I’m a blamer. A big Blame-itty Blamer. It’s just easier that way. It sure beats trying to (1) understand my child’s nuances, (2) anticipate conflict with a thoughtfully developed strategy and (3) calmly stick to the plan. So who to blame for the Great Wii Meltdown Of 2011?
How about the full moon?
I first felt a disturbance in The Force when 8-year-old Eddie invited his pal Caleb to come after school for snack. Apparently Caleb thought the deal included some Wii time. Wrong-o. (Rats! How much screen time did Eddie have in the morning?) Not wanting always to be Mr. Rigid, I hedged and said that if they played outside for an hour, they could play Wii from 5:15 to 5:30.
Out they went. Eddie even put on his watch so he could remember. Progress!
By 5:20, Eddie tells me he wants to play Wii instead with his buddy Harris, who lives two doors down from Caleb. This he tells me in view of both boys’ parents, who are outside chewing the fat and now watching for my response. I know Eddie’s not going to like my answer.
“Either invite both Harris and Caleb in to play Wii, or invite neither of them,” I tell him. “We can discuss this later – not in front of your friends. And their parents. Those are your only options.”
“But Daaaa-aaad. I wanna play Wii with Harris…” he whines.
I don’t budge. He tromps inside with both.
Ten minutes later, he’s back outside.
“Daaaa-aaaad… Caleb and Harris won’t let me play with the Wii. And where’s the Lego Star Wars disk, anyway?”
Uh-oh. I’m in trouble.
“Oh, I hid it.”
I’m sick and tired of this mindless, endless, incomprehensible video game. Rather than discuss with my Lovely Bride how we should deal with the zombie-like stare and loss of IQ points any time he plays Lego Star Wars – or try to explain to Eddie why games with no end make it so hard to, well, end – I unilaterally decided to hide the disk. Yup, I’m the grownup.
“You what? Dad, that’s MY game! It’s MINE!”
I start thinking, did he save up and buy it, or was it a present? Hmmm… I’m willing to let him play it some, but really, there are only five minutes left before it’s all over. And by the time the kids fire it up, then I’ll have to send Harris and Caleb home for supper, and I can already hear the whiny protests from all three. I tell Eddie that after they go home maybe he can play Lego Star Wars for a few minutes. I hand over the disk.
After the other boys go home, I hear the sounds of some Wii baseball game coming up the basement steps. Whaddya know – he doesn’t play Star Wars after all. I call downstairs with the 10-minute warning. When time is up, I follow with my standard warning: “You can turn it off, or I will.”
I march down the steps, and Eddie’s standing there, mouth agape, making no motion toward turning the thing off. I stomp over to the TV, eject the disk, and shut off the TV.
“Eddie, do you want to lose a day of Wii tomorrow?”
Begin Meltdown Level 1.
“Daaaa-aaadddd! I was play-iiiiingg! It’s only the first inn-iiiiiinngggg” he cries.
“Yes, but I told you it was time to stop. And what’s with all this mess down here? You need to clean this up.” There were flashcards everywhere, things pulled out of cabinets, and the place looked ransacked.
“We were looking everywhere for Lego Star Wars, and YOU HID IT!”
“Eddie, you don’t need to make a mess looking for things. Now clean this up.”
He shouldn’t have to clean up his friends’ messes, he says, and he can’t understand why I won’t let him call them to come back and help clean up. It’s too late and they’re probably eating supper now, I tell him. Plus he’s responsible for what his friends do in his house. If I had known the three of them made such a wreck, I really would have made them all clean it up. Had I actually thought to look, I could have headed this off at the pass and our story would end here.
“Why did you let them leave the basement like this?” I ask.
To avoid certain disaster, should I let the ransacked basement go? Am I to blame for hiding the disk? Was there another way out where neither of us lost face? And I still felt like the in-control parent? If I the kind to think on my feet quickly, maybe we would know. But I like rules, deadlines and lines in the sand. Mix Eddie’s tendency to get lost in his play and my inclination to interpret such as disobedience, and it’s like throwing gasoline on a fire.
Commence Meltdown Level 2.
I force him to clean it up himself, and I threaten to get The Trash Bag for what he doesn’t pick up in 10 minutes. Combine that and a whole lotta lip from Eddie, and he ends up with no Wii for three days. At this point, he’s so angry he can hardly talk. He moans like a wounded animal, and tears roll down his cheeks, which look like they’re about to burst. I try to make him calm down by just sitting in our comfy chair in the living room, and he moans “this is boring.” I try repeating myself and talking through how he ought to be grateful that he even has a Wii and a bike to ride and nice friends to play with and a good house to live in with plenty to eat. And if I had known his friends made such a mess, I’d have made them clean up, too. The whole meltdown, calm down and cleanup goes on for an hour.
Through it all, somehow, I hold on as the Zen master and don’t mirror his meltdown. I try to remember a sermon I heard once about dealing with anger by remembering how thankful I should be that I even have two children. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude, I tell Eddie.
He scowls at me.
When my Lovely Bride gets home for supper, I tell her not to mention the whole thing at the table. Eddie rats me out, of course, and starts to melt down all over again. By the end of supper, however, I manage to get him laughing by making a funny fish face. He can’t quite copy it, but his attempt is even funnier than mine.
Sometimes I wonder why I provoke Eddie like this.
I’m trying to teach him that he’s responsible for what goes on in his house. That there are consequences when he talks back to his parents. That he has to follow directions. That he has to calm himself down. That there’s more to life than a video game.
So my execution is clunky.
Can you blame me for wanting this?