Smarter than the Average Bear

We all know that proud, overly-sharing parent, the one who is amazed their child can do perfectly ordinary things.  “My daughter Marjorie can add up to ten!”  Your daughter Marjorie is in college, Karen.  “Look at little Timmy read this book!”  It’s a picture book, Barbara.

If you’re like me, you want to back-end every car sporting a “My Kid is an Honor Roll Student” bumper sticker, and you snicker at the “My Kid Beat Up Your Honor Roll Student.”  I have a new bumper sticker:  My Super Smart Dog Bit Your Honor Roll Student.

If you ask me, there’s not enough focus on the truly smart animals in our lives.  Anyone who thinks animals can’t count has never tried to give three biscuits to a dog who is used to getting four at a time.  The internet abounds with videos of horses counting and even if it is a trick of clever training, the idea that a horse can be trained to appear to count is pretty freaking amazing.

Recently, a family member was gushing about her toddler who knew where the pretzels were kept in the house.  She even went so far as to surreptitiously record her child in this endeavor to share with the audience. This tiny human marvel could even open the pantry door and get the pretzel jar, but the act of unscrewing the tightly closed lid thwarted her adorably chubby little hands.

Awww, isn’t that cute.

My dog knows where the treats are.  He opens the kitchen cabinet, gets his treats, opens the box, and eats his fill. I will admit, he hasn’t quite grasped the idea that cleaning up after himself might be to his advantage. At the least, as I keep explaining to him, it would buy him some time before being found out. I had to put childproof locks on drawers and doors and everything in between to foil my cat, the ne’er-do-well, who is apparently a master locksmith and can open any barrier placed in front of her.  So long as she wants whatever is behind it, that is.  My friend shakes her head sadly when telling me about her German Shepherd who can unlock door handles, open the door, and go into any room she likes.  Baby gates? Pfftt. It’s like you’re not even trying. Cabinets and drawers and off-limit rooms are nothing to these animals, so while I think it’s adorable that your toddler can find the pretzels, I am holding my applause for now.

Don’t get me wrong, I know kids are smart.  Heck, I’ve had two kids raise and train me perfectly.  I just think it’s funny when over-effusive parents boast about ordinary milestones in a completely unironic way.  “Look, she’s only 144 months old and she can recite the alphabet!”

Yeah, Lois, very nice.  Can you hold the cat while I call the vet?  She opened my locked bedroom door, climbed a ladder, cracked my wall safe, and got into the treats that I thought were for sure out of reach this time.  And let me know if you’ve seen the dog, my car keys are missing, and I think he drove down the street to see that damn poodle. Again.

Don’t even get me started on that horse next door who keeps blowing the whistle on my trips to the refrigerator at night; I never should have gotten him binoculars for Christmas.

 

The Art of Gaming

I’ve talked about video games before. My kids played when they were younger, then in their teens, and still to this day. Their grandmother before them was a die-hard gamer. In addition to the strictly for fun or ‘feeding the rage-monster side of your personality’ class of games, there are science-y games, math games, even reading games, all of which help nurture a love for learning. My kids had them all … today, however, the educational games have decidedly progressed to the point that STEM camps and classrooms use them as a tool in an ever-growing instructional arsenal.  This is a good thing.  For the most part, though, parents – and adults in general, see video games as a waste of money, a waste of space, and a waste of time.

Before you tell your son or daughter to get off the computer, stop playing those useless games, and get a life, stop and consider: some people make a full-time living playing video games.  Between live streaming themselves on You Tube, testing out apps and games for the market, and competing in real-time challenges for pay, someone can make some pretty good scratch playing computer games.

It’s a shame, really, that you can’t add video gaming skills to a job resume.  Other than “annihilating your enemies,” and “driving the get-away car really fast,” video games teach kids valuable life lessons.  Don’t believe me?

Computer skills:  This is a no-brainer, but you need decent computer skills to excel in video gaming.  Many games have “mods,” for instance, which are modifications that the user can design and use in-game.   Games develop hand and eye coordination, and many kids can thank the gaming world for their ability to trouble shoot computer issues, type without looking at the keys, and think quickly on their feet.  Today’s kids are much more advanced in computer skills than their parents ever will be; ask any kid who has tried to walk their parent through using Skype, the latest iteration of Excel, or God help us all, PowerPoint.

Team Building and Leadership:   Parents may not be aware of this, but to excel in many video games the players need to join alliances and become team players to beat the challenges.  These kids are also learning the art of commitment and follow-through, even in a virtual world. A player’s online reputation is important to them; reliability and loyalty are valuable traits in a player.   Kids will develop pretty tight online friendships with teammates, and to them, meeting up to kill a troll in a game is as much a firm Friday night plan as going to the mall used to be for us parents but with a little more sorcery, swordplay, and bombing.

Problem Solving:  So how exactly does a fifteen-year-old raid an enemy camp, steal supplies, kill the leader and escape undetected?  This skill may not equate to real world experience; I’m pretty sure no boss will instruct an employee to break into a rival’s office, steal pens and staplers, and poison the air filtration system.  Still, these game quests teach kids to use logic and reasoning to solve complex issues – skills that can translate to any activity in the real world. Frankly, grocery shopping would be a lot more fun if we could add an element of video gaming to it.  Sneak up on fellow shoppers and take stuff out of their carts, joust in the aisle of the store, and barter for coins?  Yes, please!

Time Management:  In the video game world, many challenges revolve around time.  You may only have a set number of minutes to finish a quest, or you lose a life.  Imagine this in the real world; if you don’t get all of the items on your grocery list in a preset amount of time, your cart disappears, and you have to start all over again.  Personally, I’d love that.  It would take care of those lollygaggers in the produce aisle once and for all. I know, I know, I keep mentioning grocery stores … I’m hungry.  But seriously, in a dog-eat-dog business setting? Time is everything. Time management is a much-needed skill.

Thinking Ahead:  Video games today are far more complex than Space Invaders.  Older video games that we grew up on didn’t rely as heavily on fast thinking and planning; most of our games were luck and plain old good timing.  Today’s video games require luck, good timing, planning, logic, and thinking ahead.  Players need to consider their plans carefully, and they learn from prior defeats in similar quests.  They are constantly thinking, plotting, and planning.  These abilities are valuable in the job market as well as all-you-can-eat buffets.  Sorry, I’m still hungry.

Parents need to chill a little if they have a kid obsessed with online gaming.  Limit their onscreen times (duh), but don’t dampen their enthusiasm entirely.  After all, today’s kids didn’t invent obsessive hobbies.  Remember Saturday morning cartoons? Comic books? Rubik’s Cubes? Pac-Man? In fact, if you really want to look at it, our obsessions didn’t teach us a damn thing except that if you gulped cherries you became super charged, if you peel the stickers off the cube and stick them back on you could tell people you solved the cube, and the coyote will never catch that road runner no matter how many Acme products he buys.

Our kids may be obsessed and afraid of daylight, but they can take out a zombie with a slingshot and damn it, that’s a handy skill to have.

Circling back to that “driving the get-away car really fast” observation, check out this news story (click pic for the article) … See? Video games do pay off!

Mommy, Look!

While chatting with a friend today, I reminisced a bit about my kids when they were younger, and the grey hairs they have so generously given me over the years. That conversation got me thinking of the different parenting scenarios I’ve survived experienced with my children.

When I was a mom with young kids, there were a few phrases I’d hear that would make my heart drop in my chest.  “Your credit card has been denied” was one of them, “I’m sorry, we’re out of that brand of wine” was another, and “I forgot to tell you, mom, I need…”  was an anxiety inducing sentence, no matter what they added to the end of it.

There’s one, though, that stands out from the rest.  Never will a mother ever hear anything more frightening than “Mommy, look!”  This is the child equivalent of “hold my beer.”

There is a direct relation between how many times the word “mommy” is used and how much time will be spent at the doctor’s office later.  “Mommy, look” usually can be fixed with a band-aid and a few kisses, but “mommy, mommy, mommy look” is probably going to end up in an emergency room visit.

Even more frightening is when they add words or phrases to the basic “mommy, look.”  Additional phrases can be “Look at me, mommy,” “look what I can do,” or even worse, “mommy, look what I learned in school today.”

Sometimes, the action is more embarrassing than dangerous.  “Mommy, guess what Uncle Fred taught me today?”  is a dangerous thing for a young kid to say in a crowded elevator.  Other times, a “mommy, look” can be inspired by a movie.  Even an innocent movie, like Mary Poppins, can have your kid teetering on the garage roof with an opened umbrella. Don’t ask me how I know this.

As moms, we picture our Facebook and social media pages as being full of sweet posts, adorable pictures, and heartfelt videos.  Instead, we get emergency room photos of smiling kids holding up arms in casts – all with one thing in common; the incidents probably all started with “Mommy, mommy, mommy, look what I can do!”   This is a real thing; doctors can now legally bill your insurance for “uh oh” and “mommy, look.”

Speaking of which, “uh oh” is another loaded toddler phrase, roughly equating to “I spilled my beer.”  The “uh oh” by itself can range from dropped food to “I drew with crayon on the Mona Lisa while you weren’t looking.”  It can be paired with “mommy, look” for added anxiety.  “Uh oh, mommy, look” is slightly less frightening than “mommy, look!  Uh oh.”  If you understand the difference, you are truly a mom.

Unfortunately for women, while little girls will eventually grow out of the “mommy, look” stage, their male counterparts never do.  They may exchange umbrellas for ladders, garage roofs for four-wheelers, and “mommy, look” for “here, hold my beer,” but the basic concept is the same.  Men’s “uh ohs” can be loosely translated to “look out!” or “damn, didn’t see that coming.”  Either translation will probably equate to an emergency room visit and stitches. Lots of stitches.

A mom can tell you, though, that on par with “mommy, look” is The Silence from the Other Room.  This is a much subtler approach for kids; it sneaks up on moms before they realize anything is even amiss.  Usually, it happens after the fourth load of laundry and right around the time the unsuspecting mom finally collapses into her favorite chair with a sigh and a glass of wine.  Then, it hits her…she hasn’t heard her children make a sound for over ten minutes.  The length of quiet time will generally translate into exact degrees of trouble the child has found.  A few minutes may only find a wall covered in lipstick, while ten minutes or more will most likely result in a child stuck upside down in the chimney.

Sadly, once the kids grow up, “mommy, look” is replaced by “mom, drop me off around the corner” and “uh oh” becomes “I know, I know” with an eye-roll chaser. The best advice for moms whose kids still want them to look?  Look, every time.  Before you know it, you aren’t cool enough to even be invited to see what they are doing anymore and, trust me, you’ll miss “uh oh” more than you can imagine.

Gaming Grandma

Once upon a time, kids played innocent video games that had, as their selling point, learning and teachable moments embedded in the fun.  LeapFrog was one of these; a creative, book-oriented electronic game whose only purpose was to teach our kids how to count, how to read, and how to sing very annoying songs. My kids were no exception.  We leaped with the best frogs.

Next came computer games, like Club Penguin, Toontown, and Jumpstart.  These were adorable games where the kids learned to chat in controlled phrases, and they began to experience their first taste of competition.  The next logical step was Pokémon and Naruto, where competition, chatting, and teamwork became part of everyday life.

From there, my kids jumped into League of Legends, where the sole purpose of the game was to annihilate other players.  Yay, progress.

When my son was living at home, I would hear the muffled thuds, the not-so-muffled thuds, the cursing, the banging, and occasionally the overturned chair coming from the sanctity of his room.  I wondered, but no way was I going into a teenage boy’s room alone; God only knows what science projects he had brewing under his bed or in his dirty laundry hamper.   It was hard to tell if he needed a new hobby, more practice, or better friends.  My daughter wasn’t much better, only her game frustrations were much quieter and spilled out to the dinner table in the form of dirty looks and grumbling.

I went through the usual parental worrying.  Do they spend too much time online?  Are they secretly chatting with some 60-year-old pervert in a pink tutu in this multi-player game?  Do they need to get out and socialize with the real world?  And most importantly, will they end up living in my basement into their forties?

Obviously, my kids got their video chops from their cool mom, right?  Yeah, not so much.  I don’t like video games, they make me anxious and I get stressed when I play.  I blame Milton Bradley’s Perfection. While not a video game, it was a battery-operated panic attack. Besides, life is like a video game, with adventures to be found at the grocery store, the freeway, and, occasionally, the kitchen when I try a new recipe.

So, if not me, where did they get this video game aptitude from?  Well, look one generation back, and there it is.  Thanks, mom.

Oh yes, you read that right.  My mom, sweetest lady, butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, the picture of innocence.  My mom was a pro gamer before gaming was cool.

First it was Atari. That was too easy for her. Asteroids, tennis, and pong?   It was like shooting fish in a barrel for my mother. Come to think of it, she had that game too.

The next level of her addiction came with new heroes, courtesy of Sega Genesis.  Round, prickly ones named Sonic.  Sonic ushered in some of his closest friends, including Zelda, who rode in on the wave that was Super Nintendo.  The original Zelda, thank you very much. Kids think they know Zelda, but you’ve never played Zelda until you’ve played it on the original gaming platform, in full glorious side-scrolling wonder with its tinny music and recycled backgrounds.

Then, hold on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen … along came Mario Brothers.  My mother immediately forgot everything else in the world as she threw herself into mastering this game.  My family frequently went without eating for days at a time, no clean clothes, up to our ankles in our own game, “Chase the Dust Bunnies.”

Of course, that’s not true, but she was completely obsessed with the game.  I still remember when she hit the high score or won the game, whichever the goal was.  She left the game on the entire day as proof and if I recall correctly, she took a picture of the tv screen for good measure because she was afraid no one would believe her. I like to think that the birth of my brother and me were the happiest days of her life, but I tell you, I’m not so sure.

Once she conquered the world of supersonic mammals, Italian plumbers, and valiant quests, she went for a more maternal distraction because, apparently, a real family wasn’t enough stress. She went full on geek and got herself a Tamagotchi critter, which I think was a dog.  She even took it camping and on vacation, so it wouldn’t die.  I have no idea how long it survived, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was years. Hell, she may still have it in a closet somewhere, secretly feeding it and dutifully cleaning up its little digital poops.

I often wonder, does my complete inability to play video games reflect poorly on her?  Or did her gaming ability soar straight through my DNA without passing GO and hit my kids squarely in the controllers, picking up power as it went?  If that’s the case, then my great-grandchildren will be amazingly gifted… prodigies even.

As for me, I’m still playing the fun video game, “set my car clock for daylight savings time.”  It’s been going on for days now. Fall back indeed. Just what the hell did I do with that owner’s manual?

But, I Hope …

I saw this article today. It made me sad in so many ways … I could fill my blog for years discussing this topic. The writer, a special-ed teacher, explained, in no uncertain terms, that should there be a shooter at her school, she would not die for the children in her class as she did not want to die herself. She wants to go home to her own kids. She wants to be there for her family, her parents, her siblings. She wants to live. I mean, really, who doesn’t? She discussed at length how much she puts herself out for the kids in her care, how she worries over them, guides them, helps them … basically everything any good teacher does, that, to her, seems award worthy (okay, she didn’t say that, it was just my take on her tone).

However, when it comes down to it – when called upon to protect her charges, she would be hiding in the supply closet (her class’ go-to place in an active shooter event). Oh, not to keep the children who were lucky enough to make it in there with her safe, but to keep herself safe. She ended the article with a curt “I won’t save your child.” I have no doubt whatsoever that she means it.

I’m not a teacher. I don’t have to participate in active shooter drills or instruct a room full of kids on what to do in a life-threatening emergency. Ex-husbands and creepers aside, I’ve never experienced anything more threatening than a crowd-filled fight and being trapped in the perimeter … squashed in like cattle – no guns involved.

But.

I hope … I would sincerely hope … that if I were thrown into a sadly-not-so-unthinkable scenario, that I would do what I could to protect the children around me. Yes, I want to come home to my kids and my family … hell, I just want to come home to my dog. I have people who love me and count on me and I think, need me. Not counting those in my familial circle who would like to see me stick around, in a purely selfish sense, I do not want to die.

But.

I hope my ever-present compassion would come to the fore. I can’t imagine being in a situation where children are at risk of dying and not helping in any way that I could. I’m only human. Maybe if the time came, I would choke. I don’t know. I’ve never been called upon to do anything at all of greatness.

But.

I hope I could make a difference in this world. In my heart of hearts, I have faith that I would rise to the occasion and save a child whose life hasn’t even yet begun, whether they are mine or not, whether I know them or not.

Personally, the idea of slamming a door shut in the face of a child to save myself, not to mention a child that I see every freakin’ day … a child that I taught to read, a child whose shoes I tied, a child whose future I helped mold, is abhorrent to me. Oh, I can’t say as I completely blame this teacher for her way of thinking (I mean, I do, but still …). After all, she is living with the very real prospect of death every day, given our current climate of school shootings. So, it’s easy for me to say what I would and wouldn’t do as I go back and forth to my relatively safe job.

But.

I hope I would do the right thing. My intentions are there. Of course, we all know what road the best of intentions pave. It’s easy to say that I would jump out in front of a bus – or a bullet – to save anyone, let alone a child. However, when it came right down to it … would I make that leap? It goes without saying that if it were MY kids, that leap of faith would be as natural as breathing.

But.

I hope that when faced with an impossible decision in a horrific situation where kids were in danger, that I would make my own children proud … that I could face my death – or life – with the knowledge that I not just aspired to greatness, but truly achieved some small semblance of it through the life of a child.

I just know that when push came to shove, if I were the one coming out the other side … at the cost of a young life I, myself, could have saved and deliberately chose not to … well, I’m not sure there would ever be light or joy in my own life again. It’s certainly not a life I would want to live.

Can You Spell That, Please?

Before I get into the heart of today’s rant, I’d like to share a video with you.  Most of you have probably seen this, but it’s still funny every time.  Warning, there is some language in this video.

This brings me around to my thoughts for the day.  Why do some parents feel it is hip to name their children bizarre names?  Never mind that the kids themselves won’t know how to spell them and their teachers can’t pronounce them, the worst part is that they will never find a Coke can with their chosen names on it.

My friend worked as a Paramedic for many years.  She told me the story of a mom who had called 911 for her son, who had a minor cold.  My friend was filling out the paperwork, and asked the child’s name.  When the mother told her the name, she hesitated and asked, very politely, “I’m sorry, could you spell that for me?”  The mother got very flustered and said, “I don’t know how to spell it.  It just sounded good.”  My friend took her best stab at spelling the complicated name, and life went on.  I couldn’t help but wonder what the child’s name was on his birth certificate, and why the mother would choose a name that she didn’t even know how to spell herself.

Celebrities try to outdo themselves with bizarre names for their children every day.  Directions, vehicle models, street names, trees, and celestial bodies are frequently used sources for the monikers they eventually bestow upon their offspring.  At what point does being hip and unique come full circle to the point where it is considered hip and unique to name your child “Mark” or “Sally” again?  Will celebrities run out of hip name sources and start using medications, like “Tylenol” or “Motrin” as baby names?  “And now, hitting the stage, it’s Nyquil and the Insomniacs!”

Names roll in and out of fashion like ever-changing tides.  Some names are forever linked with decades, like “Brittany” or “Madison,” while other stand the test of time, like “David” and “Matthew.”  Other names should just be avoided out of common decency, like the New Jersey parents who named their child Adolf Hitler.

What I find even funnier is the put-upon parent who names their child an old-fashioned name or something that isn’t on the most popular list but still isn’t all that crazy … yet they think they’re being unique. Which isn’t a bad thing, except the “I’m-way-hipper-than-you” parent complains to everyone who will listen how difficult their lives are because no-one pronounces Blaise correctly and little Augustine’s teacher has no idea how to spell his name.

Parents are free to do whatever they want, but if you choose a strange name for your child, you shouldn’t be angry when it is mispronounced or misspelled.  You knew there were risks when you named your child something like “Shabquellitaze” or “Nbtyxkz.”  Whether you were being cute or think you’re being edgy, you have doomed your child to life as a set of initials in class – and as that poor kid who constantly repeats and then spells their name a gazillion times a day. More important, you’ve kept them from the joy of finding their name on a novelty souvenir plastic license plate.