“Joey!” I shouted upstairs impatiently for what seemed like the thirtieth time. “I said come down for lunch RIGHT NOW! I am not going to call you again.”
“Hey, in a minute, Mom. I’m not done with this level yet!”
A rush of adrenaline surged through my veins, and I ran upstairs, taking the steps to the playroom two at a time. Pausing at the top of the staircase, I took in the scene of Joey standing in front of the TV, eyes glazed, white Wii remote in hand, and the assortment of other children lounging on the floor and couch behind him.
I darted in front of him like a savage, waving my arms and screaming. “WAIT A MINUTE? Wait a MINUTE? For a LEVEL?” They all looked over, stunned, as I flailed around and started tossing games and discs and controllers from the shelf until I had found what I was looking for: the small square Wii console. I ripped it out from the TV and threw it on the floor, wires dangling from the back.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is called taking parenting to the next level.
Lately, it seems not an hour goes by without one of my kids asking me for something; to download the latest horrible Demi Lovato song or to buy a new video game or to take them to a waterpark. Ask, whine, cajole, beg.
A week earlier, we’d flown in from Texas at 1:30 am on Sunday. Exhausted, Joe and I carried five sleeping children and four red suitcases into the house and collapsed into bed. The next morning, I opened my eyes at exactly 9:12 to see my 7-year old standing over me.
“Can we go to Chuck E. Cheese today? And do something fun?”
Fun? My drowsy brain struggled to keep up. Didn’t we just come back from vacation last night? A vacation full of water parks and underground caves and bat bridges? Need we more fun?
Another level, indeed.
I am telling you, if I had ever talked to my mother that way, if I had counseled her to wait a minute, she would have killed me. I know people bandy that term around a lot—she would have killed me!—but I mean it. I would be dead and my tombstone would read “She Told Her Mother To Wait So She Could Finish Another Level.” (A level of Pacman, but still.)
When we were little, not a single adult in our house woke up on a summer morning asking, “What can I do for you today? How can I make your life more fun?” In fact, the only adult in our house was single, so each morning she woke early, got ready for work, and left for her job at the local bank.
Once we were old enough to stay alone—and I’m remembering this was around twelve—we had a list of things to get done throughout the day; vacuuming, laundry, dinner. When our stuff was done, there were no trips to Chuck E. Cheese or the town pool or the movies. Instead, we—my older brother, younger sister, and I—figured it out for ourselves.
I remember spending many hot afternoons on the back lawn swatting a tennis ball around a pole that screwed into the dry, yellow grass. I think the fancy term for this apparatus today may be a tether ball. I can still hear the buzz of crickets in the meadow that lined our yard. I can still feel heat of the sun high above me as I thwacked that tennis ball from side to side.
Ten minutes later all five kids were seated at the counter, ham & cheese sandwiches in front of them. Joey kept his eyes down, mumbling that he couldn’t possibly eat, he wasn’t hungry. I knew what they were angling for: an apology. All five of them were waiting for me to say how sorry I was, how of course I would return their beloved Wii console to its rightful place under the TV.
I think most people who live in this house with me will agree that I am not a yeller. I do not shout and scream and rant throughout the day. I don’t raise my voice often. But boy, when I do, I’m going for broke. I’m going all the way and it’s going to get personal. It’s going to get real.
It just seems to be how I’m wired.
I don’t mean to suggest that I’m proud of this tantrum. When I lose control with my kids it reminds of the times I eat gooey chocolate cake when I’m angry with Joe or sad that Henry ruined my favorite towel mopping up his green paint or frustrated that Jack can’t figure out how to use a ruler measure the termite printed on his math worksheet. It feels so unbelievably good in the moment, but it rarely solves the problem.
In fact, I almost didn’t share this story of my Wii breakdown. I thought twice about it because I was ashamed of it.
But I was chatting with the mom who owns our local postal center, and in between paying for stamps and wrapping a gift to mail to my sister, we commiserated about parenting’s delicate balancing act. I told her how I mad I was about the Wii, how I tore the wiring separating gaming apparatus from television like a crazy person.
All of a sudden, a tall man wearing a red t-shirt walked over from the wall of shiny gold mailboxes and said, “I am so glad to hear you tell this story, to talk about how mad you were. I’m glad to know I’m not alone with how frustrated I get with my boys.”
Like many of you, I so badly want to be a good mother, a mother who exercises control and relies on unending wells of patience and never, ever gets upset about things like pale pink hand-towels ruined by paint. But I also need to be a real person. And my reality is sometimes I get angry. Frustrated. These four boys and one girl can push me to the very edge of my sanity.
But I know my temper is hard on my kids; it takes them by surprise and scares them. It’s especially hard on Jack, because my son with autism has a difficult time predicting the storms of change, anticipating the swirling Mommy clouds and the thunderous downpour. I see his stricken face, his bewildered expression, his teary eyes, and I vow to do better. To be better.
To change my wiring.
So, for the next two days we went through our Wii detox. For two days, five people complained about the injustice of no Mario Kart, the unfairness of a game-free existence. But I didn’t apologize. And I didn’t give it back.
During those two days, I thought about wiring, and whether or not I can change my own. I’m not sure I can. I thought about how mothers and fathers everywhere are tethered together by the same frustrations, the same joys, the same Wii-inspired conflicts. And how, just by writing these words into this post today, I feel a little less alone, a little less ashamed. Maybe this is the next epic level of parenting.
And with that last thought, I figured out the perfect solution to the Wii drama.