Bananagrams with an 8-Year-Old


by Michaelle X. Curran

It is very difficult for me to accept loss.

That didn’t come out right. I am not talking about death or anything near as serious as that. I’m talking about board games. I HATE to lose. I was never good at sports (Remind me to tell you about the time I was running so slow during an indoor track meet that some bleary-eyed preschoolers were screaming at me to run faster so they could go home. Not. Even. Kidding.)  So I never did develop a true understanding of the whole competition thing on the field, ice or court. But open up a Scrabble board, and I’m all over that sh*t like white on rice. This is where I shine.

But since I’ve become a parent, I’ve obviously had to tone down that part of my personality, especially when playing games with the kids. Teach them about gracious winning and losing. About respecting your opponent. And all of those other behaviors that I no longer display when I am playing against my peers and out for blood. But we teach kids to be the antithesis of competitive because it’s more politically correct and it’s all about the fun and not the winning and we don’t want to make someone else feel bad and everyone gets a trophy. I get it. Sort of.

Still, these types of lessons are easier – for me – with my 4-year-old (though it’s getting increasingly dicey as his inner competitor is starting to show himself). He mostly still likes to play games that require little to no skill and is just happy that I am on the floor interacting with him and including Bearbo, his beloved stuffed bear, who, by the way, sort of talks like Beaker on crack. With him, I manage to swallow losses in Candyland or Chutes and Ladders or his new favorite, Checkers, because it’s fun for me to see him happy in his victory and most of these games I lose by chance, anyway. So it’s not really a pride-swallowing act, which I can handle. He draws a double purple. I get stuck on a licorice space. There’s nothing you can really do about that.

But my 8-year-old is a whole other story.

Braedan, a hockey and lacrosse player and karate student, is the epitome of competition. He loves to win. And when he loses, he works harder the next time to try and make sure it doesn’t happen again. And board games are no different than sports for him.

At the beginning of the summer, we went on vacation with some good friends and played round after round of Bananagrams. I never played before then, but was instantly hooked. If you’ve never played , Bananagrams is basically a crossword game in which you receive a number of tiles to start and race against your opponents to build your own crossword using all your tiles. When you have used all your original starting tiles, you say “peel,” and everyone pulls another tile from the pile. It goes on and on until there are fewer tiles in the pile than players, and the winner is the person who uses all their tiles first.

So for the past couple of weeks, we’ve been playing this game a lot, Braedan and I. And he’s getting good. And this makes it really hard for me to concede victories. It makes it difficult for me not to want to win against an increasingly worthy opponent. Except when he’s being a little troll. Like today.

We started out all fine and good. My meatloaf was baking in the oven and the wee ones were playing in the family room, so we started a game. Even though he was tired from an active day at boat camp, he was generally pleasant and happy.

“Doesn’t my meatloaf smell good?” I asked him about midway through our game. My question was a little enthusiastic, maybe. But I was making an actual dinner, not the thing I usually do, which is wait until 5pm and panic because we have nothing to eat.

Little did I know there was piss and vinegar boiling inside him.

“It smells dis-gust-ing,” he said, the look of pure evil in his eyes, accentuating every syllable so he could be sure I heard him correctly. That came out of nowhere! I don’t know if his day had finally caught up with him, or if he was upset because he was having difficulty using his Bananagrams tiles. It didn’t matter. I saw where his mood was headed and for whatever reason – lack of sleep, the end-of-summer bickering with his brother – I didn’t have it in me today to pull him out of the rabbit hole the way I should have.

Oh, Aight, you wanna go out like that?  It’s on, little man. 

Now normally, when he was having trouble, I’d stop working on my puzzle and give him a subtle hint or two to help him get back on track with his. Not today. Not now. Instead, I was a magician, my hands as quick as lighting, creating words like nobody’s business. I was no longer nice mommy playing a word game with her 8-year-old to increase his learning. I was no-holds-barred mommy, out for blood. And admittedly, it felt good. (In my defense, though, I went about my business quietly. No boasting or bragging. Just pure, silent genius.)

Peel. Peel. Peel. Peel. Peel.


And it was magnificent. My best puzzle yet. I wanted to take a picture.

Braedan threw his hands up in defeat, shouted something about me creaming him on purpose. As you can probably guess, it was all downhill from there. And the whole ugly scene left a bad taste in my mouth.

But the meatloaf, that was delicious.


Michelle Xiarhos Curran is a freelance writer and mom of three in Newburyport.  Visit her website at