a fairer future but to work to make it happen seems alive and well. I believe many of our curious and compassionate Covid-impacted kiddos may surprise all of us.
Fun fact – Monopoly was never meant to be the game it is today. The game was invented by a woman named Lizzie Magie in 1904 “to demonstrate the evils of accruing vast sums of wealth at the expense of others.” Source