Friday, April 13, 2012

At Peace with That Thought

I’ve had writer’s block this week. Like nothing I have to say is worth sharing. So I tabbed over to Google News. A headline caught my eye.

Mayor Cory Booker heroically rescued his neighbor from her burning house last night. This is what he had to say about the experience:

“I didn’t feel bravery; I felt terror.”

And that’s just it. Brave people don’t feel brave. They feel scared just like us cowards. Only they keep going. They rush ahead, jumping through the flames to save someone else’s life while thinking, “I might die.” And being at peace with that thought. “So what if I do?”

I said something similar to Katie yesterday afternoon when she stopped screaming.

The kid takes video games too seriously. Her father broke out his Nintendo 64 so he could show Katie The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. She quickly became addicted. As soon as homework is done she wants to play it. When I persuade her to instead play outside (who is the kid here?) all she wants to play is “Zelda” where she runs around the yard with a giant stick, stabbing the air as she chases bad guys.

Yesterday afternoon I was not-writing at my computer while Katie sat on the futon and her character Alex ran through Hyrule Field. She screamed. My self-centered, highly musophobic self immediately pulled my knees to my chest and my feet to the seat. Mouse. She must have seen a mouse.

“What’s wrong, Sweetie?” I clenched my teeth, hoping I didn’t have to get up to check on her. The thought of having to put my feet on the floor in the same room as a mouse. Ugh. I can’t even stand to think about it.

“I stuck and it’s almost nighttime!”

I’m not a gamer. My parents never bought me a video game console or whatever the hell the things are called that you turn on to pull up the game on your TV screen. Growing up in the Seventies, my friend across the street had an Atari. I’d spend the night and we’d watch “The Love Boat,” followed by “Fantasy Island” snuggled up inside our Holly Hobby sleeping bags, shoving handfuls of popcorn into our faces, drinking pop, and giggling. When the TV shows were over her parents would go to bed and my friend would break out the Atari. We played “Pong” and “Space Invaders”. I was bad at both. But I didn’t care because I could roller skate faster than my friend could and I knew that’s what we’d be doing as soon as the sun came up again.

That’s about the extent of my gaming ways. For about a month I babysat a kid who wasn’t old enough to know how to stop pissing his pants but who knew how to do whatever it was that was the point of playing “Donkey Kong” or “Mario” or whatever that game was that has that annoying earworm-worthy song.

Then I met Will. My husband is a gamer. He grew up playing video games like I grew up playing Barbies. They were his life. They were what he did in his every spare moment on consciousness when he wasn’t outside riding his bike or stealing his mom’s Virginia Slims butts, hiding them inside his clock radio’s tape deck to smoke when he had the house to himself.

I don’t know why he married me. I’m surprised he didn’t insist on mating with a fellow gamer. Once in the early part of our dating relationship he brought over some bowling game and tried to get me to play it with him. After a few tries he laughed, shaking his head as if he’d never met a breed of human like me and said, “Wow, you really are bad.” I didn’t care. He liked my stories.

As soon as Will determined our daughter was able to comprehend words well enough to attempt to play “Zelda” he broke out his old game and controller and showed her how to start it.

From what I can tell she’s pretty good at it. But you know. I’m her mom. When she was younger I’d brag to anyone who would listen how her finger paintings and sandbox sculptures belonged in the Met.

Katie’s strategy in “Zelda” seems to be her strategy in real life too. She avoids conflict. At school when her friends start fighting with each other, she wanders off to play by herself. In the game, when nighttime approaches and she knows the skulltulas are about to come out, she heads to the Temple of Time to convert to a grownup so she can play the Song of the Sun on the ocarina, or something like that. But, she’s five. Sometimes she forgets she can do that and she just screams.


“What’s wrong, Sweetie?” I ask, my feet beneath me in the chair.

“I stuck and it’s almost nighttime!”

I knew I had to get up. I was terrified. But my baby was dying in her game. I’ll never be a Cory Booker, but I was the only other person home, so I was as good as Katie was gonna get.

I talked myself through it. “Just put your feet on the floor. What’s the worst that can happen? A mouse is not going to run across your feet. And so what if it did? Would you die. No, you just think you would die. A harmless mouse is not going to—”

By that time I’d made it to the futon. Katie was curled up in a ball, eyes hidden behind her knees. The game controller at her side.

I suddenly turned into Mother and forgot about the imaginary mouse. “What’s wrong, Sweetie?”

“It’s almost nighttime and I can’t get out.”

Since I don’t know how the controller works, I couldn’t do it for her. I literally had never walked in her character’s elfin shoes. All I knew to do was sit and put my arm around her. So I did.

She sunk her warm little body into mine and cried for a minute.

I said, “It’s ok.”

“It’s not ok!” She sat up straight and had fury in her eyes.

“Why are you so angry?” I honestly didn’t know. I don’t understand gamer rage.

“Because I not brave!” She covered her eyes with her forearm dramatically and fell back into the futon.

“How are you not brave?”

She uncovered her eyes and pointed to the TV screen. “Because I scared of the skulltulas!

I hugged her again. “It’s ok to be scared, Sweetie. Brave people get scared. You have to keep trying. Brave people are just cowards who don’t give up.”

We sat there together for a long, quiet moment that I cherished, aware of its natural ephemerality. With each lesson learned my daughter needs me less.

She broke my mother’s-lament trance and sat up, taking the controller in hand to un-pause her character.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I know how to get out! I have an idea!”

I watched her face and smiled, then went back to write. Leaving her at peace with that thought.