“When can I get the Wii back. I need it. I need the Wii,” Jack begged as he trailed me from room to room.
Last week I mentioned how our family was detoxing from the Wii. In fact, it wasn’t just the Wii gaming system. In what could be called an overzealous/brave/stupid moment of parenting zeal, we also took away the IPad and the television.
Some of us detoxed better than others.
“I need the Wii. Wii now!”
I stated to feel like an actress in some weird foreign French film.
Wii? No Wii? Wii? Wii.
Reader, out of sheer courtesy and consideration, I have provided you with the abridged version of my Wii conversation with Jack. Because it actually went on FOR HOURS. Hour after blessed hour he followed me around, pleading and whining for the small square console I’d “removed” from the television the day before.
A ninety-second conversation with Jack usually goes something like this:
Did you know Uncle Frank was born before Hawaii became a state Dusty Springfield’s music is considered pop but Mary J. Blige is called soul why does Santa eat cookies are we ever going to visit California tomorrow it will be hot in Guam.
Inside Jack’s soft, brown, closely cropped head, I picture a teeny-tiny train running along a miniature track. Most of the time, this train runs smoothly–albeit quickly–through stations about music and spiders, dates and time.
But every now and again, the Jack-train stalls. It is delayed. It sits idle, and instead of rushing past Dusty Springfield onto license plates, it sputters to a halt at sexy pancakes or eyeglasses or the schedule of Scooby-Doo episodes on TV.
Or the Wii.
He can’t handle a maybe or we’ll see or I’m not sure yet Jack. He craves certainty, and the opposite—ambiguity—makes my son nuts. If there is no definitive answer to his looping questions or demands, if we don’t know what time we’ll have dinner or when the Mobil Mart opens for the day or if we’ll see the new movie Turbo on Friday or Saturday, the train just revs in place, wheels spinning and engine grumbling.
“Jack,” I said softly, bracing myself for the storm. “I do not think we are getting the Wii back. I think we are done with it.”
You can imagine the tantrum that came next. I won’t go into specific details. Okay, maybe I will.
“WHAAAAT!! No Wii back! But I need it. I need the Wii,” he cried, flapping his hands in the air.
I tried every tactic. I asked him if he wanted to go for a bike ride. I proposed painting. I offered to play one of our favorite games, Boggle. Nothing worked to slow his descent into the red zone. Just as he dropped to the floor kicking and screaming, I suggested a cooking project to take his mind off video games, to nudge the train along its proverbial track.
“Hey, Jack. How about we bake some cookies?”
“Can we have the Wii after we bake?”
Exasperated, frustrated, and quickly approaching a tantrum myself, I blurted, “You know what? You need to put your thoughts about the Wii away. Put them….in the pocket. The pocket in your brain!”
As soon as I said it, my stomach lurched a little. Pocket in the brain? What a disgusting idea. I instantly pictured the looping grey grossness of the cerebral cortex with a denim pocket stitched in it, the kind you used to find on Jordache jeans. (Remember those?)
But it got his attention. He looked up at me, bewildered, and repeated, “A pocket? In my brain?”
It was just the cerebral foothold I needed. I explained that yes, everyone’s brain has a pocket in it, a place where we store ideas and thoughts that we don’t want to forget about, but we don’t need to keep thinking about over and over.
I tapped the side of my own head, right above my right ear, to show him where I keep my pocket.
“What is in there. In your pocket,” he asked in his monotone as he hopped from one foot to the other.
What is in there? I paused for a second and considered all the little things I think about over and over; if I should grill the pork chops or bake them for dinner, if I should sign Rose up for gymnastics again, if I did the right thing by taking the Wii away. Whether or not I should buy new towels from Lands End. When I really thought about it, I could absolutely relate to Jack’s mind getting stuck, because I have my own train in my brain.
“Well, sometimes I can’t stop thinking about little stuff, like what to make for dinner or what time I should go to Crossfit. If we should get new sneakers now or wait until school starts. If we should take Grandma out for her birthday or–”
“All right,” he interrupted. “Stop talking about it. Let’s bake those cookies.”
And so we busied ourselves with pan, bowl and recipe. And as I helped him measure and pour and stir, Joey and Charlie got out the Boggle, and before long all three boys were playing, the Wii forgotten for the time being.
Throughout the week I used the pocket in the brain to remind Jack when his train got stuck on a certain track. When he started to beg for the IPad or ask the third question about brown recluse spiders or if it was going to rain out, I would tap my head and tell him to tuck it away, to put that thought in his pocket for now. And it seemed to work; each time he’d pause for a second before moving on to something else. It was like watching that little train start up and gain speed, trundling past the roadblocks and obstructions that sometimes stalled it.
But maybe the ultimate pocket success was with seven-year old Charlie. No stranger to worrying and preoccupation himself, Charlie could not stop talking about swimming in the town pool. Every day he’d ask when we were going, if we could stay long, how many trips he could take down the blue spiral slide.
We were in the car, headed to the grocery store, when my dark-haired boy announced, “I think I’m going to put the town pool in the pocket in my brain. I am tired of thinking about it and I need my brain to stop.”
I looked at him in the rearview mirror and noticed how his body—tense and nervous about the why can’t we go to the town pool today argument a moment before—relaxed.
And it occurred to me, that the pocket in our brain can provide a break, restfulness, peace from the barrage of thoughts and ideas and opinions we bombard ourselves with all day, from pork chops for dinner to the town pool to beige or eggshell towels. It’s a release. And then there is space, room for our minds to dream, to imagine, to think in color.
I thought maybe, just maybe you don’t even need to have autism to use a pocket in your brain.
I was still reveling in my pocket problem-solving victory that night at dinner and I decided to take the concept just a smidge further. I suggested that maybe the pockets in our brains have zippers attached to them, to keep our thoughts safely tucked inside. Jack, however, was not on board.
“Stop talking about that dumb POCKET! It is ANNOYING ME!”
From across the table, Joey smirked at me and suggested, “Mom, maybe it’s time to put the pocket in your brain in the pocket in your brain.”
They all screamed laughing. Henry slapped a chubby hand on the table and chortled around a mouthful of corn, “Put da pocket IN DA POCKET!” Rose giggled so hard she squirted milk out of her mouth.
These kids are so not getting that Wii back.