A few years ago, I kept things lively with a special treat for the boys each day of spring break. One day, we visited the arcade with a handful of quarters for their glorious spending pleasure.

Tuck spent his coins on experiences: virtual motorcycle rides and shooting galleries.

Tyler spent his coins and best efforts on things: the Claw Game with sparkly, shiny promises inside.

Tuck found exactly what he was looking for; Tyler left empty-handed.

He was most distraught, begging for more quarters. It’s a hard life lesson, that first trip to the arcade, when you realize the odds are against you and the machines are rigged.

“See, buddy, let me tell you: those are tricky machines and it’s very, very, very hard to win the things inside. But they don’t want you to know that until you’ve put your quarters in and it’s too late.”

(I did, by the way, warn him of this pitfall before he put his quarters in, before it was too late. But my words were useless until he experienced it for himself.)

“Well, then that’s a meanie bully game.”

“It is, kiddo. You’re right.”

“It tricked me.”

“I know, buddy. That’s how it happens sometimes.”

You give what is asked, and you don’t get what you want. The shiny promises leave you empty handed.

…Sometimes you just have to love what’s in your hands.

He stationed himself outside the entrance of the arcade, personally alerting passersby to the fraud happening just inside those doors.

On our way out, I gave each of them two more quarters to use in one of the guaranteed-prize, toy-vending machines. A hope for redemption, albeit a toy no bigger than a dime.

Tucker got a blue ninja. Score.

Tyler got a green dinosaur. Disappointment struck again: it wasn’t as big as the picture on the outside of the machine.

I get it, kiddo. I wish I could tell you this isn’t how it goes, that life owes you a full refund.

Sometimes, you’ve got to invest your energy in listing all the ways you can imagine, pretend, and utilize a teeny-tiny green dinosaur.

Sometimes, you just have to love what’s in your hands.

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