For the past four years, I’ve been playing a dice game called Bunco. In its purest form, twelve women form a team and gather monthly to escape the realities of child rearing for the night. Each player takes a turn hosting. This requires the hostess to: clean obsessively for 36 hours straight (then a good 48, post-game), set up tables and chairs (to dance on), and prepare many fattening food items (to provide the guests’ tummies a base layer, in anticipation of massive beverage consumption).
Amongst my team, there isn’t much form aside from the fit of our jeans. We do follow a few rules, though. My favorite rule applies on the last Thursday evening of every month, as I peel out of my driveway calling to my family a-la-Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles: “It’s mandatory. It’s for a grade. For gym. So long suckers!” In other words, one MUST show. For my Bunco squad, missing game night is like missing confession, Fashion Week, a sought after cardio class, and a favorite concert, combined. Attendance buys me a night free of autism.
It would be easy for me to say that in life, the dice are loaded against me. I’ve got a pre-teen at home, remember, who is counting his baby teeth in the mirror so he can prepare a corresponding number of wishes for the tooth fairy. I need this night more than anyone, right? As beat up from my day as I may be I force a shower (pointless, really), apply makeup (which I’ll end up sweating off), pull the tags off my new outfit (duh), and grab shoes (one of which I may come home without). Winning is the furthest from my mind at this point.
Walking into Bunco night is blissfully chaotic. And unlike at home, nobody is putting her hands over her ears or running around in the nude (yet). I’ve entered badmom central. My church. Hallowed ground. The hostess can’t find her lipstick, nor does anyone remember when she last saw the actual dice we use for play. No worries. We collectively brush off any emotional detritus our families have shed on us to embrace, catch up, and lead one another toward the bar. Stone sober, I could easily scan this room of “the beautiful people” and begin to dwell upon all of the things these moms have that a mom like me may not: kids who excel in school, vacations an entire family can enjoy, big plans, and bright futures. But I don’t.
To begin playing, one must put down the nacho chips and refill her drink. She then makes her way toward one of three tables. This process takes several hours. Once everyone is settled, the head table rings a bell rarely heard over David Guetta’s beat. Those within an earshot begin taking turns rolling, which more often than not involves rolling with laughter trying to keep the dice on the table. I digress. For each of six rounds, the goal is to roll the number assigned to that round. For the first round, we roll for ones. If your dice bless you with any ones, you accumulate a point for each and get to continue rolling (as other players practice their eye rolls). Once someone at the head table reaches 21 points, the round is over. You follow? I certainly can’t. I’ve also officially been banned from keeping score. I can’t be expected to tally hashmarks whose sum approach double digits! Fine by me if the other players think the apple doesn’t roll far from the autism tree.
Like home, Bunco requires having to endure many random, wholly unnecessary screams. You see, if a gal rolls three of a kind matching the number of the round, she scores 21 points and is awarded a “Bunco.” She’s essentially hit the mothah lode, a.k.a. bankrolled. We know this joyous phenomena occurs because she and her partner begin making noises akin to someone being stabbed in the neck 87 times. The real fun comes at “intermission,” otherwise known as “dancing.” We’ve collectively decided that after six rounds, often the best way to keep our seats warm is to stand and dance on them (or the nearest ottoman). Although for prosperity I wish we’d been chronicling the winners names since our team’s inception, it’s hard to forget the number of falls and broken glasses we’ve stacked up. I think last month it was three glasses, two by the same person.
Seeing as we can’t roll for sevens at round seven (ask me how long it took me to figure that one out), part two of our evening puts us right back where we started, rolling for ones. Now that I’ve got this counting thing halfway down, I can relax in and catch up with my friends (and sometimes, believe it or not, roll at the same time!). I crave this camaraderie. And God forbid the conversation stall, there’s always a pot to stir. My mentioning of the new Zodiac sign shift nearly caused a riot at my table this past month. I think there may have even been some hair pulling. Joke ended up being on me as my (now meaningless) Pisces tattoo was exposed. Too. Much. Fun.
Every Bunco team has a few stereotypical personalities, and if we weren’t blasting the stereo we’d allow ours affect us more. One of those characters is The Strategist. She WILL win by morning (yeah, ours is a late night), and any inclination toward “defeat” is not taken well. Our Strategist will actually become fretful edging toward cross if her scorecard starts to become even. Because there is a prize for most wins and a prize for most losses, anything straight down the middle sends you home $10 poorer.
Here’s the thing, strategists: Bunco is a game of chance. Strip away the booze, the time away, the often fabulous prizes, the hilarious and unforgettable moments with the best of friends, the hilarious and unforgettable Uber ride home, and hands down the main reason I play Bunco is because of chance. My aimless, casual adventures I am lucky enough to wage for a few precious hours each month provide me a constant winning hand. Life is a crapshoot and what I experience at Bunco reminds me what a long shot it is to even know eleven incredible women. The truth is they are enviable because of who they are, and not what they may have been randomly handed- just as I wish to be regarded.
I feel like I’d be acting selfish and foolish to proclaim that “shot in the dark” called autism ups the ante. Do I really need this flighty, frivolous, fortuitous night more than the the rest of these women, combined? No dice. As fate will have it, nobody is immune from life’s Wheel of Fortune. Friday mornings following Bunco night can be rough, to say the least. However, I’ll lay odds that as we each trudge through our day facing our unique circumstances we stop to laugh at a quick memory from the night before. And think of how the best bets we’ve ever placed have been on one another.
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Kristi Vannatta is a mom to two boys, ages nine and twelve. Her blog, Write On!, focuses on her life with her twelve-year-old son who has autism. In her infinite spare time (ha!) she runs Puzzle Peace Now, a charity that raises money to send children with autism to summer camp.