Currently contemplating the notion that someday, if I need to punish my son, “being grounded” is going to be more about that he can’t go online than that he can’t leave the house. Sure, it’s always carried the connotation of the denial of other privileges as well. It’s just struck me how the virtual aspect of it is going to be more significant for him, and most kids of his generation and later.
I walked my son to the bus stop, as I do every school day that I have him. I don’t have to. It’s not far. But I get to hug him and wave goodbye and sign “I love you”, and who would miss out on that?
This morning, just as the bus turns the corner, he looks up at me and says, “I really have to go to the bathroom.” I ask him if he can hold it until he gets to school, and mentally calculate the odds of my car starting if he says no on the coldest morning of the year when the battery has been sluggish the past couple of times at turning over the starter and I know its going to need replacing ASAP. He’s noncommittal. I make a judgment call, and he gets on the bus.
And then I worry and fret. As I do.
And, of course, start mentally adding mandatory bathroom breaks ten minutes before we leave for the bus stop to our morning routine.
Orion’s friends were over and they were playing Minecraft on the XBox. It was getting late, so I said, “Hey, it’s getting late. Let’s finish up in 10 minutes, okay?” Maybe one of the four acknowledged with “Okay.” Maybe not. I wasn’t expecting I’d have to write a detailed blog entry about it later.
Now, later on you’ll need to know something about the XBox 360: You can get a “media remote” for it that is really handing for watching DVDs and such. It has all the usual DVD player functions, including a power button.
I made a snack for my son, went to the restroom, and when I came back, announced “Five minutes, okay?” No one acknowledged. It had actually been more than five minutes wince my ten-minute announcement, but I was being generous.
Now, later on it will enrich the story if you know that one of my pet peeves is not being listened to, and so if you don’t acknowledge what I’ve said with an “okay”, “mm hmm”, or at least a glance in my direction, I may assume that you are ignoring me. At which point, I will start petting my peeve. Stroking it. Stoking it, like the fire in a dragon’s belly.
I made another announcement at three minutes, mentioning that they should save the game and exit soon. I find it is good to give explicit instructions like “exit and save” instead of just “finish up” because apparently kids don’t make the connection between the two on their own. Or, think they can get away with acting as if they don’t get the connection. Probably the latter.
Again, play continued without acknowledgement, or any apparent shift toward end-game behavior, such taking their characters back to their respective in-game homes, putting valuables in storage chests, etc.
Now, if you have an XBox 360, you may know that when you want to shut it down, you either have to walk over there and press the off button, or you can hold down a button on the control and select a power-off option from the menu that pops up, and confirm that that’s what you want to do. It may be surprising to you that the media remote’s power button does not trigger any sort of menu or confirmation. I find this to be a valuable feature.
At two minutes, I made an even more direct imperative statement about saving and exiting, and the exact time frame in which they should do so. I even stated, “You have two minutes before the XBox magically shuts down!” I mentioned something about a magic wand.
Again, no particular acknowledgement. Calling my bluff? Okay. Yeah, never call my bluff. There’s some free advice. I’m not much of a poker player.
I went and got the digital kitchen timer and set it to one minute. I also retrieved the magic XBox media remote wand from its place of storage-so-I-can-find it-quickly-in-just-such-a-situation.
So after what may or may not have been a full minute—I was no longing being generous—this began:
"One minute. You better save…."
They start taking their characters “home”.
"Just let me get back to my house."
"44 seconds. You might have save without getting to your house."
They continue with in-game preparatory actions, but no particularly apparent fear of the very real danger of losing everything they have built in this world they’ve been playing in for at least two hours. Two hours without saving. At all. And auto-save turned off, because auto-save is annoying. Yeah.
"20 seconds. You better save now."
In finest Hollywood tradition, just before 1 second on the timer, the “exit and save” dialogue pops up on the screen. In my mind, I deign to not be a giant dick and not wait the 30 or so seconds it’ll probably take to actually finish saving.
But… no. They exit out of the dialogue to apparently do one more thing before saving.
Yeah. Fine. Don’t believe me. Don’t believe an adult who is saying something is going to happen—is going to happen because he is the one who is going to make it happen. Even if you have no idea what mechanism he has for making it happen. Don’t believe. Go ahead. Make. My. Day.
One flick of my thumb and the screen goes black. And now, for them, my reputation is not from gossip. Now for them my reputation is fact. Is solid.
I think they’ll listen next time. Don’t you?
My son burst into tears, though. He had already left the game, but all his work got lost, too, though he had done nothing wrong. Truthfully, I had not seen that coming. I felt bad for him. But after his friends walked out the front door shell-shocked, and he brooded for another minute or three, he made a poop joke that broke the tension, and I almost passed out from laughing so hard. Had he been actively participating in the game at that point, this never would have played out this way. Because he knows. And now, they know, too.
I am having a hard time conveying to my only-child son how, when he has friends over, he doesn’t get to have every single thing his way.
When three of his friends are tired of battling skeletons and zombies in Minecraft and want to go into peaceful mode and just build stuff, and he’s the only one who wants to play the harder level of the game, he should let them.
Because eventually they’re going to be tired of taking his shit.
But I don’t say it that way.
Also, there are times when I just really want to blurt out, “Dude, don’t be a dick.”
But I don’t.
Right now he’s pouting up in his room.
I’ve been up there to explain why I told him to let them play on “peaceful” mode. Why he can’t always get everything his way.
I’m hoping the message got through. I’m hoping it sinks in. I’m hoping it sticks.
Because I hate having to repeat myself.
But then, I don’t always get my way, now do I?
*Doctor Who, The Eleventh Hour
Two most common words uttered by 7-year-olds this afternoon
Two words in the English language that I hate the most of all, ever
Sneaking up on three 7-year-olds while they are planning their zombie attack game and jumping out when they least expect it, to say “Raaaahhhrrrrr!” Watching them scream in pure terror. That’s a dad’s job, right? Right.
I think we’re even.