Monthly Archives: February 2009


When I was ten years old, my family got “Pong” for Christmas. Pong was a video game in the loosest sense of the word; remember, this was before Nintendo–before Atari, even. Pong was a game where two players batted a blip of light back and forth across the TV screen to each other, using longer blips of light as paddles; the joystick was about the same size as the one you might find in the cockpit of an F-16. There were sound effects (bleep, bleep), and a speed setting (bleeep, bleeep; bleep, bleep; or, bleepbleepbleep). And that was it. I think it probably cost $400. (My stepfather was the King of the Early Adaptors–he bought a “pocket” calculator back in the 1960s that would take twenty years–until the advent of parachute pants–for there to exist a pocket large enough to put it in.)

My sister and I played Pong that Christmas morning, and maybe for a few days afterwards, but that was it. As far as games went , it was pretty dull; despite the fact that back then we only had four channels to choose from, it was still far from being the most interesting thing on the TV screen. (I guess we should have expected as much when the company’s PR department, who presumably named it, called it “ Pong,” a not-so-subtle acknowledgment of the fact that the game was only half as exciting as “Ping Pong.” When consummate liars are giving you hints, you should probably pay attention.)

In fact, for years now I have assumed that it was only Pong’s inherent dullness–the fact that it was only marginally more interesting than watching paint dry–that caused us to stop playing it. What I have come to realize now, however–after having my son Clyde–is that we just stopped playing it because we were girls.

I should have realized all of this sooner; after all, I remember back in the late eighties when guys would spend fifteen minutes playing the “monkey throwing the can of Coke” video game they put on soda machines back then. The one with graphics only slightly more advanced than Pong. The one where you didn’t win anything, not even, strangely enough, a can of Coke. The one that–did I mention?–had to be played while standing in front of a Coke machine?

Yeah, that one.

Guys would be lined up three deep.

It’s a good thing those machines went out of fashion before my son, Clyde, came along, because Clyde–who is nothing if not a guy–will play any video game anytime. Or, at least he would if he were allowed to. Here’s a typical afternoon at my house: I tell Clyde to “give the video games a rest,” so he turns off the TV and moves to the computer. When I say, “really, no more games,” he retreats to his room where he hides under the covers to play his Gameboy. When I take even that away from him he starts to look like he is suffering from oxygen deprivation.

I know, there’s a lot to be said for video games: they teach hand/eye coordination, reading skills, cooperation. And there’s also a lot to be said against video games: they contribute to childhood obesity, poor socialization skills, GAD Syndrome (Girlfriend Acquisitional Deficiency). But, really, my main objection to video games is that, from a woman’s point of view at least, they are just so damn boring.

In a world filled with interesting things, why would someone want to spend seven hours pretending to kill the same Nazis over and over again, just so they can eventually get into another room and kill another set of Nazis?

Watching Clyde do it, I can only assume that it’s a guy thing. Which means that it’s a mystery to me. Just like Pong.

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I have a confession to make: I am a sleepover curmudgeon. Although, maybe curmudgeon isn’t the right word; it’s too mild. The truth is I loathe sleepovers, no matter whose house they take place at, (although, obviously, I most especially hate it when they take place at mine).

I hate how they encourage my children’s toothbrushes to be scattered about the cosmos (is mine the only house where the nightly tooth brushing struggle is always preceded by the search for a toothbrush?). I hate how they always seem to involve me driving a carload of children from Point A to Point B (and often Points C, D, and E, as well). And I hate how, whenever they involve more than two children, they become nests of intrigue and alliance building that make a late season episode of Survivor look like a tea party.

But most of all I hate how they have come to be expected–a weekend does not go by when I do not receive multiple requests both for and from my children involving the dreaded S-word.

When I was a child (here my kids roll their eyes), a sleepover was a special occasion: as I remember, we only had one or two sleepovers a year, if that. Like I said: they were special occasions–we got to sleep in sleeping bags in the living room or back yard, eat popcorn by the bucketful, and stay up as late as we wanted. Not that that part of the sleepover regimen has changed (the only difference now is that nobody fights over who gets to shake the Jiffy Pop)–it’s just that these days, instead of happening once or twice a year, it’s every weekend.

I’ll tell you what it is: it’s binge sleepovering–and it’s starting to negatively impact my life, to the point where I feel like there needs to be some kind of a sleepover intervention.

Maybe it’s because we have such a small house, but I really don’t want to have to give up my living room once a week so that people can come and lose their toothbrushes in the couch cushions. Nor do I want to see those same people lolling about on my couch until noon the next day. (Because, really, when has a sleepover ever been “sleeping” and then it’s “over”? Everyone knows that sleepovers stretch far into the next day, until they become a “sleepover” + “brunch”–or, as I like to think of it, a “bucket and one” for the opposing parents. If I was smart the first thing I would have taught my children how to say wouldn’t have been “Mommy” or “Daddy,” but rather “Hey baby, I got to get up early tomorrow.”)

In my children’s circle of friends (and their parents), my sleepover antipathy is well-known, which means that most sleepover requests involve people taking, rather than adding to, my supply of children. You would think that that would appease me, but it does not.

For one thing, this means that every time my kids spend the night at someone else’s house I go even deeper into “sleepover debt;” a condition whereby you owe another set of parents so much free reciprocal child care that you literally cannot say no to them when they ask you to watch their kids. As it is now, I am so far in debt to most of the parents I know that if they were the World Bank, I would be Liberia. To even it up, I’ll probably have to babysit their grandchildren.

Or, worse yet, one day all of the parents I owe sleepovers to will show up on my doorstep at once, and I’ll be stuck with a houseful of kids for an entire weekend.

I guess that’s one way to restock my couch’s toothbrush collection.

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Cheap Mama

I am cheap.

Very cheap.

So cheap, in fact, that one of the first phrases my son, Clyde, learned to say was “Is it on sale?” (Usually uttered as I whipped the grocery cart down the cookie aisle at lightening speed.) Still, even Clyde’s long-standing familiarity with my tightwad nature could not have prepared him for this year’s Christmas presents.

First off, let me say this: I like Christmas. I really do. I like the lights, the cookies, the cards, the caroling (not that anyone does that anymore, but if they did, I would like it). I hate it when people start in on the whole “it starts earlier every year” spiel. I hate it when they complain about the “commercialization” of Christmas. (I’m young enough that Christmas has been commercialized my whole life–the image of Santa riding an electric razor through the snow has the exact same emotional punch for me as a live Nativity scene.) But this year, for whatever reason, when Christmas came around I just said, “eh.”

Which meant that I put off doing my shopping until the last minute.

Now, two things that definitely don’t go together are last minute Christmas shopping and being cheap. (Unless you can convince your kids that your family has converted to Russian Orthodox–where they don’t celebrate Christmas until sometime in mid-January–and buy all your presents at the after-Christmas sales.)

This isn’t a problem as far as my daughter, Clementine, is concerned: a Hot Topic gift card costs the same whether you buy it the day or the month before Christmas (although there is some concern that they might possibly run out of the “hipper” ones, and you will end up being stuck with one of the less popular members of the Cullen vampire clan–Uncle Jesse Cullen, the moonshine swilling vampire, perhaps).

Clyde, on the other hand, likes stuff. Which meant that I had two choices in the two days before Christmas I had left myself to shop: I could go online and pay outrageous shipping costs (and contribute to global warming in the process), or I could slide over to Kaybee’s and look through the few toys they had remaining at the end of their “Going-out-of-Business” sale. (I had to go to the Mall anyway for the Hot Topic card).

Can you guess which option I chose? (Because, that’s right, I’m all about the global warming). And so, it came to pass, that on Christmas morning we were gathered ‘round the Danish modern glass coffee table to open our presents. (Did I mention that I was so far out of touch with Christmas this year that I bought tickets for a Suns game on Christmas day, thus necessitating our family’s removal from our own home–where we had a Christmas tree–to a hip loft in downtown Phoenix, complete with exposed brick and duct work?) This seemed like an excellent idea when I had first made the arrangements–back in October. After all: what says “Christmas” more than shouting tu craints! (you suck) at Tony Parker, the Spurs’ hated French point guard?

Clementine, as predicted, was happy with her last minute Twilight gear–the Twilight hat, the Twilight soundtrack, the Twilight gift card–as far as she was concerned, it was a Twifecta. Clyde, on the other hand, was slightly nonplused as he opened up his collection of bottom, bottom, bottom of the barrel action figures from Kaybee’s.

I think that if I live to be as old as Ebenezer Scrooge, I will never forget the look on his face as he opened up the last one, read the packaging, and said, “Who’s Apollo Creed?”

Next year, I swear, I’ll do better.

Next year we really will convert to Russian Orthodox.

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