by Risa Green
As I’ve said before, my son is slightly obsessed with Wii Lego Star Wars . Despite the fact that I have banished it to the weekends, it is still all he thinks about, and all he ever wants to talk about. And I’ve gotten used to it, and I’ve even been more or less okay with it, until I discovered lately that things had gone just a little too far. You see, they tell you that kids who watch too much tv are more likely to get AD/HD, and that kids who spend too much time in front of a screen are more likely to become obese, but nobody tells you that kids who play too many video games are incapable of following rules unless those roles are spoken in video game parlance. Or at least, this is true of my kid. I really can’t say if there have been any longitudinal studies done to show that this holds true for other kids, as well.
Anyway, here’s an example. My son and I have been having some “bedtime issues” lately. Every night, he takes a bath, brushes his teeth, goes to the bathroom, etc. We read a few books. We lie in his bed and cuddle for several minutes and talk about things (what should we talk about, mommy? I don’t know, what do you want to talk about? I want to talk about video games). Then, he hugs me fifty or sixty times and kisses every square inch of my face and neck, and I say goodnight and walk out of his room. At which point he yells, Wait! Mama, I need to tell you one more thing! Which then turns into ten more things, along with several questions along the lines of, if I break both of my legs and I lose my voice in the middle of the night, how will I get you? And then he gives me ten more hugs and we argue about who loves who more, and then I say goodnight and leave again, muttering about how I still need to put away the dishes and make lunches for tomorrow, at which point he yells, Wait! Mama, just one more thing! And then I exhale out all of my patience and steam starts coming out of my ears and I begin to yell at him that it is too late for one more thing, and he needs to go to bed Right! Now! And then he starts to cry and then my husband comes in, guns blazing, making ultimatums (if you don’t stop calling for mommy right now, I am taking away Lego Star Wars for two weekends!) and then my son cries harder and calls for me anyway, and the next thing I know it’s almost ten o’clock, and I’m back in his room, calming him down (not having done any dishes or made any lunches) because my husband has taken away every toy the kid owns and video games and tv for a whole week. So like I said, we’ve got some bedtime issues.
Anyway, I have tried talking to my son in non-bedtime situations about the bedtime situation. I have tried explaining to him that when mommy says goodnight and leaves, he is not allowed to yell One more thing! And if he does need to tell me one more thing, he will have to wait until the morning. And since he is worried that he will forget what he has to tell me if he waits until the morning, I have put a pad of paper and a pencil next to his bed so he can write it down, and I have assured him that even if he does not spell it correctly, I will still be able to decipher what it says. And yet, the bedtime issues continue.
So finally, exasperated, I tried something new. In a particularly inspired moment, I told him that he should pretend that bedtime is a video game. His eyes lit up. I explained that the only way to clear a level in this game is to not call for mommy after mommy leaves his room. That’s a hard level, he said. I told him that I know it’s hard, and reminded him that Revenge of the Sith was really hard, too, and he cleared that level. He considered this for a moment, then nodded. Okay, he said. But if I clear the level, what do I unlock? And I’m like, seriously? What does he unlock? But since I seemed to be making a little progress, I quickly made some stuff up. Level One, I explained, unlocks a hundred kisses, Level Two unlocks a hundred hugs, and Level Three unlocks a new Star Wars Lego set that I bought on sale at Toys “R” Us and was still sitting in the trunk of my car until I came up with a reason to give it to him. And Level Four? he wanted to know. I told him to see if he could clear Level Three, and then we could figure out what he would unlock after that.
Well, he was like a new kid. He made up all of this stuff about how there’s a remote control in his brain, and he clicks on different things in his dreams to stop himself from calling for me, and the pad of paper is one of his weapons, and on and on and on, and wouldn’t you know, that night, it totally worked. I left his room and he went to bed without a peep, even exclaiming at one point in our cuddle that the bedtime rule was the best rule ever. And then, as soon as he woke up the next morning, he came running into my room, asking for the hundred kisses that he’d unlocked. Which is a really sweet story with a really happy ending, until you consider that MY SON ONLY LISTENS TO ME IF I PUT THINGS IN TERMS OF VIDEO GAMES. And then it’s a little scary. I mean, he’s going to kindergarten in a few months, and I can just imagine him asking the teacher what he unlocks if he learns how to write in lowercase letters. And I can just picture her wondering what the hell is going on in this kid’s house, that he thinks of every challenge and every achievement as a way to “unlock” something. Scary. But since I’m already a bad mom for allowing him to play Lego Star Wars so much in the first place, I figure I might as well go with it. I’ve been a little worried about how I’m going to get him to sit down and do homework next year, but now I’m starting to think that I’ve got a pretty good idea…