Monthly Archives: January 2016

How do you stick to your guns when it comes to video games?

I have been arguing with my 9-year-old son for weeks about why we won’t let him play Grand Theft Auto. I kind of blame myself.

He was at an older friend’s birthday party where they were playing games he knows we don’t allow. He texted me from his iPod: “I feel left out because everyone is playing video games I can’t play.”

I was proud of him for being honest and following the rules, so I told him it was OK to try them out with his friends. I didn’t expect him to like them so much. Up until now, our biggest challenge had been pulling him away from Minecraft, which is pretty universally praised as an educational game that encourages creativity and critical thinking.

He had tucked his Christmas cash into his homemade duct-tape wallet, and my son was determined to spend that money on GTA, a game that “EVERYONE plays.”

He kept telling me he doesn’t want to do all that bad crime stuff, he just likes to drive around and play tennis and stuff. Are there really scenic byways and recreational facilities in this violent virtual world that I heard mostly consists of bank robbers, guns, hookers, and drug dealers?

For weeks, he’s been alternating between sweet talking us and screaming at us about why he should get GTA.  He has negotiated and promised, and we have threatened and researched. I don’t like video games and detest guns, so these allure of these games is lost on me. But I read the online reviews from other parents. I watched YouTube videos. I talked to friends who do and don’t let their kids play GTA. And I came to my conclusion: No way.

“Mom, it is not as bad as you think,” my son insisted. “And I know right from wrong. It’s not like I’m going to go out and rob a bank or steal a car.”

He has written too many persuasive essays in third grade, this kid.

My son, like seemingly all boys, likes video games. But he also swims, plays basketball, baseball, soccer and tennis. He’s active. He’s a good student. He likes art and music and jumping on the trampoline. Like all moms, I wonder how much screen time is too much? How damaging are these games to his precious psyche?

Finally, he wore me down. My husband and I took him to Game Stop to ask about the game. The first salesclerk warned me about the mature themes. I asked him about this “just driving around” thing, and he said you really can’t do that for very long.

Then the clerk told us if you buy a used game, you can return it in seven days if you don’t like it or decide it’s a mistake. That sounded like a reasonable option. We went over the ground rules, and our son said he understood that if Dad or I objected to it in any way, we would take the game back with no backtalk. Against my better judgment, I told him he could try it out under close supervision.

Beaming, my son walked up to counter with the GTA case in his hand. A different clerk was there and looked at me with raised eyebrows. “You sure this is OK?” he asked.

The conversation began again with this employee. He told us it’s pretty much impossible to avoid the violence, sex, and profanity.  “It’s really the worst game out there for kids,” he said, confirming my fears.

This conscientious clerk directed us toward another game we’d never heard of that he said was just as fun, without the inappropriate language and crime sprees. He backed us up, without knowing how much we needed it.

These guys are the experts, I told our son. They are super gamers. It’s their job to sell games, and they are encouraging us NOT to buy this one.

I reneged on our agreement. I knew I was in trouble. We’re all about keeping our word in our family, and our kiddo was not happy that I broke mine. But I also knew I was right.

Thank you, Game Stop guys for making this mom stick to her guns.


My mom’s last words

My mom was a woman of words.

She taught us the words to “Jesus Loves Me,” and she told me what menstruation meant.

When I was 8, she gave me a blank book, with an inscription: “To Katherine, for your poems.”

A former English teacher, my mom taught me the meaning of “colloquial” when I was reading my favorite book, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I used it in an essay on the book for my 9th grade Honors English class. I got an A.

Her final words, uttered 13 years ago today, were perhaps her most important. I feel fortunate my Dad and I were in the hospital room to hear them. Not all families have this opportunity, I know. I wish my sister and brother had been there too.

She had been quiet and unresponsive for several hours when we noticed her struggling to speak.

“I want to say that I love you,” she told my Dad, in a stronger voice than we expected.  “And I love the kids.”

Thank you, Mom, for the words.



Don’t stumble over what’s behind you

Don't stumble over something behind you with link.jpgYou know that cliché, “It hit me like a rock”?

That happened to me last year. And among all the amazing, wonderful, beautiful moments and people that surrounded me, I had a hard time getting over the sudden, startling change in my life.

I kept looking back, reliving the moment, the words that were said and unsaid. Overanalyzing, asking the same questions in my mind over and over and over and over again and expecting an answer that was never going to come. It shook my confidence, broke my trust, and left me staggering.

Stumbling over the past kept me from finding sure footing in the present. Sometimes it still does. Yesterday it was a phone call that that brought it all back. Dammit, I thought I was past this.

Don’t we all do this sometimes?

Sometime it’s a grating tiny pebble in your shoe that keeps you off balance until you remove it. Sometimes it’s a chunk of broken concrete that trips us, sending us crashing to the ground. It hurts, but we get up and limp for a bit before regaining our full stride.

And sometimes it’s a boulder barreling full speed that smashes into us, flattening us, leaving us battered and broken.

I have always thought of myself as an optimist, and I still do. I am grateful for those who let me lean on them, whose laughter and love and belief in me kept me upright. I embrace the opportunities this abrupt change presents. And yet, pieces of that blasted boulder still break off and hit me in the back, causing me to look over my shoulder and trip over the past.

We all carry an unavoidable load of loss and pain that can weigh us down, slowing our steps. Looking back is good. Remembering, and grieving, can be healing and cathartic. Stumbling over what’s behind me is not productive.

The road ahead leads me to beautiful new places, full of possibility — and inevitably, a few cracks in the pavement along the way that have the potential to cause another spill.

There will always be missteps, times we wish we could go back and start over or change what happened.

And when we can’t, we must face forward and skip over the stones that appear in our path.


New Year’s Realizations

My New Year’s resolutions are always the same: get in shape, be smarter financially, be more organized. Drink less wine and eat more kale, yada yada yada.

I still want to do all those things, but I’m taking a different approach to 2016. Last year brought a lot of big changes in my life, and I’ve had some time to think about what really makes me happy, what fuels me. Some of it has surprised me, and it’s exciting for me to discover that I am still learning and growing.

As I was thinking about the New Year and the many facets that can lead to happiness, the “4 Cs” kept popping into my head. My summer job during college was working at a jewelry store, where I learned a little about the 4Cs of diamonds: cut, color, clarity, and carat.

So here are my 4C realizations (not resolutions) for 2016:

I need to create. Whether it’s a few words on this blog, working on the novel I really will finish writing,  a professional project that fulfills my creative side or a cool experiment with my son, using my imagination inspires me. I will devote more time to it this year. (But don’t expect anything too crafty.)

I need to contribute. Whether volunteering at school, collecting pennies for uncompensated children’s hospital care, sending toys to Syrian refugees or buying groceries for someone who has less than me, these small gifts mean more to me than the recipient and teach my son compassion. Giving back rewards me, and being part of something bigger than myself grounds me. I will find new ways for my family to give this year.

I need to crack up. I love laughing out loud. My friends are hilarious. My family makes me giggle. I need more of those laughing to tears, side-aching, sore cheek moments in between the rushing, the working, the worrying.

I need to connect. I value my longtime friendships with my most trusted friends, and I’m grateful for growing connections with fellow moms. I need to make time for coffee dates and happy hours and family gatherings and date nights with my husby. Having people in your life you can truly count on, who you can fully support, makes all the difference.

I know that when I’m pursuing these core beliefs, other good stuff follows. I’m even craving spinach right now instead of chocolate. At least that’s what my creative self is trying to tell me.

What are your New Year’s Realizations?