One lesson I’ve learned as a parent is this: If you want to spend quality time with your children, go where they are.
Whenever I try to interest my three older children in higher culture, they either get angry (I made them memorize a Robert Frost poem once) or they disappear. So, for my birthday this year, I got something that would be a guaranteed quality-time generator: video games!
It was a “Pac-Man”-shaped joystick console that, when plugged into your TV, gives the option of playing a dozen 1980s-era video games.
“‘Pac-Man’?” my wife, Hailey, asked. By the tone in her voice, I could tell she assumed one of two things: 1) I was getting this device as a time-waster for myself, or 2) That my children would not fall for it. As if the kids wouldn’t be amused by a low-resolution game fraught with frustration and annoying sound effects!
After unwrapping it and putting in the batteries, my daughter, Ellie, 6, had the first turn with “Pac-Man.” She munched left.
She screamed as if she had just seen a ghost. But really, it was just because she had been cornered by the pixellated ghosts in the game and lost a life.
She munched right. And then she screamed as if she had just seen a ghost. But really, it was just because she had been cornered by the pixellated ghosts in the game and lost a life. Who knew “Pac-Man” would be so intense to a kindergartner?
Over the next couple of weeks, my children have kept up their enthusiasm for it. One night when Hailey was out with friends, we rushed to do our cleaning chores and then ran back to the boys’ bedroom to play the games. We have a system where we take turns, youngest to oldest, and after your turn is over, you’re on “Kennedy duty,” meaning you make sure the 1-year-old doesn’t swallow any Legos.
The older boys have adopted some of the games as their own. Grant, 9, plays “Dig Dug.” Jackson, 11, plays “Bosconian.”
On this night, our eyes were glued to the screen as Grant set his high score by getting to Stage 7 in “Dig Dug.”
We all started clapping for him — even Kennedy!
Next it was my turn, so I tried once again to defeat the boss at the end of the first level of “Xevious.” I also set my high score! Yay for Dad, right?
No one cheered.
Jackson reached out his hand and I gave him a high-five. But he left his hand out longer, and I realized he wasn’t giving me a high-five at all, but was reaching for the joystick because it was his turn. Moral of the story: Quality time with your children is its own reward; don’t expect applause.