Category Archives: sons

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.

Searching for a needle in a junk drawer

My son pulled a button off the (brand new) shirt he planned to wear to Christmas Eve services and dinner.

No problem. I’ll just head to my organized sewing room and… Everyone who knows me is laughing out loud right now. No such room has ever existed.

But I know I have teensy tiny travel sewing kit here somewhere purchased precisely for moments like this. Medicine cabinet? Nope. Desk? No luck. Aha! The junk drawer(s).

I scrounged through every drawer – you know, through batteries and paperclips and toothpicks and box tops labels I really will bring to school some day and sticky lip gloss with no lids and Christmas ornament hangers – THERE they are! I did find an unused iTunes gift card, some melted Easter candy, and a 9-year-old pacifier, but alas, no needle and thread. (Note to self: Add organizing drawers to resolution list.)

How is possible I can’t find the supplies in my entire house to sew on one button? I had not planned on going to the store on Christmas Eve, but we have time, and H has his heart set on that purple shirt and black bow tie a family friend gave him. I’ll just run out quickly.

Where do you even buy thread besides the fabric store? Because I’m seriously not going there.

I’m delighted to discover your neighborhood grocery store has a small sewing section for people like me. (I am not completely alone in my uselessness!) White thread…check. Needle…who knew there were so many sizes? I’ll take the assortment.

Home again with the provisions, I tackle the project. Of course, these buttons have four holes and are all attached in crisscross pattern, so see I have to replicate that design. Ow, these needles are sharp! How are you supposed to tell where those four little button holes are?

I know my strengths. I know better my weaknesses. My aunt turns out beautiful blankets for every person in our family at Christmas. I have handmade napkins for every occasion, and all the kids have special pillow cases. My mother-in-law made baby clothes for her kids and grandkids.

Me? I took a sewing class my senior year of high school because I needed an easy first period class my last semester. I made a sweatshirt, a skirt, and a blouse. It took me four months.

So I am not one of those wives and mothers who bakes cakes from scratch or hand stitches Halloween costumes. Sometimes I wish I was, but usually I think my family is generally happy with my other cool talents. Right now, what I am is a mom determined to see my handsome son in that shirt. I worked laboriously and managed to mend the shirt without getting any droplets of blood on it. I cannot believe how proud of myself I am.

“You did it, Mom!” my son exclaims.

Yes, honey. Now let’s just carefully slide it over your head without undoing this particular button. There. Perfect. Well, perfect-ish. Whew.

Just a few more gifts to wrap, a stocking to fill, and I’ll have this Christmas all sewn up.

 

Another year on the nice list for Mom

I watched the touching Spanish IKEA commercial that went viral about kids writing two letters – one to Santa, and one to their parents. It turns out the kids asked Santa for lots of toys, but their wishes from their parents were very different. They wanted more time with them, they wanted to be listened to.

I asked my son what he would ask me and Dad for that wasn’t a material thing. He didn’t take long to answer: “I want to know the truth about the Tooth Fairy and leprechauns and all that stuff.”

Not the response I was expecting, but I shouldn’t have been surprised giving his growing skepticism. A lot of my friends with kids this age are struggling with how to approach this. (You can read my previous post about this.)

We settled in for a talk. I told him flat out: the Tooth Fairy is not real. And leprechauns, I don’t know. I’ve never seen one. (These leprechaun traps kids make today weren’t a thing when I was growing up. I had never even heard of them until H wanted to make one a couple years ago.)

“So….Easter Bunny?” he asked.

I opened my mouth to reply, with a sigh, but before I could answer, he blurted out, “Do I REALLY want to hear this?”

“I don’t know, do you?”

“Well, I don’t want to know about Santa!” he said, quite emphatically.

santa package.jpgSo we left it at the leprechauns. And I decided it was time for another Package from Santa. I ordered the package (this is a pretty cool thing if you’ve never done it  (www.packagefromsanta.com), this time editing the letter to reflect his questions. It arrived last night. He squealed when he tore open shiny envelope from the North Pole (Whew! Another year on the Nice List!) and sat down to read the personalized letter.

“I know you’re almost 9 now and you’ve been hearing from other kids that there is no Santa Claus and trying to decide for yourself what you believe. Your parents and I have been thinking a lot about what to tell you,” Santa wrote.

“You said you wanted the truth, so here it is: the magic of Santa is real.” (More squealing.)

“But you’re such a smart boy and ask so many questions that you have figured out a few of my secrets. You’re right, it is hard for me and the reindeer to fly all the way around the globe in one night…and your parents sometimes help me make sure your presents get delivered.”

It went on to congratulate him for this good works and successes during the year and to wish him a happy birthday, which falls on the day after Christmas.

He beamed. He jumped up and down. He was thrilled. He was relieved.

He was not completely fooled.

“So exactly how does Santa get the presents to you guys?” he asked.

To tell or not to tell? He wants the truth. He wants to believe.

So I told him what I believe to be true: It’s all part of the magic of Christmas.

I hope that gets me on the Nice List.

 

 

Holy *@$Z!* Where did my kid hear this?

swearingThe other night at dinner, our not-yet-9-year-old son asked me what a c***s***er was. He actually asked just like that, asterisks and all.

“I know the F word and the S word and the D word and the B word, but what word is that?” he asked.

What the bleep?

He told me he was checking the parental warnings of a movie he and a friend wanted to watch On Demand and that word appeared on the TV screen so they didn’t watch it. I had no idea they actually specify which words might be heard in a film. They do. (They also mention what nude body parts you might see, just an FYI.)

To hear him rattle off the ABCs of curse words was unnerving to say the least. Where has he learned all this?

I remember when we were kids – I was the oldest of the group and probably 8 – we found the “F” word scratched into a fence behind our playhouse. We ran inside and asked our mom what it meant. She said, and I quote, “It’s an ugly word for a beautiful thing.”

We didn’t have a clue what she was talking about, but we were instructed not to say it. My mom used to say things like “Fiddlesticks,” when she was mad. If my Norwegian grandma was disgusted, you’d hear her say, “Uff da.”

Unfortunately today, kids hear a lot worse. Most wouldn’t have to ask the meaning if they saw a bad word scrawled on a wall.

I monitor what my son watches, but it seems like swearing is everywhere and it’s acceptable if there’s that beeeeeeeeeeeeeep in place of the word. Cursing is commonplace in the media, on pop radio, in PG movies, and on the playground. Older siblings also share lots of choice words with younger kids.

Swearing itself doesn’t bother me – my vocabulary includes some fine examples. Too often my son hears me exclaim, “Shit! I mean, shoot!” usually when I spill something, miss a freeway exit, or forget to pack a lunch. And he scolds me for such language.

Sometimes after he’s gone to bed and I’m watching the news (Oh what the h-e-double toothpicks it might have been the Real Housewives), he overhears and yells, “Mom, you know I can hear that? And it’s not appropriate!”

He knows he’s not supposed to say bad words and he doesn’t repeat them (at least in front of me.) But sadly, he’s heard a lot of them. Some moms don’t seem to care – YouTube is full of videos of babies and toddlers dropping the F bomb – but I don’t want my kid talking like that.

So we’re going to watch our tongues and enact a few more parental controls of our own. And he’s just going to have to wait a while to find out about any of those “C” words.

Gosh darn it.

 

 

Five reasons I won’t give up on Forced Family Fun

My husband and dad are watching football for the third straight day. My son and his friend don’t want to do anything except play the Xbox. I’m bored and unsatisfied with our family interaction.

What do I do? Bring out the board games! Plan an outing!

It’s a picture-perfect November day, with blue skies and sunshine to kick off the Christmas season. We’ll go to the Seattle Center, ride up the Space Needle to see the futuristic Santa, then visit the gingerbread houses. Family fun day!

The response from my son?

“I don’t want to go!”

Oh yes, we’re going. This isn’t just family fun. This is forced family fun at its finest.

forced fun biggerThe night before, I had suggested a rousing game of spoons with grandparents, parents, and kids. I heard more than a few complaints about what a dumb game it was. What’s the point? All you have to do is grab a stupid spoon? Lame.

“The point is THIS IS FUN!!!!” I screamed.

After finally getting everyone on board and explaining the very complicated rules of the game (pass a card, get four of a kind, reach for a spoon and don’t be the player to end up without one), we had a great time moving through the deck as fast as we could and diving dramatically toward the middle of the dining room table trying to grab our spoon.

As I was trying to inspire a little enthusiasm out of my son and his friend for my holiday sightseeing plans, I asked my dad if my siblings and I moaned and groaned when it was time for a family adventure our parents thought would be a blast. He just laughed. “Sometimes,” he admitted.

I don’t remember that, but I do remember the family fun – games of Facts in Five (does anyone else remember this old-fashioned, tougher prequel to Scattergories?) road trips filled with endless singing of “There’s a Hole in the Bucket,” and “The Other Day I Saw a Bear,” and visits my parents arranged to historical sites like Pearl Harbor and the Lincoln Memorial.

So no matter how much grumbling I hear, I won’t give up on forcing family fun. Here’s why:

Because it get us off our screens. Whether it’s Minecraft, Facebook, the NFL Network, You Tube, or WordPress, we all spend a lot of time looking at our devices and not really talking to each other. It’s important to step away and have actual conversations and play real games. They always evoke giggles, and laughing together is my favorite kind of family fun.

Because I go places like the Family Fun Center and Chuck E. Cheese. Let’s be serious. These casinos for kids are not a place for family fun. Trying to keep track of the kids, limiting the dollars spent on tokens to stuff into machines that spew tickets, only to wait in line to count said tickets, then wait some more while they carefully redeem them for plastic swords and whoopee cushions is not my idea of quality time. But I do it for you, kiddos.

Because we’re creating traditions. Maybe we whined when it was time to play the classic Midwest card game Rook with my mom’s large extended family, but we always had fun at card tables filled with our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins at family get-togethers. The night of my grandma’s memorial service, her children and grandchildren gathered together and played the game she taught us, and we now-adult grandchildren have shared it with our spouses and kids.

Because we’re making memories. My siblings and cousins often reminisce about camping trips and fishing outings with our parents. Waking up at 4 a.m. to climb onto my uncle’s small boat for a long, bumpy ride out to the halibut and crab grounds in Southeast Alaska drew some protests from the younger set, but we have fond memories of those times we spent together. Someday, my kids will teach their children the silly songs I sang in the car with them, and I will join the chorus.

Because most of the time, we have fun. The trip downtown wasn’t the best example of that. Suffice it to say I wasn’t the only one who had this great idea. Crazy long lines kept us from the two main things we set out to do, and the kids were hungry and cranky. After one of those Mom-of-the-Year moments when I told my son I was so done with his whining I might not ever take him anywhere he wants to go if I don’t want to go there too, I put myself in time out.

Succumbing to failure, we headed home. My son asked if his friend could spend the night, and my initial thought was no way, not after how you behaved today.

“I really want to play spoons again!” he said with genuine excitement. “I have to admit, Mom, that was pretty fun.”

Forced family fun wins again.

 

 

 

Of birds and bees and tooth fairies

My son went to the dentist yesterday and had a stubborn baby tooth pulled in what was a far more gruesome procedure than I expected. We couldn’t even bring the tooth home with us, so he wrote a note to the Tooth Fairy explaining the circumstances. “Write back,” he instructed.

He deserved a visit after the way the tooth came out. Sadly, H woke me up this morning with the news that the Tooth Fairy hadn’t come. I don’t know if he really believes in the Tooth Fairy, but I’m doing all I can to convince him, so this was a serious tactical error. I desperately want these mythical creatures to continue to exist for him.

Last year I sent away for a “package from Santa,” that came with a customized letter and official gold seal, along with a certificate declaring he was on the “good list,’ authenticated by a hoof print from Rudolph.

“He really knows a lot of stuff about me!” H exclaimed. He framed the certificate and hung it above his bookshelf.

One more year of Christmas magic preserved, I congratulated myself.

I patted myself on the back too soon. We flew to my hometown for Christmas. The gifts from Santa and and for H’s birthday the next day — unwrapped to speed the trip through airport security –were in a carry-on bag I surreptitiously put in the closet out of view. But H found it, and my curious kid could not stop asking what was in that blue suitcase. So I moved it again.

On Christmas Eve, he looked me nervously in the eye and confessed: “Mom, I looked in the blue suitcase.”

Tears instantly hit my eyes, knowing the truth was out.

“I only saw three things!” he said. “I’m sorry.”

I agonized into the wee hours about what to do. Ultimately, my husband and I decided to save the Santa gifts that had been on the top of the suitcase for his birthday and wrap up the rest to leave by the chimney.

The wait finally over for him, he dug through what was admittedly a more meager pile from Santa. Everything was going fine until he opened the art set I bought when we got to town and hid in my dad’s house. Instead of excitement, I saw disappointment.

“I saw this in Grandpa’s study,” he said, dejectedly, followed instantly by the question I feared: “Are YOU Santa?!”

He jumped in my lap and we both cried. I was overly emotional, but my sweet boy was still 7 for one more day. It was too soon. Even then, I couldn’t fully fess up. Santa is real, I told him. But there are so many people in the world, he just needs a little help from parents once in a while.

I knew this inquisitive, intelligent boy was teetering on the edge of belief. My 14-year-old nephew told me my son asked him if he believed in Santa. “Of course!” my nephew blessedly told him.

“Me too,” my son replied. “But a lot of kids in my class don’t.”

The jig is up, Mom. But I can’t admit it. He wants to believe, and I want him to.

His ninth birthday is still a few months away, and he already has to see the orthodontist and argues with me about why he can’t be on Instagram. His older sister recently announced she’s pregnant, and he has a lot of questions about how that whole thing actually works. The magic-seed-that-got-in-Mommy’s-tummy story isn’t an adequate explanation anymore.

Please don’t tell me I have to have the sex talk and tell him Dad and I are the ones who put those gold dollars under his pillow in the same week. I love that he is growing up, that he learns new things every day. But I am not ready for this.

Hoping to salvage something from the Tooth Fairy failure, I had my husband dash into our son’s room to stash the cash and respond to his note while Mr. Dubious was in the bathroom.

He ran to check under his pillow, grabbed his reward with a grin and read the note.

“Dad, this looks like your writing,” he said, looking at us both with those skeptical eyes. “But I know it’s not.”

He’s keeping the dream alive. For my sake or his, I’m not sure.