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Posts tagged ‘Preschoolers’

Angry Birds Star Wars: O evil marketing geniuses!

Birds, Pigs and the mediator (Asi Cohen) posed...

Birds, Pigs and the mediator posed for a photo shortly before talks broke down. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Several months ago, I wrote a blog post about my decision to stop letting my four (now five) year-old son, C, play Angry Birds. It’s been about seven months, and all has been fairly well: keeping him away from the addictive game has diminished how much he fights about relinquishing the iPad when his time is up. It’s allowed me one small parenting victory (just one is all I ask!): he has become much more understanding of the fact that the iPad is a “sometimes” toy, rather than an all-encompassing center of the universe. And with no Angry Birds, he is much more interested in playing games directed towards children, built to be more like open-ended toys, like the Toca Boca games, or straight-up educational games. Lately he’s been playing this Montessori game which repeatedly drills him on the geography of North and Central America with no discernable end or even pretend achievements like stickers to keep him going. He probably thinks, “I can’t play anything fun, so I might as well learn where Belize is.” Is this something to be proud of? I’m not sure, but I’ll go with yes. Come on!

Can any of YOU pick Belize out on a map? Didn’t think so.

So the Great Experiment worked: he’s dropping out of kindergarten in the New Year to head to Yale on a bassoon/Geography/handball scholarship. Well, no. But I do think he got something out of it.

Until now. We are sitting at the dining room table on a Sunday, as little brother naps, doing crossword puzzles and coloring and computing, all while eating bacon: a collection of fortifying family activities for a brisk fall day, all in aid of our goal of leaf-raking avoidance. C just achieved a bevy of points in a reading game on the iPad. How does his father reward him?

I see him swiping at the screen. Swiper, no swiping!

Oh man! After months of keeping the birds at bay, turning sharp corners in the supermarket to avoid the Angry Birds gummy candy displays, and not commenting on the fact that his kindergarten teachers dressed as Angry Birds for Halloween, we are back at the trough. Angry Birds Star Wars has proved too much to resist. C’s Dad looks at me sheepishly as he hits BUY in the App Store.

Those Finnish geniuses. They know you might be able to resist plain old Angry Birds. But if you are Star Wars fans? Like this father and son duo I’m looking at right here, pondering how to chuck a Luke Skywalker bird at some Storm Trooper pigs? The force is too great. It can’t be escaped, just as Han Solo is trapped by the carbonite. They’ve pulled us into a Sarlacc pit in a nexus of perfect marketing synergy. I am trying to think of more Star Wars metaphors, but I’ve run out. Like I’ve written before, I’m not much of a Star Wars fan myself.

I suppose I am OK with C returning to the game. Maybe it’s because I have never gotten over my mother denying us certain toys when we were kids, practicing something, what’s that called again? Oh, restraint. Play-doh? Play don’t. Easy Bake Oven? Ask my sister how that request was handled. I respect that tactic now, but at the time it was a bummer. So though I am trying to teach my kids that a trip to into town is not cause to treat yourself, I can’t resist sometimes, when I see something I know they will really like.

Which is all the time. Those things that I know my kids will really like know how place themselves right in front of my face. Are my spending habits so easy to peg, O marketing gods? I am constantly confronted with versions of Angry Birds Star Wars every time I shop, those perfect combinations of favorite things: Spider-Man Matchbox cars? Synergy! Must-have! Bubble Guppies iPad game? Do it. Lego Star Wars, Lego Dinos, Lego Fire Trucks? Say no more. Candy that looks like Legos, gummies that look like Dinos? Yes. Switch and Go Dinos? It’s a car, it’s a dino, it’s a car, it’s a dino…it’s on Santa’s list.

It goes for me as well: how does Target know that I will totally buy them out of Orla Kiely-themed Method cleaning products? That seemed kind of specific, but apparently I am not the only one who so clearly fits into that Anglophile, green-clean loving, bargain shopping demographic.

Anyone who knows me, including the marketing elves that clearly follow me around, knows I bought a ton of these.

So I sympathize with Swiper McGee over here, although we will have to see what the consequences will be. There will be a lot of talk, as there is at this very moment, of the powers of the various bird-shaped Star Wars good guys, and we will have to listen. And if the fighting over the iPad returns, Angry Birds Star Wars is going back to its galaxy far, far away.

Christmas is coming, and my boys are still a bit young to come at me with an Excel spreadsheet of their demands – they don’t really have a lot of expectations for what they will receive, and it’s my job to keep it that way. And maybe because, throughout the year, they are gifted with things they didn’t even know they wanted, it keeps the pressure off Christmas to be a gift-fest. I hope.

Instead of charging into stores with long lists, we can focus on all of the other things about the season that we really enjoy: driving around looking at Christmas lights, decorating the tree, watching A Charlie Brown Christmas, making gingerbread houses. Do they make Star Wars Millenium Falcon gingerbread house kits? I’ll have to look into that.

The Thunder-and-Lightning Brothers and the battle of good over evil

We live in the Boston area, so seeing guys standing around in full colonial garb is no uncommon sight. We’ve seen them waiting for the bus, hanging out eating ice cream, what have you. But as the boys and I were driving through Lexington the other day, I performed an awesome Boston driving maneuver and flew to the side of the road, to the closest available bad parking spot.

“Get out! Come on!”

We dashed down the sidewalk to a guy in modern dress with headphones who showed us where to stand. And we stood, transfixed, as a full Revolutionary War battle reenactment played out before us. Now, that you don’t see every day. Well, you do see it on Patriots’ Day, but none of us feel like waking up at 4:30 to go the Battle Green. Maybe someday.

In the park below us a formation of Redcoats, their drum steadily thumping, flag flitting the in breeze, beat a measured path to a group of Minutemen, confused, rag-tag, but determined. And then the (pretend) guns went off. I had my arms around each of the boys; I could feel C’s heart leap in his chest. The baby? Not a blink. He’s that stone cold.

Unprepared for the gunfight, the Minutemen fled to the nearby woods. Then they ambled back, and started the scene again. “What is this?” I turned to a spare British colonel on a Dunkin’ Donuts break. “It’s for the Discovery Channel,” he said haughtily. So I asked the headphones guy. “Did you like it?” he said to C. Nod. “It’s for a show called How Booze Built America.” Sounds awesome, but I guess we won’t be watching that one en famille. And by the way, Colonel Crueller? Just chill. You’re not Clint Eastwood.

We watched the battle unfold a few more times. C had lots of questions. “This isn’t a real battle, right?” No, I assured him. They are showing us what happened right here, more than two hundred years ago, so we can learn about how America was founded. And how Fish-House Punch was so integral to said founding. “So which are the good guys and which are the bad guys?”

Good guys and bad guys. It seems like C’s whole four-year-old world can be boiled down to that dichotomy. I first started noticing C parse the world this way while watching Star Wars. “Are those guys good guys? Are they bad guys?” he asks. Then I realized most of his play revolves around good guys and bad guys, whether it’s pretending at Star Wars, his favorite superhero, Spider-Man, or turning me into a villain who makes him get dressed and eat vegetables. Heroes and villains and their epic battles have such a hold on preschoolers. Even when they turn off the TV, or shut the book, the battle rages on. It’s how C approaches Legos, playgrounds, dinner, everything. Bath night is Waterloo every time. What is it about the battle of good versus evil that appeals to C and his ilk so much?

As a so-so literature student, I often gravitated to a book of criticism by Northrup Frye, called Anatomy of Criticism. It’s quaint to even think of Frye as quaint now, I think. But C’s superhero aspirations reminded me of the archetypes of literature Frye lays out in that book that I enjoyed bungling so long ago.

Here, let me oversimplify it for you. It’s fun. In the book, Frye lays out four seasons of literary archetypes. There is comedy (Spring), romance (Summer), tragedy (Fall), and winter (Irony). (Can you see why this book made for an easy, last-minute essay?) These superhero stories that appeal to C so much belong to Summer, romance. Not kissy-kissy romance, but tales of quest, of good battling evil. The hero who embarks on this quest embodies the ideals of a particular society; they are threatened by villains who don’t share their ideals, and try to stop them, thereby saving the world. It’s starting to sound an awful lot like every episode of Spectacular Spider-Man I’ve ever watched. And it’s Star Wars. Beowulf. It’s cowboys riding off into the sunset. If you think about it, many children’s TV shows take this form: Dora the Explorer besting Swiper (in her lame way); Phineas and Ferb against Doofenschmirtz; Super Why against, uh, illiteracy, maybe? You see what I mean. Through these kindergarten romances, children get their first introductions to literary tropes that they will revisit through their entire lives.

C has devised his own superhero identity. “Please call me Mr. C. Lightning,” he said (it’s funnier with his full name). “And this is my sidekick,” pointing at the baby, who he’s slapped an extra cape on. “T. Thunder. Together, we are the THUNDER AND LIGHTNING BROTHERS!” The Thunder and Lightning Brothers find that the most efficacious way of saving the world is running up and down the hall multiple times yelling until T. Thunder bumps into the wall and falls down. Evil (and my patience) vanquished.

Mr C. Lightning and T. Thunder.

In their own minds, preschoolers are romantic heroes, living in the center of a black-and-white world. Frye describes romance as having a “perennially childlike quality.” Their plots are rooted in adventure; they are linear, and “at its most naive, [romance] is an endless form in which a central character who never develops or ages goes through one adventure after another until the author himself collapses.” Sounds like a typical day. Though, unlike a superhero, who never ages, our preschoolers will take what they learn now and move on to the other seasons: comedy, tragedy, and teenaged irony. Oh, that’s going to be fun. Then after that, life is just one long Seinfeld episode.

But until they grow into a sarcastic world, full of stasis and reluctant compromise, the Thunder and Lightning Brothers are my boys of Summer, all dreams of perfection that they tirelessly try to achieve until they collapse into Spider-Man sheets at the end of the day. And I guess, as their mother, I’ll have to put up with being the villain, the force they rail against as they try to figure out their places in the world. Eat this, get down, come here, stop that, no! No! No! But it won’t be this way forever. Someday they’ll realize life is not all stark opposites, that things change. Right now, I’m Mother England, and they’re young America, tossing dinner on the floor like tea into the harbor. But someday, we’ll be friends. Right, British people?

Thwip.

Updated: You heard it here first, or maybe second: How Booze Built America will be on the Discovery Channel on September 19.

Growing up Italian in a mac-and-cheese world

I grew up in a two-family house with my Italian grandparents. So my childhood sounded pretty much like this video below. Feel free to skip it, if you’re a ‘merican, but if you have such a grandmother, mi raccomando – WATCH IT

I only wish I had a talent for puppetry and thought of it myself. All I would need to change is the hair. My Nonna had very fine, silky black hair. Plus she wasn’t that cheerful. She was funny, though. Her response to the question, “How are you?”  was “Staiu moriendu!” – I’m dying. And her farewell (forgive the approximated spelling of Calabrese dialect): “Stat’attiendu, ca ti chiappa ‘ngunu!” Be careful, someone might kidnap you.

Growing up in a bilingual, first-generation-American household has helped shape how I look at the world, how I look at America, how I look at a box of macaroni and cheese (never ate it until college, LOVED IT, never told my grandmother about it). And now that my grandparents have passed away, and our family moves away from the culture we grew up with, how do I pass on this part of myself to my children? How do I keep their Italian heritage alive for them, now that they live in a mac-and-cheese world? Actually, C hates the stuff, he prefers meatballs. So at least there’s that, Nonna, can you hear me? I can sense her glowering at me from on high.

To start, I am trying to make sure they at least hear the Italian language. I am not a native Italian speaker, so it’s not natural for me just to speak it to them all the time. But I learned it in school, and am well-versed enough in the dialect that I often use Calabrese terms. There are some things you just can’t translate. Especially insults. Like calling someone “caccata” – you just know it when you see it, and English suffers for not having an equivalent term. Or lagnusu – it’s a slob, but someone who is a slob to the core of their being. And there’s scustumato, malavita, and hopefully you’ll never get called ‘numbala, or good-for-nothing. On the flip side, being sperta, if you’re a girl, or spiertu, if you’re a boy, is the highest compliment. You’re on the ball, you’re quick, you know what’s what without being told. I still aspire to be sperta. How am I doing? Well, I’m typing on the computer instead of cleaning my house, so not so good.

My children don’t take naps, they go ninnano’. And when my son doesn’t like what he gets, it’s chistu o cazzu – this or…let’s say “nothing.” He doesn’t have to know cazzu is a bad word; he just has to know he ain’t getting an alternative. Then there is the childhood favorite uffa! (one of T’s first words), and many more. There’s also the yelling. Yelling is caring in an Italian house.

When C and T were babies, I would often watch RAI International, the Italian-language TV channel, while I was nursing, hoping that some Italian would passively enter their bloodstreams. We would watch this insane cooking/talk show, La Prova del Cuoco, or my favorite, the Italian version of Dancing with the Stars, Ballando con le Stelle. Indulge me for a moment and let me tell you a little about them. Please? I have no one else to discuss them with.

I also had to watch these shows with the babies because, like many Italian television shows, they are so long they would fill up my DVR if I didn’t keep up, and my husband would go crazy (che ‘merican!). One episode of Ballando is four hours! Partly because they have to do a lot of vamping while they “tabulate” the audience votes so they can deliver the results the same night, and partly because of the fighting. Oh, the fighting. It’s the actual reason I watch Italian TV. Le polemiche, as far as I can tell, are as integral to Italian TV as product integration and Ryan Seacrest are to American TV.

On La Prova del Cuoco there was an old dude (Beppe Bigazzi) who sat in a throne off to the side of the stage, commenting on everything the host (Antonella Clerici) and the other cooks got wrong. They’re not cooking the mushrooms the right way; they don’t know the proper provenance of a particular recipe. Oh, this guy was a delight. He could derail the show for ten minutes.

Another all-time favorite is the 2007 edition of the Miss Italia pageant. This aired right after C was born so it was perfect. First, because it took RAI literally twelve hours over four nights to pick out the appropriate broad in a bikini. Then: Mike Bongiorno, the late and venerated Italian TV presenter, introduced his co-host, one Loretta Goggi. She walks on stage, and as she schlepps down this giant staircase she starts beefing and QUITS THE SHOW. On the spot. She just leaves this 80-year-old guy holding the bag, because she was enraged that it took the producers twenty minutes from the start of the broadcast to bring her on stage (she came on after some comedy bit). It was amazing. The reigning Miss Italia offered to fill in, because Bongiorno was just standing there, not knowing what to do. Way to capitalize, I say. La Goggi came back the following night, I think, but she and Bongiorno wouldn’t even look at each other. And they had to carry on like this for a million hours. Of riveting TV.

And then, Ballando con le Stelle. I once thought I was going to write a blog just on this show, but there is way too much there to recap. I just don’t have the time (see blog title). Four hours a week and it would always go over. Before I get to le polemiche, let me just say this for the show. I’m not sure what the opinion in Italy is of Milly Carlucci, but I think she is a very capable captain of some very rocky seas. And I don’t know why, but I can understand her Italian absolutely perfectly. With no gaps in comprehension. So for that I love her. Also, the costumes on that show are (mostly) gorgeous, not some grown-up version of Toddlers and Tiaras gear like they have on the American edition of the show.

Milly keeps things moving best she can as five judges have their interminable say on the dances, and then the celebs and pros give it right back to them. And if that doesn’t take long enough, they always bring in a bunch of journalists and other personalities of dubious provenance to sit bordocampo, next to the stage, and offer their opinions. At length. And they’re always trying to pick fights. Which is not hard to do because fights happen at the drop of a hat. I remember one series in which all the celebs and pros got together and threatened to quit if the judges didn’t recognize their abilities with more respect. Because these judges LOVE to give out 0’s, 1’s and 2’s. It’s not like on the American version, where if you get a 6 that’s a horrible score. There is one judge (who’s Scottish, by the way) who causes apoplectic displays of gratitude in the celebs if she gives them a 6.

All of this was nothing compared to the season that featured a dark, brooding actor named Lorenzo Crespi (just google him and see what ridiculous photos come up – NSFW). Crespi walked off the show just before he was supposed to dance, and no one could find him. He just left his pro standing there alone on the stage amidst the confusion. One of the co-hosts actually took his personal cell phone out on stage to try to call Crespi because he was nowhere to be found. He was probably somewhere in the bowels of RAI’s television studio at Foro Italico in Rome, punching a wall with great passion to the sax strains of “Baker Street.” This chaotic scene was the apex of a season of Crespi railing against his treatment by the judges, angry with every critique, and endlessly proclaiming himself more gifted than the other celebs. Then after he left, the producers milked le polemiche for all it was worth, further stopping the show to analyze, over and over again, what had happened. And badmouth Crespi. Here is just a tiny bit of it:

The whole affair was fascinating, unprofessional, and clearly partly done to grab attention. All of these polemiche are. But at the same time, I admire this mad behavior, because the personalities involved are so willing to drop their masks. These are not choreographed meltdowns, like the kind you see on Bravo reality shows. These people are outright losing it, and they don’t care who knows, because in that moment they feel so passionately about what’s happening. These perceived injustices have become their truth, and that makes them lash out in a most theatrical way. It’s a bit like a Luigi Pirandello play, in which Italian life itself is spectacle and it’s lived accordingly, in a constant state of high drama.

Bigazzi, la Goggi, and Crespi, come to think of it, are like four-year-olds, or at least like my four-year-old. Preschoolers are a little dramatic too, wouldn’t you say? The sky is green, say, because he says so, and to tell him otherwise provokes a fierce spiral of indignation. C is still figuring out how to manage a life that may not always jibe with his expectations, so he converts what he believes into what he sees. Like the play title, Cosi’ e (se vi pare): it is so, if you think it’s so. Appearance is all. This might make him, at times, un pochino scustumato. But it’s also what makes him sharp, what might make him him spiertu one day. I suppose to get at the great passion, you’ve got to take the tantrums. So maybe C is more Italian than I perceive him to be, after all.

Oh no, I accidentally broke up the Wiggles

So, do you think Sam Moran is in the Outback somewhere, in a dressing room of a traveling production of South Pacific, laughing like this: “Mwah-ha-ha-ha. Ha.” That’s right, the Wiggles broke up.

English: The Wiggles performing at the MCI Cen...

Drive on, Big Red Car. Photo by Anthony Arambula  (Wikipedia)

According to Australia’s Daily Telegraph, just a few short months after announcing Sam’s sh*tcanning and Greg Page’s triumphant return to the band, Murray, Jeff, and Greg are leaving the Wiggles. For good. The word down under is that the negative reaction to the last yellow-skivvy transfer was too much for them to bear, and they felt it was time to retire. An “insider” said, according to the Daily Telegraph: “Murray and Jeff are getting older and they’ve been thinking about this (retirement) for ages. And Greg is still a very sick man. The ill feeling towards them after Sam left really pushed them to do it. They felt ‘What’s the point in going on after all this?’, they’re all millionaires anyway so why would they? They don’t exactly need to.”

After 30 Rock sent up the Wiggles a few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the group and their machinations of late. I compared them to Oasis. And well, look now.

That “ill feeling”? That’s me! I don’t mean to take credit for the downfall of a international kiddie phenomenon, but literally dozens of readers in Australia (thank you Word Press blog stats page) read my post, and look at the result!  Didn’t think I had that much of an impact on Australian preschool band affairs. Wow. I even tweeted my post to @sammoran and he never responded. Which I take, considering my little joke about not buying his album, to mean “F*ck you,” or the Australian equivalent. Fair dinkum? Fair dinkum, indeed.

And fair dinkum to the Wiggles. Greg and Jeff have some illnesses that they clearly need to recover from. And they are all going to “spend some time with their families,” which I know is true, of course, but it’s also what you say when you’re a politician and you don’t want to say why you are really quitting your post. I wonder if we’ll ever know just how it all went down, beneath the hood of the Big Red Car.

And may I further say DID I NOT CALL IT when I said the Wiggles were all about Anthony Field? Because guess who’s the last man standing? I told you he was running the show! He’s going to continue on in the band, the undisputed leader, at the helm of three newbies in his grasp, with a back-up chorus probably made up entirely of his nieces, nephews, dentist’s roommate’s cousin, etc. And the others are going to remain at Wiggles HQ. Translation: stopping in to collect royalty checks. Maybe an occasional, impromptu jam session of “Move Your Arms Like Henry,” if the ill-will level is low. Who knows.

It is nice to see, though, that they chose a woman to wear yellow. For one, it helps disassociate the yellow skivvy from the nastiness of the recent hand-off, and for two, how refreshing to see a woman take center stage with the Wiggles while not being trapped inside a giant dinosaur suit. Though she doesn’t need that crazy hair bow they’ve given her; we know she’s a lady. Can I also add another of my own opinions, while wholesale changes are being made, Wiggles Pty Ltd.? In your future television programming, can you drop all the green-screen and CGI and go back to filming your videos in random locations all around Sydney? Like some weird little beach or the side of the road? I kind of liked that. Fair dinkum.

But OH NO this isn’t actually what I wanted! No! This isn’t how I intended to use my great blogging power! To be the Yoko Ono of the Wiggles? No no no! No more Fruit Salad! No more Wags the Dog! What about Sprout’s Wiggly Waffle (though they were pretty much phoning it in there)? Murray’s guitar?  Who’s going to wake up Jeff if he falls asleep behind the wheel of a car again? I’m sorry, children! I’m sorry, Australia! I’m sorry, children of Australia!

And what about the collateral damage? Has anyone thought of Captain Feathersword? Is he going to be OK? What’s going to happen to him? I’m sorry, Captain Feathersword! And somebody keep an eye on that overexcited Wiggly dancer from so many of the videos! Those who know, know of whom I speak. A lot of big dance moves, and (even for the Wiggles) a lot of mugging for the camera. I commend his enthusiasm, but he appeared like he was angling pretty hard for the top job when Greg left. And now that the new Wiggles have been announced, and he’s not one of them? Well, you’ve been warned, A. Field.

Paul Paddick who plays as Captain Feathersword...

Are you OK, Captain Feathersword? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As for Sam, the Daily Telegraph says, “Moran hasn’t spoken to any of his former bandmates since he was axed. He is negotiating a deal to do his own kids TV show and is expected to announce his plans any day.” Go get ‘em, Sam! Stick it to those rainbow-colored Gallagher brothers.

So good-bye, Wiggles. I don’t know if we’ll be on board for their next incarnation – the family member currently in their demographic has got it pretty bad for the Bubble Guppies (blast them!) and that’s about it. But still, I have to thank them. My older son really loved them, and I was fond of them, too. The Wiggles gave my older son a nice introduction to music, and me a few peaceful moments, when he was younger. And they’ll live forever in our DVD player; C cannot ride in a car to New York without watching Wiggle Bay at some point. I don’t know why that DVD in particular. With the barbie on the beach and the lady in the mermaid suit.

I’ll leave you with my top three Wiggles songs to remember the good ol’ days. One of them will now be stuck in your head all day. Mwah. Ha. Ha.

“Can You (Point Your Fingers and Do the Twist?)”

“Rock-a-Bye Your Bear”

“Bow Wow Wow”

A cure for bird flu: good-bye, Angry Birds

Angry Bird Fist

This kid looks like a smart aleck, even blurry (Photo credit: lincolnblues)

Previously, I wrote a post about my preschooler’s obsession with Angry Birds. His dad and I were struggling to find a way to manage his maddening, all-encompassing devotion to this game, and after a few weeks more of playing (and fighting about playing), C developed what I can only call Bird Flu, and a decision was made. The game, and all of its permutations, has been removed from all devices. No more Angry Birds.

Understandably, he freaked. “But if you delete it,” he wailed, “I will lose all of my levels and when you put it back on someday I’ll have to start over from the beginning!” We, (particularly his dad, who, after reading my Angry Birds post, said, “I can’t believe you exposed me as a gamer!” Busted!) did feel badly about this – C did put in time and effort to achieve a certain level of profiency, which I suppose is an accomplishment. But then I thought, wait. He accomplished flinging birds at pigs. The game is not going back on.

We grasped at a lot of straws before we sorted out a way to deal with the Bird Flu. Since we feel that C needs to learn moderation when it comes to, well, almost anything, we let him play, but with time limits. But as he got further into the game, he got more and more upset when the timer went off. We tried treating it as a privilege and would only let him play video games when he behaved. If he did something untoward, I’d write an X on a calendar, which meant no video games that day. This was a mistake; it infuriated him. He climbed up to the calendar with a paper towel to try to wipe away the ink. And this put an undue amount of value on the game; it gave it even more power over him. By this past weekend, he could think of nothing else but when he would be allowed to play Angry Birds again. There was a lot of arguing. It was distressing. It made me sad to think of a little boy turning his back on his trucks and cars because he was so focused on reaching the next level of a video game.

I talked to friends about how they handle it with their children – because most of the kids I know do play video games, and many do play Angry Birds. One of them said something that struck me. He said that to him, it doesn’t matter if his son plays with video games, or with toys – who’s to say pushing a car around is a better use of time than interacting with a video game – as long as he treated people with respect.

Another friend noted in the comment section of my Angry Birds post that maybe it’s just a matter of aesthetic, that it seems “crass” to be so into video games. Maybe we have not yet adjusted to their being a more accepted part of our pop culture; I’m sure many people used to think TV was crass too. Time will tell, I suppose. But it is a relatively new problem; when I was your age, young man, we didn’t even have a computer! Then we got an IBM PCJr and it didn’t even do anything, except beep out classical tunes! We had none of these newfangled devices like so-called “answering machines” or “VCRs” that the kids love so much these days! When I was in elementary school, video games became popular – Pac-Man was huge, for example, but it was relegated to the arcade. We had an arcade at Nathan’s Hot Dogs in Oceanside, Long Island, and my mother wouldn’t let me near that den of filth, blast her! Or maybe you had an Atari or similar, but not everyone did. We didn’t. And if you did have one, you obviously couldn’t carry it around and follow your mother across the green earth incessantly asking her to give it you on line at the supermarket or on a playdate.

Indeed, who is to say that video games are better or worse for children than other kinds of playthings? The video games of today are far more clever and intricate than the simple games of yore in which you’d eat up dots or knock a dot back and forth between two lines. Even Angry Birds requires a certain amount of reasoning and problem solving. So maybe they’re not all bad. And kids can incorporate video games into their real-world play. Have you seen Caine’s Arcade? This nine-year-old spent a summer without video games, and built an entire arcade in his father’s shop. Which is amazing. I will be contributing to his college fund. Caine’s arcade is tremendously creative, resourceful, and it’s about video games! This kid couldn’t play video games over a summer, so what did he do? He built his own! That’s how pervasive they are.  Even C will go to preschool and play live-action Angry Birds with his wee friends. I have no idea what that entails – I’m sure there is some sort of catapulting involved and it has probably come to blows. But it’s creative. So how come I think it’s odd and obsessive that he does this, but cute when he reenacts Star Wars, say?  Or firefighting? Or car racing?

Wait. I am not going to argue myself back into putting Angry Birds on my phone. I’ll leave that to my son, Johnny Cochran. Look. All I knew was that C’s drive to play Angry Birds, and Angry Birds in particular, was causing him to get upset, a tad belligerent, and to treat me with disrespect. This behavior is certainly not wholly due to the game; I think much of it is something that many preschoolers go through, as they try to assert their independence and understand their power and place in the family and in the world. But the game certainly exacerbated it, and gave him another outlet for it.

I thought back to the time before he played Angry Birds (this whole ordeal has only taken up a month or so), when he only played video games that were specifically made for children. I’ve mentioned them before: Monkey Preschool, Toca Boca. We would play checkers together on one app, or he played math and reading games. Things were different, way back when; he would play many games, and was able to peacefully part with them.  The obsessive aspect of playing video games began with Angry Birds. And it’s no wonder, I realized – ADULTS get obsessed with it. Just recently, Angry Birds reached it’s BILLIONTH download. How is a four (and-a-half!) year old supposed to deal with it? No, I thought. It’s got to go. And his dad agreed.

So we told him (this happened on Mother’s Day, following a major meltdown HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY, ME) that the calendar X system was gone; he could play video games again, if he liked, but no more Angry Birds. “When can I have it back?” he asked. You can’t have it back, we told him. And though it was difficult for him to accept at first, I think it helped to be very clear and finite, with no mythical future date when he’d be allowed to play Angry Birds again. Maybe when he’s older – like 25 or 38 – we can revisit this, but for now, the answer is no. And no is a difficult, but necessary, thing to hear sometimes.

It’s only been a few days, but so far things have been better. I’m not saying he’s been spending his days doing algebra with his Legos and setting the table while reciting Wordsworth, but there haven’t been any avian tantrums that necessitate the baby go up to his big brother and kiss him on the head, saying, “Shhh..shhh.” He’s been doing more playing, and less fighting. So far, I repeat.

I feel badly that we’ve had to stumble so much to get to this point. As you can probably tell, I’m STILL trying to figure the whole thing out. But I think it’s been a good idea to set the birds free. Leave the grown-up games to the grown-ups. Someday, son, you’ll be mature enough to play Battlefield 3 with your dad. That’s right! I busted you again!

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