How I spent my summer vacation

School’s out in a couple of days for the kids. Which means having some kind of idea what the boys and I will do during the days of the lazy summer weeks.  I have a basic plan.  A general idea of when we should all get out of bed so we don’t get too far off of Dad’s schedule.  A time of the day set aside for chores so the boys can keep learning work ethics and how to take care of themselves when they get dropped into the free fall of life and in the back of my head I add so their wives can be pleasantly surprised they know how to make hospital corners on their beds.  We have swimming and water guns fights and camping planned.  And crafts.  Oh so many crafts.  When you have one kid who’s got science on the brain and another who is amazing with fine motor skills and a mom who’s crafty/handsy, we do crafts to keep busy.  And there’s Legos and robots and cars and books and science and yeah we have stuff.  But it’s hot where we live so we spend a lot of time indoors hiding from the heat with the A/C on playing games.  Which means, of course, worrying about how much video game time is too much.  And trust me, I have read loads of literature and studies about how much gaming is ok for my kids before they become Lifeless Zombies of Button Mashingville.

So guys, here’s my basic take. It works for my kids and mine alone, because I’m the one managing it. I have neighbors and friends who have different takes for their kids.  And it works for them!  So I don’t touch their plans.  Actually, I’m grateful when they explain their plans and reasonings and the outcomes of implementing them because it helps me keep looking at the plan for my kids with aware eyes.   Recently my neighbor explained the effect of her plan to me.  I knew she limited gaming to weekends so we could follow her kids rules when they come over, but she took the time to tell what had happened.  She said that the change in her son was wonderful and from the sound of relief in her voice I could tell it was needed and welcome.  Gaming had set up a cycle of frustration in her little guy that when limited to just weekend, gave time for him to cool down and recharge.  I love that.  And it gave me the opportunity to reconsider my own kids behavior and see if they need the same or a similar idea.  And I think, perhaps, that is where we need to be looking.  How long can our kids concentrate on one thing, one puzzle, one mind teaser until they get fed up and, as people do, then take that frustration out on the world to get it out of their systems.  And really that can be for anything not just video games.  I see more and more it being noted that in education kids get to a point when they just need to move their bodies.  Isn’t that their frustration point?  The point at which they need to step back, breathe, and then be ready for more?  Call it a strategic retreat if you need to, but I think as adults we know that spot within ourselves, and we know that for different activities, different people that spot, that moment, is vastly different.

For me, I am almost always in the same room as the kids when they play their games.  We have all the gaming set up in the living room and the boys play their 3DSs mostly in there as well.  The other times are usually in the car on long road trips.  Our TV spends more time playing video game feeds than TV or movies.  Most of the games we have require some kind of brain process.  I say most because we have racing games and fighting games too, but my two big rules on the games is clever first and no competition.  There are a good many times when I game with the boys.  I find it equivalent to playing a pen and paper game or a board game or even a card game, just we’re doing it digitally.  Even if they are just watching me play or I am just watching them, we’re interacting.  Sure, sometimes they are playing by themselves and I’ve snuggled up with a book upstairs, but you know how we mom’s are. We usually have one ear that never turns off.  That is attuned to some kind of my kids aren’t cooperating with each other wavelength.  I can tell when things are going south.

So what do I do when I go are going south?  That’s my cue to give the kids a break.  They could have been playing Skylanders cooperatively for a couple of hours. I’ll be assaulted with giggles and come this way and wait up and you change your element this time, I did it last time.  And then it’ll change.  Someone’s gotten frustrated or stopped helping or listening or cooperating.  So I shut it down.  Guys finish the level, the games going off for a while.

What happens next if often along the lines of, let’s make a sword and you can be so and so and we’ll go after…epic battle ensues with the brothers defeating the forces of evil.  And then later in the day they are back to playing a different game perhaps together perhaps not.  Some days it’s less than others some days it’s more, but for me, for my kids, this is what works.

I got a new title

“You should start a blog for all the other “gamer moms” out there that feel your pain.”  Yup. There’s the start of it all, right there.  I’m now a Gamer Mom.  I had earned a new title, and a while ago at that, but until the moment my friend said that to me, I had been completely unaware.

We need to back up a bit.  I’ve taken a lot of pride in being a gamer girl or a girl gamer, even though some see the name as derogatory, for me it was a badge.  A mark of honor.  A verbal or written symbol that I belonged, had a place, and a unique one at that in the gaming world.  That I was cool for simply being the gender I was.  Let’s be honest, that was refreshing in a world that often doesn’t even listen to you just because you’re a girl

Of course my path to being recognized as a girl gamer was long, windy, tortuous, fraught with pathos and ok so it was like most girls – I didn’t grow up gaming. Closest I got to it as a child was watching my honorary cousins play Atari. They had Space Invaders.  We had Christmas at their house every other year. I got to play it a few times.  I have memories of Pong and Pac Man and Duck Hunt, but we didn’t own a system, so the times I got to be around games was few and far between.

Such was my interaction with games until college.  College was another matter.  The boys dorms had kids who owned Sonic and Mortal Kombat.  I watched a few times.  I didn’t get to play sonic, but a couple of times I got to play Mortal Kombat. I vaguely remember beating the boys after I got the hang of it.  I didn’t get to play much after that.  You pick up quickly that it was a guy’s world and while I was allowed to watch and cheer them on, I wasn’t really going to be included.  So I got a game boy.  Played Tetris, Super Mario and my first Legend of Zelda game.  I enjoyed them well enough, though I was a total newbie and the tiny green screen was hard to take.  But no one could exclude me or take the game away, so I was able to gain a modicum of confidence about my ability to play a video game.  I was introduced to Myst by a husband and wife who were friends of my parents.  It had been out for a year or so and it seemed that girls often were among the group that played it.  After I finished it, I was talking to a friend who was also playing it.  He seemed surprised I finished it as he was still working on it.  He asked me how long it took me and nearly spit when I told him.  Apparently it was a really fast time.  I played a lot of point and click adventures after that, my mind liked the puzzles.  But I didn’t much talk about them with anyone.  I didn’t want to inadvertently emasculate anyone again.

Somewhere during that time, I got married.  And we bought a PS2, and then an X-Box and finally a Game Cube.  I started to gobble up games.  Jak and Daxter, Windwaker, DOA 3, Sly Cooper, Psychonauts, Final Fantasy 10, Oddworld, Kingdom Hearts, Ratchet and Clank, Ico and so many others. I played more than my husband who up until then had played more games than I ever had.  In my mind I had started identifying as a gamer, not someone who played games.  Then came boy number one. I could continue to play a bit, but eventually we sold all the consoles – they no longer worked with a growing, social and curious little guy around.

In need of an outlet, and some human conversation, I got into MMORPGs.  It was a strange experience.  At first I didn’t speak as I was afraid to wake the baby  and no one knew I was a girl because a fair amount of guys like to play as girl characters.  Eventually it would become known and it was like I was suddenly granted unicorn status.  Guys thought it was cool.  And truely I was a bit of a rarity.  I only met a few other girls.  Boys would hardly believe me till I voice chatted in a mission and then I heard omg she IS a girl more than a few times.  I became aware of the status factor of being a girl gamer.  The people I played with wouldn’t have played with me if I was a poor player, but having a girl in the group definitely added something for the male players.  Eventually the game I was playing sent out a new version and the vibe changed drastically.  All the coolness factor of being a girl gamer was gone.  Now it was more along the lines of being treated with skepticism like girls can’t play, and anger when I could do better than them.  And there were a lot more girls, but they didn’t treat each other well. They wanted to be the only girl in the group of boys.  I’d been there done that with girls in real life, including being THAT girl, and I wasn’t interested in trying to win over those kinds girls in a game. Or fight for the boys attention either.  I already had all the male attention I needed.  I dropped out of the online scene.

Which was fine because boy number two had shown up and boy number one was old enough to play games.  So we went out and bought a Wii.  All of a sudden I was all about showing the kids the best games.  Playing with them; watching them play.  When they were old enough, I introduced LoZ, and then we got a PS3 and a WiiU and the boys got 3DSs.  All the time I was guiding them, cultivating in them a love of gaming, leading them to quality games and being delighted when they would ask me to help them solve a puzzle or beat a boss.  Unconsciously or consciously, who can really tell, I was raising them to not have any kind of reaction to girl gamers.  Instilling in them the knowledge that girls play just as much as boys and that they are both equally good at them.  I hadn’t even realized I had morphed into a new kind of gamer.  But I had.

I took the boys to Target one day and we were hanging out in the video game area as we were wont to do.  There was another boy was hanging out in the games and as kids do they started talking about their favorite games while I wandered over to the next aisle.  As they were talking about what they liked to play, the kid asked my guys who the gamer in the family was.  Both boys turned and pointed at me and said “Our mom is.”  The “cool!” look on that kid’s face made me feel the same kind of pride I used to feel being a girl gamer.  But now I wasn’t just cool for being a girl, or being a girl gamer, I was cool for being my kid’s gaming mom.