It was Christmas morning from a more innocent era. I stood at the kitchen sink, chiseling off the last bits of caramelized sugar goo from our well-loved Bundt pan. I exhaled into the quiet lull of post monkey bread munching and wrapping paper revelry. My husband was upstairs, out of commission with the flu. While he would be no help for the next forty-eight hours, I had him to thank for the quiet. Before he began his hibernation, he graciously connected the coveted “big gift,” of the year. “FINALLY!” All three of our kids shouted in unison as they opened the package, “FINALLY WE HAVE THE WII!”
I had dug in my heels for two years and said “no,” to this hijacker of all meaningful family time. Raising disconnected digital zombie gamers was not my vision of good parenting. We would be a creative home filled with music and books. Our children would be engaged by hiking, venturing to children’s concerts and science museums, and watching fringy foreign independent children’s films. Sure this whole video game thing might start with an innocent game of Wonder Pets, but it was a slippery slope to full out shouting and cursing at Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto.
But by the time our oldest was nine, I was an island of dissent. My husband did not see the purchase of the Wii as an irreversible move to the dark side. And so, I finally caved to the near daily whining mantra of “ALL of our friends have the Wii and NOBODY wants to come to our house for play dates.” I agreed to allow this device into our home with the stipulation that there be no killing or being killed games attached to it. Sports, Adventure, Puzzle games—all good. So, I sold the soul of my higher self to Best Buy and gave in to family and societal pressure.
As I finished up the morning dishes, I had to admit our three were truly getting along. They showed great maturity and set their own parameters for time limits and taking turns. They all enthusiastically promised not to argue or fight with each other. I sighed as I thought about the next few days as a solo parent. I felt a tug in my heart as I realized that the Wii would be the gift that saved this Christmas.
But no sooner had I forgiven myself for this lazy parenting decision, when I heard trouble brewing in the living room. While I couldn’t quite make out the conversation over my dish scrubbing, the dispute seemed to center around the fact that our daughter, five, was not quite up to speed on how to operate the controller she held in her hand. Our boys were clearly skilled veterans having been to many friends’ homes with multiple gaming systems. She was a newbie and by her frustrated, worried tone was clearly feeling pressured. I tried to let them work it out, but I could hear their voices rising and the intensity increasing.
From my daughter, “What? What! It’s not working!”
Then from nine year old, “Oh come on, Pus-A! Pus-A!”
I nearly dropped my spatula. What was THAT? I must not have heard him right. I turned off the water.
But his assaultive tone continued, “Pus-A! Pus-A!”
I knew it! I should have trusted myself. Video games. This is what happens when little kids get hooked on screen endorphins. They lose all sense of who and where they are.
If this were a soccer game I would have taken out a RED CARD. He wasn’t just using foul language, he was denigrating our daughter and had somehow found a way to put his own cavalier spin on the word by putting an accent on the second syllable—Pus-A! Where did he pick that up? Probably from another kid playing a killing, cursing game on a play date.
I dashed into the living room. The little one stood staring at the screen, clicking and shaking the remote and the middle one sat watching, patiently waiting his turn on the couch. By all accounts they didn’t hear any questionable word. I pointed at the big one and told him to come into the kitchen right now. I was stunned. How could it be that our sweet, thoughtful, rule following, cannot tell a lie, oldest child was using this language?
“What are you saying in there?” I whispered so as not to get the attention of the younger ones. “That word is totally inappropriate. Not just inappropriate, it is so disrespectful to women. Did someone say this at school? I hope you don’t have any friends who are talking this way!”
Our son was visibly shaken. Clearly, I had called him out. He looked at me with his earnest chocolate brown eyes, filling with tears, his bottom lip quivering. He asked me, his front teeth missing and sounding like the innocent kid I thought he was, “what did I say Mommy? I didn’t say anything inappropriate!”
OK. I think to myself. He is nine. Could he really grasp the significance of this word that riled me so? I take a deep breath, gather up my courage, and whisper to our first born, “Pussy? That is an inappropriate word for a girl’s private area. And we don’t speak that way it in or out of our house."
Now the tears are streaming down his face. He runs into the living room and returns, red faced with a Wii controller. “No Mommy, NO! I wasn’t saying that word. I was saying Pus-A!” And he holds the controller, his little finger pointing to the button clearly marked with the capital letter, “A.”
My heart collapses. “Press A. Oh my goodness. I’m sorry honey. I’m so sorry. I didn’t understand you. With your missing teeth, I just mis-heard what you said. I’m not mad at you. Never mind. Forget what I said. Go have fun with your new game.”
“It’s OK, Mommy.” And I even got a hug. He happily returned to the Wii and all of its detestable influences.
Like a wounded LEGO Mini-Figure Mommy, I retreated to the kitchen, drooping spatula in hand, bewildered but not beaten. While I may have rushed into that living room skirmish a bit too soon, I held my head high and prepared an assortment of holiday lunchtime treats. Young, innocent and impressionable Wii gamers work up quite an appetite.