Learned Helplessness

Let me preface this story with another story.

I was 13 and standing on one of those swim team jumpy things. The race was about to start and I knew without a doubt that I was so not going to win. I wasn’t even going to be close to winning my heat. I was standing there, chubby in my team suit, swim cap and goggles, just resigned to the fact that although I liked swimming and I was a decent swimmer, I was just too fat to wear that hat and no matter how hard I swam, I wasn’t going to win.

My 13-year-old self made a commitment right then and there. I was never going to compete in anything I wasn’t sure I could win. End of story. If I wasn’t sure I could win, forget it.

See, I’m a competitive person. Not one of those successful competitive people. The other type. You know, the type who don’t usually win, but the competition in their blood ultimately drives them insane and those who love them crazy. I wanted to win one freakin’ heat in my career as a competitive swimmer, but I was not willing to do more than attend swim practice everyday for two hours.

Seriously, my parents really encouraged competitiveness from the cradle. Jeff and I are in our thirties and we still compete in ridiculous ways. It started with our mother’s love, of course, and continued on to who could get their seat belt on first or get the good chair or, god forbid, the bathroom first. When I lose this particular competition, I pee my pants. (I have a Pavlovian bladder, okay?) This makes it particularly important and I will trip, stab or maim Jeff to get there first.

See, that was a good segue. I will do anything to win in the ridiculously trivial ways I allow myself to compete. This brings us to board games.

I love board games. However, unless the other players are under 10, I cheat like an Republican on Capitol Hill. (I like kids and it’s pretty hard to cheat at Chutes ‘N Ladders or Candyland and I kick ass in Uno so there is really no reason to cheat. Yeah!)

Last year, Sparky and I attempted to play Monopoly. Well, we played, but I was winning by the fourth round and Sparky just didn’t want to play anymore. He said it was clear I was going to kick his ass so he declared me the winner and we started over.

Now, one would think, given my personality defect, I would take this gladly, but no. I made such a big deal about how the game could turn and he was just giving up and really, giving up was so easy to do and I wanted to play.

See, Sparky is a competitive person too. He’s more of the successful variety. He never, ever thinks he can lose. His ego is built in direct opposition to mine(insert Freudian mother theories here.) So I am used to him kicking my ass in most things. Not that I give him an inch because there is a bigger competition at stake and its one that I will not lose, damn it.

Anyway, back to the monopoly game. I gave him such shit about quitting just because I happened to be winning. This lasted for days, was referenced in jokes for months. I was ruthless. And considering I was only winning because I had hidden $100 bills in my tampon box in the bathroom before we played and literally could not lose unless my last name was Hammer, I was really pretty horrible. Sparky had no idea that I am not to be trusted in a board game. He has since learned. We moved on and left the game scene alone for about a year. Until last weekend.

We brought out Risk. I can kick ass at Risk when I play against anyone in my family. Then again, my family isn’t all that good at strategic thinking. It’s the one trait I have developed to be the one-eyed queen among the blind. We all have coping methods and mine was in the form of the debate team. I book learned logic and there is not one family member I can’t argue into a puddle of goo. Not that it helps in the long run. It’s hard to keep them on track even with diagrams.

Seriously, my family is really entertaining in that Running with Scissors kind of way. They are passionate and interesting, but the price for that entertainment factor is common sense, logic and forward thinking. I wasn’t raised with common logic. It was more of a random association creative logic.

However, when it comes to strategy, Sparky, Chief Strategic Officer, is a genius. Seriously. And I don’t usually put the name Sparky in the same sentence as genius for obvious competitive reasons.

So, back to the game. Two rounds later, with absolutely no opportunity to cheat, I was done, I no longer wanted to play. Sparky was going to cream me and had already taken over Australia. I was losing my hold over North America and could see Africa falling in the next round.

The first time he won one of my armies, he shouted “Yes!” I’m talking seriously loud. I read him the riot act about not rubbing my nose in it and being a good winner. In the very next turn I won one of his armies and damn me if I didn’t yell out, even louder, “Yes! Got you sucker!”

That was the last time I won an army.

With my shameful Monopoly behavior in the forefront of my mind, I did not know how to get out of the game. I mean seriously, it had only been two rounds. I didn’t like risking my men. I know the game is called Risk, but risk to me is ordering a different meal at a favorite restaurant, not giving up continents.

Sparky, in his generous I-always-win-so-it-doesn’t-matter way, saw that I was in a situation and let me off easy. He really does know me and after I said the words, “I don’t want to play anymore because you’re going to kick my ass” let me off the hook. He laughed and hugged me and was pretty much just horribly good-natured about the whole thing, which of course made me an even worse loser because he was such a gracious winner. Fucker. See what I mean with the stratagy thing?

So, having said that, the moral of this story is that von Tauber has three kids (one infant and an eight-year-old all the time and a seven-year-old on the weekends), a husband, no dishwasher or microwave, she’s in school studying Psychology and Philosophy and has signed up for NaNoWriMo which she successfully finished last year. I’ll be damned if I’m not going to finish this year.

Wish me luck.


12 thoughts on “Learned Helplessness

  1. Good luck with NaNoWriMo – though I don’t see how 50,000 words are going to be any kind of an issue for you.


  2. Nuala: yeah, I kinda do get at things sideways. Acerbic1 can attest to that.

    Acerbic1: Wow. It’s much easier to talk 50,000 words than it is to write. My e-mail is in the complaint department thingie on the left hand side under the Know This heading. Please e-mail.

  3. Oh TOOO funny! My most vivid memory about board games when I was a kid was chancing into boy/girl twins in the game of Life. I was so excited that I CRIED about it — absolutely giddy! I think I had just about the same reaction when it happened to me in real life!


  4. OK, as far as not uttering Sparky’s name so often in conjunction with the term “genius,” all I can say is that you ponder the fact he married you. Wise beyond his years, no?

    As for “got you sucker,” have you really Americanized him so much that he calls you sucker? That is really scary.

  5. All I have to say is just like in everything else we compete at, you mistakenly remember winning games that you were regularly whooped at. Uh, machiavelli, my armies would sworm over the world like a dark cloud of evil as I toyed with your pathetic soldiers, I AM RISK!!!!

  6. Carol: that is so funny. A little foreshadowing in the game of life? Like a Jumanjii game.

    Megan: thanks. Its really hard actually.

    Mike B. yes, we all agree that Sparky was wise beyon his years when he maried me. the problem is he came back to the present after.

    Sparky can be more american than i can. he loves America.

    Dear deluded brother: I love your day dreams. you can describe fantasies so vividly. I kick your ASS at most things, including risk. I’m sorry you were born second. You might have had a different reality if you were born first. Looks like i beat you there too!

    Mim/Rainman: You were four and could count cards. If you had been in Vegas they would have thrown you out. ALl jeff and I did was teach you to try harder. It was a life lesson that even to this day you have not forgotten. Jeff and i did our job well.

  7. Man, I could totally picture the situation after reading this. I missed your writing. I am so glad you are back. GOOD LUCK!

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