Saturday, April 12, 2014

Rage Against the (Video) Machine

As a child of the 80's, I grew up with the occasional video game.  I remember visiting my cousins' house and playing Atari and I remember the neighbor across the street had some fun Sega games.  Gradually, kids in my class began to talk about Nintendo and eventually my sister even received a Game Boy for Christmas.  But aside from playing a few hours of "Tetris" here and there, video games never really excited me.  I never had the attention span for them-- they always seemed so boring to me.

The fact that most kids who have major attention deficits are easily engrossed in video games kind of amazes me.  There's not much more mundane than watching a little character on a screen try to jump around and catch imaginary coins or bananas or colored pebbles.  And to me, there's absolutely no reward.  So you advance to the next level and do the exact same thing.... for what?  More coins?  More points?  More of nothing?  And I should probably admit that seeing kids zoned out in front of video games drives-me-nuts.  I have no idea why I have such a deep, visceral, annoyance with video games but I cannot seem to shake it.

So it probably comes as no surprise that I've always proudly stated that "No kid of mine will become a video game junkie!" And like the long list of words I've eaten, I need to admit that my kid is on the slippery slope of becoming a video game junkie.

Somewhere in the midst of his minion obsession, we introduced Charlie into an innocent little phone game called "Minion Rush".  Trouble is, it turns out the game is completely addicting to our little man.   And while his daddy argued that the game was benefiting C's reaction times and problem solving skills, I saw changes in Charlie that I didn't like.

I noticed that while the game is not violent, Charlie would be very agitated after playing.  His mood would go from calm to crazy and his tolerance for frustration was always lower after playing the game.  I noticed that on days when C played the minion game, he had a hard time playing with any of his other toys.  We have a basement full of toys-- creative, fine motor, gross motor, manipulatives, books, dress up, musical, imaginative, athletic, etc..... yet he claims his toys are all "Bo-wing".  While he's usually a pretty compliant little guy, when the timer signals the end of his Minion game time, he cries and yells and shouts things that seem a little out of character.

Now, I must admit that having Charlie occupied for what could be hours at a time is a nice little break for his parents.  And, I do understand how people fall into this allowance.  Believe me, half of the reason I let him play in the first place was because I could just do my own thing for 20 minutes!  But eventually, the cons were outweighing the benefit of 20 free minutes.  Finally, I insisted to both Charlie and his daddy that The Minion Game will now only be played on weekends.

We are two weeks into our new minion-free lifestyle and so far, things are going well.  C used to beg to play the game like Maddy begged for people food-- following us around asking over and over if he could play it now.  After just four minion-free days, the begging had lessened and he started to  remember the fun he could have with his other toys.   After almost two weeks of minion-free days, I am noticing that he isn't asking to play the game or watch tv as much as before, and he is playing independently more.

Lately, he seems calmer and less agitated, and remembers to ask for help when he's frustrated.  Honestly, the lack of the minion game has forced me to interact with him a bit more as well.  We always play together, but I realize that he might need a few new ideas of ways to play with his toys, or suggestions for inventing new Tinker Toy creations.  This has been one of the surprise blessings of giving up the game.  Of course, all this good behavior could just be a fluke-- he's famous for fluking his behavior right when we think we have things figured out.  And, the fact that we've been able to get outside more in the past week has also helped.  But I'm hoping that these behaviors stick-- maybe he'll forget all about those little yellow guys by the time each Saturday rolls around.  Highly unlikely, but it's always good to dream, right?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Calling Persephone & "Spring" Break

A few weeks ago at church, we listened to the story of Persephone and Demeter.  If you remember 8th grade mythology at all, you'll remember that Persephone, the goddess of life and beauty and everything fertile had never known winter (lucky girl).  That is, of course, until one day when the Earth opened up and introduced her to the underworld and that sexy alluring Hades guy.  And while she was hanging out with Hades, being promised to become a queen and help the souls of the underworld (and be married to the hunky Hades), things above ground changed.

Her mother, Demeter, wept and mourned and worried.  The trees lost their leaves, the flowers lost their blooms, and the Earth turned cold. Snow came and things froze.  Animals hid and food was scarce.  In most versions of the story, Zeus is behind Hades/Persephone introduction and he realizes that maybe it isn't good for the Earth if Persephone leaves permanently.  And, Persephone misses her mother and the animals and flowers and trees and everything nature-- but she loves Hades and the promising allure of the Underworld.  So, of course, the only compromise is to split her time equally between the two.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I am an equal rights person (I won't get into that now).  But six months of winter, and six months of combined spring/summer/fall just doesn't seem fair or equal. As March ended and we welcomed April, I spent some time calling Persephone.

How can a person call her? Well, simply think of things you love so much about spring and summer. Imagine these things and call them out to her-- tell her we NEED her back!  We WANT her back!  We MISS her! Hades may be hot but we're cold!  So here's why I need Persephone to come back and bring spring.

Honestly, my list could go on for days but I'll stop there.  In March, we had a little getaway Up North-- where we were greeted by snow that was waist-high and temperatures that were very cold.  It didn't feel like spring break at all.  The weather, combined with the fact that we had head colds and spent most of our time sneezing, sniffling, and blowing our noses made for a pretty un-productive break.  We watched movies, played a few games, watched a LOT of basketball, and pretty much relaxed.  I read and knitted and did some writing but mostly, we just hung out.

While we relaxed, C vacationed at my parents' house.  They had field trip after field trip and played non-stop.  It's no wonder the kid thinks our house is boring when he returns-- those grandparents seem to keep him busy.  (I assured him that growing up in that house wasn't nearly the vacation it has turned into in the past 30 years)  We picked him up Sunday afternoon, and I could hardly keep my hands off him. We've done this little getaway for four years now, and I think it gets harder to leave each year.  One of my friends with older children once told me, "I just loving having my whole family under the same roof" and I think I'm beginning to understand that feeling a little bit.  But, when we hopped into the truck to head home, the first words out of C's mouth were, "When I'm five, can I stay five nights?!"  I think it's safe to say we all enjoyed our little break, but it's always nice to get back into the groove of things.

Now, as we cruise through April, let's bring on spring!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Keepin' it Classy in Spahnville

One of my favorite things about parenting a little boy is all the stuff I get to do "because" of him. Case in point: Monster Trucks.  Anyone out there who has a boy under the age of ten probably knows what I'm talking about when I say that Monster Trucks are definitely one of the "stages" of boyhood-growing up.  It seems we've done them all here:  Cars, trucks, trains, rescue guys, tractors, dinosaurs, and now Monster Trucks.

So when Charlie saw the Monster Jam commercial a few weeks ago, he begged us to go to the "Monster Truck Alley"!  And because one of his parents (not his father) secretly LOVES Monster Trucks, we bought tickets and headed down to Cedar Rapids.  

C probably would have been happy just hanging out in the skywalk-- he thought looking at the traffic down below was super cool.  
We arrived at the venue just as the trucks were revving their engines.  We donned our ear protection (I could not believe how many people brought kids without earmuffs!) and headed inside.  The smell of nitro greeted us and the trucks paraded around the dirt track in front of us.  After finding our seats amidst what had to be a bunch of State Fair goers, we watched the different contests.   They did wheelies, races, jumps, and freestyle.  I learned about this whole new sub-culture and the stars of the show: Rottweiler, Wolverine, El Toro Loco, The Thunder, and of course the beloved Grave Digger.  In between big events, little four wheelers had races that made me nervous as they rounded corners and the riders nearly fell off their vehicles (How do the mothers of these kids allow this type of behavior?)


Can you say rip-off?  



Oh, and watching these guys was just as entertaining.  They moved dirt, carried crushed cars, and set the 'stage'.  C again thought it was "awesome"

Charlie claimed to love the whole show and according to him, "It was awesome!" His expression, however, was a little suspect.  He was quiet and observant, never yelling or clapping but rather taking it all in.  He coaxed his dad into a $15 souvenir sno-cone and a crazy expensive Hot Wheels monster truck.  We justified the expense by noting that this little day trip kind of made up for our lack of any winter getaway this year.

By the end of the show, we were wearing down a little.  But someone insisted he was NOT ready to go home and he was NOT tired.  ("Stop asking me that!") 
By the time the engines had stopped revving, C was getting tired.  Actually, he was probably tired and totally over-stimulated.  We gathered up our things and headed home.  I think we had been on the road all of ten minutes before the back seat was zonked out.  We enjoyed the quiet ride home after "making some noise!" for two hours and crossing "Monster Truck Rally" off the bucket list.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Window

Nine out of ten times, I'm the one to drop Charlie off at daycare.  We hustle out of the house and drive five miles north to the tiniest neighboring town.  We pull in the loooooooong skinny driveway and hop out of the car.  We tromp up the wooden steps of the back door, and push open the door that sticks just a bit too much.  We stamp snow or rain or mud off our boots and I gently tug C's hat off his head.  Dogs bark, a baby coos, and crazed middle schoolers run wild looking for their sweatshirts, shoes, backpack, or assignment that is due today.

Sometimes, Charlie shakes off his coat, kicks off his boots, and bounds into the kitchen to start his day.  Other days, he curls into my leg and hides behind me like he used to do when he was just learning to walk.  Those mornings are the worst.  The ones where I need to pry him from my body and the last thing I see before leaving the house is him in someone else's arms, crying and reaching out for me.  I know these moments only last a minute, but that doesn't mean they're any less heartbreaking.

But on the good days, the days where he skips into the kitchen hoping to have an extra breakfast (or at least some chocolate milk), the memory of leaving is sweet.  Before I head out the door, he runs to me exclaiming, "Huggy and kissy!" to which he gives me no less than ten kisses (directly on the lips) and that many bear hugs.  Then, I slip out the door, and he races to the window-- where he eagerly awaits my descent down the long driveway.  He stands at the window and blows kisses-- hundreds at a time-- and when I blow them back from the car window, he "catches" them and pantomimes stuffing them down his shirt.  He created this gesture on his own-- I have no idea where it came from.  But I like the idea of my kisses staying safely snuggled against his skin, right next to his heart while I'm away.

Next year at this time, we'll be months away from ending this morning ritual.  The only ritual that he and I have ever known-- and in many ways I can't believe it's almost time for that.  And something that is so ordinary, so 'everyday', so taken for granted, will become a memory in an instant.  It strikes me how important it is for me to remember these small, little, insignificant moments-- because isn't that what ultimately composes the most significant memories in life?  This, these tiny moments, are life.

If you need 60 seconds of tears-- or just a little tug at your heart, here's a little video for ya.