Thursday, March 24, 2016

Zoe vs. 1980's Video Games

Zoe has disappeared, years earlier than I thought she would, behind a screen. Playing video games. If it's not the iPad, it's her Kindle Fire, and if both are being charged, she either plants herself near the outlet so she can keep playing or asks to borrow my phone, repository of her first game.
It started innocently. We had a long wait one day so I downloaded a face-painting app to my phone for her to play. It was a simple game. Swipe paint on a little cartoon face then swipe it off, accompanied by such mellow music it made Bob Ross from The Joy of Painting seem like Dennis Hopper from Apocalypse Now.
But soon enough she graduated to more complicated games, games of dueling dragons and building houses and dressing up cute fluffy animals. Occasionally she'll ask me how to do something in one of these games but I can't figure it out either.
Games were so much less complicated in the eighties, that golden era of my youth. Pac-Man did not have to hire anyone to grow his power pellets and floating fruit. Frogger just wanted to get across the street without getting squashed. Simpler times.
So let's compare the video games of the eighties to what the kids are playing today.

Though I never thought of myself as much of a girly-girl, it's true that I gravitated toward the "cuter" games, like Tapper and Dig Dug, Pac-Man and Popeye. But today's cute is at a whole new level.
Big-eyed kittens and puppies. Wearing bows and tiaras. And lots of pink. It's a frolicking, cooing, toothache-inducing nightmare.
As Voltaire said, Cute is the enemy of good digestion.
Zoe has several of these aggressively adorable games. For instance, Palace Pets. The Palace Pets are the animal companions of the Disney princesses, and they live in Whisker Haven, an utterly nauseating place, where you can pamper Cinderella's puppy, Pumpkin, or Snow White's pony, Sweetie, with petting, baths, and playing dress up.  Within limits. Some accessories are only available for an added fee. 
Because as certain as death and taxes is downloading a game app for free but then being assaulted by pop-up ads or roadblocks requiring an additional 99 cents to unlock Whisker Haven's spa center or acquire a new ribbon for Coco Pony's tail. Dig Dug never even got a pimped-out air pump.
Games haven't just increased in the degree of cuteness but also may be even more addicting.
As Taco Ockerse said, Brain suction is the enemy of bath time.
It's a fight every night to get her to put the iPad down. Just one more marketplace to set up, one more library to build. I tell her if she can't put the game down when I ask, she can't play with it ever again. Threats are the only things that work.
I worry that playing all day is stunting her interpersonal skills. Though she does talk to her games. For instance, I'll hear, "No one can find me in my secret tunnel." "Give me your gold, my dear monster." "All the worlds are mine."
There are online games she can play with other people but we're not letting her do that. Even so, online play is a far cry from playing Pong on Atari while sipping Frescas in your best friend's basement rec room.
Do all these technological advances make for smarter players? I hope she's learning something. (Besides how to outwit the parental controls.)
But did we learn anything from Pong? I don't know. I suppose it taught hand-eye coordination. It almost certainly taught us meditation techniques. And how to bear up under ennui.
Zoe's games of building sustainable worlds are certainly interesting. First, there's all the crop growing. So I suppose Zoe's learning patience as she must wait several game cycles for her plants to grow so her cow can eat and so produce milk for her farmers so they can clear more land for farming. Delayed gratification was certainly not a feature of Space Invaders or Galaga.
A lot of her games require planning and strategy.
Or not.
One day, as I watched her play her Minecraft game, Zoe placed a fire too close to her apothecary, and as it started to burn down, she whimsically added more fires. Soon the conflagration was out of control and the apothecary was no more. I hope she learned something about the danger of fire from that---or perhaps how to work an insurance scam?---but, in any case, she rebuilt and moved on, and there's a lesson there.

Speaking of brain suction, this is a picture of me Zoe drew.
In my left hand is my phone. It also looks like a cheese grater.
Either interpretation is fair.

All the fighting and violence are also more realistic now than what we had in the eighties. One of my favorites was Popeye, and, as Jeff Spicoli said, Popeye is the enemy of Brutus. The object of the game was that Popeye had to catch the hearts Olive Oyl threw and then eat some spinach and knock out Brutus before Brutus could do the same to him.
And let's not forget Punch-Out!! This game was in every arcade in the eighties. Your boxer against the game's. Your ears ringing with the announcer's "Body Blow" and "Uppercut" till you hopefully KO'd Glass Joe.
In contrast, today my five-year-old's breeding hybrids of dragons and mutant gorillas for her monster fight club. She's got to feed them (more farms!), create habitats, a hatching and breeding center, and maintain a whole ecosystem.
I'd like to think today's games are at least teaching Zoe the value of money, what with the "gold" in the games and the fact that she's often blocked from reaching the next level for want of Mommy's credit card number, but I don't think so. She often insists pop-ups---covered in dollar signs, by the way---are offering freebies. It's not exactly subtle.
Every day I check my email with trepidation, expecting to see subject headers that say "Thank you for your order." I do get those emails, and usually they indicate new characters she unlocked "for free" through actual game play. "Treasure has joined her friends in Whisker Haven" (which sounds ominous, as if Treasure's shucked off her adorable mortal coil).
But in the larger two-player game of Mommy vs. Zoe, I know Zoe will eventually wear me down, and when one day I see she's purchased fifty bucks worth of gems for Dragon Island, I expect I'll have no reaction except to wonder if it's for the new hatchery, because I've heard the fire dragons Coatlicue and Peanut are expecting.
Full disclosure: As kids, when my sister and I went to the arcade we assumed an endless supply of quarters in Dad's pockets, and if by chance he ran out, we'd steer him toward that magical machine by the entrance, and explain: If you put twenties in this, it will give us quarters. At which point he'd hand us one final dollar, probably the most wrinkled one he had, and go looking for a bar.
That's when we learned a valuable lesson in perseverance, as we rubbed that dollar over and over on our jeans to smooth it out and kept feeding it into the slot until we finally hit pay dirt.
When I was about ten years old, I also started getting an allowance from doing chores in order to buy games and music. Presently Zoe "earns" upgrades through game play. Which is good and bad. After all, my dishes don't wash themselves.
Then again, I don't really mind washing dishes. It's meditative. Just like Pong.

Zoe: 130;  Universe: 0

For more of Zoe's hijinks, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse
I need a win here, people. 

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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Zoe vs. Worry

Motherhood and worry. They go together like peanut butter and jelly. Like three-year-olds and casual farting. Like Kim Kardashian and naked selfies.
Even before I became a mother, I was a champion worrier. My childhood was one long episode of the "what-ifs."
What if I never learned to tie my shoes? (I did.) To read? (I did.) Make friends? (Ditto.)
As I got older, the what-ifs have ranged from the normal: What if I choose the wrong career? What if I never meet my soul mate?
To the ridiculous: What if while I'm walking down the street my scarf gets snagged by a passing car and I'm dragged to my death?
To the sublimely ridiculous: What if I never get to go to Australia to hug a koala? What if I do go to Australia, but the hugging koala rejects me? And then bad-mouths me to all his koala friends so they won't hug me either?
Pop quiz, hotshot: Can you guess what female blogger whose blog you're currently reading has a history of migraines and stomachaches? Spoiler alert: Me!

The root of worry is fear and lack of control. And anyone who knows me knows, first of all, I'm terrible at covering my roots, but, more to the point, I'm a control freak and a perfectionist.
I'm an older mom, and part of why we waited so long was I wanted everything to be perfect in our life before bringing a child into it. When I reached my late thirties and perfection was still a no-show, the what-ifs hit me from the other side. What if we'd waited so long to have a child we couldn't anymore?
Then, after I did get pregnant, I spent eight months worried I'd done irrevocable damage to my baby's genetic makeup by drinking too much---and taking my prescription migraine meds to recover from the aforementioned drinking too much---during that first month before I realized I was pregnant.
Next came the worries over money, moving apartments, birth defects---unpreventable as well as those caused by carcinogenic household products, exposure to interstellar radiation, and soft cheese. Followed, inevitably, by the actual birth itself, where I used the time between contractions to brood over whether the baby should go to the college that offers her a full scholarship or if she should go into debt by attending an Ivy League school instead.
"Aren't you getting ahead of yourself?" my husband asked.
"Yes, you're right," I said. "I mean, what if she isn't as school smart as I'm assuming she'll be? I must revise the spreadsheet!"
After Zoe was born, I doubled down on worry by worrying whether Zoe would be a worrier, and from the signs, I would say that's a big yep.
As an infant, she soothed herself to sleep by punching herself in the head. As she got older she graduated from the punching to less violent hair-twirling. She still does the latter, but now she also bites her nails and picks at her cuticles till they bleed. Finally, for the piece de resistance, she grinds her teeth in her sleep.
I try not to fret over her fretting but, on the other hand, I was born for this.
Just as Zoe was born to teach me a lesson about what I can and cannot control---something all parents learn the first time they bear stoic witness to a string of consecutive diaper blowouts. But also because every fall, every cold and fever, every trip to the park or to a birthday party, things happen, good things and bad things, few within my control, and yet, for the most part, everything has this tendency to turn out fine. Maybe not perfect, but fine.
Besides, perfect is overrated. Perfect is sitting still in a white room hermetically sealed so that nothing can get in. No rain. But also no sunshine.
And (cliche alert!) sunshine's worth the rain.
As long as you apply the proper SPF. Let's not get crazy.

Which button turns this thing off?

Of course, I will always be a worrier. My main concern, now that Zoe's five, is how an anxious antisocial person like myself can best support her child as she starts to make her own friends. And so, even though the last thing I want to do is attend her school events, I force myself to go anyway.
Within reason.
For instance, I thought we'd skip last Friday's Trivia Night. But when I picked her up from the aftercare she insisted she wanted to go.
I said, "What if you don't know the answers to the questions? You might get upset."
Zoe said, "But you'll be on my team and you know the answers."*
I said, "What if I don't know them either?"
"Mommy," she said then, "you worry too much."
So I guess I don't need to worry after all. She's already smarter than I am. . . .
. . . .Though upon further reflection, that's worrisome too.

Zoe: 129; Universe: 0
*There were a lot of questions at Trivia Night that I didn't know the answers to, questions regarding kids' shows and Minecraft. But then they asked us to name either two of the characters or two of the actresses who starred in The Golden Girls, and I blew that one out of the water.

For more of Zoe's hijinks, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse.
I need a win here, people.

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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Zoe vs. Donald Trump, Part Deux

This post is mostly a repeat of one I published a year and a half ago, when we were all innocent and carefree---and even fewer people were reading my blog, but I refuse to believe there was a connection. 
Yes, those were halcyon days, when the most dangerous thing about Donald Trump was the idea of getting your hand caught in that anemic Tribble on his head passing for hair.
But times have changed, and things that were funny are no longer quite so funny. So, looking back on simpler times, here's what I wrote in November 2014 about Zoe vs. the Donald. . . .

Donald Trump is famous for two things: his hard-nosed negotiating skills, which have made him a billionaire a billion times over, and his glorious mane of hair.
Zoe's hair is also one of nature's wonders, especially in the mornings, when she's running from the hairbrush, but what we're concerned with here are her skills as a negotiator. Focus, people.
From bedtime to the number of brush strokes she must suffer, servings of juice she can finagle, and amount of M&Ms she's earned after going potty, my days with Zoe are full of endless negotiations. And much like an over-leveraged company is catnip to Trump, I am low-hanging tired-mommy fruit to a sly fox like Zoe.
So let's see how Zoe's skills as a negotiator stack up against the Donald's. Herewith, five quotes from the man himself, author of The Art of the Deal, followed by interpretations from Zoe, author of my demise.

Then I'll end with, "Money can't
buy happiness." That always
gets laughs.

1. "You have to think anyway, so why not think big?"
Sure, Trump thinks in casinos, but you can't eat a casino. Not like candy....
The morning after Halloween, Zoe wanted candy for breakfast. I said no.
"How about just one?" she countered. 
"It's six o'clock in the morning. How about not any?"
"But I want candy," she whined.
So I promised her she could have one after lunch.
Out of respect, she held off for about a millisecond before asking, "Mommy, can I have lunch?"

2. "Without passion, you don't have energy. Without energy, you have nothing."
If the food in question is not candy, if it's, say, vegetables, then Zoe negotiates how many more bites she needs to take to either be excused or obtain a cookie.
"How about two more bites?"
"How about you finish?"
Before I know it I'm pulled into her game, thinking I'm smarter than she is, that I will just calculate how many more bites it would take for her to actually finish the meal I'd lovingly prepared in the microwave for a minute and a half, which is when the steam-in-bag Asian vegetable medley mix exploded, at which point I shrugged and said, good enough.
"Ten bites," I decide.
Then I watch as she takes ten of the teensiest bites ever, as small as Trump's ego is not.
"Mommy, I had ten bites," she says, triumphant. "Now can I have a cookie?" 
I capitulate. Her perseverance has worn me down.
"And juice, " she adds, knowing I'm broken. "I so thirsty."

3. "I try to learn from the past, but I plan for the future by focusing exclusively on the present. That's where the fun is."
Bedtime. Where the fun is not. At least not for me.
First up for negotiation is the actual time. "Two more minutes till bedtime," I warn.
"How about ten?"
Twenty minutes later, after I finally get her in her pajamas, the next phase starts. I say I will read three stories to her before lights out. She always angles for one more story, and it's usually the longest one.

Look, Mommy, the condensed version.

Or she fishes out a Dr. Seuss anthology and acts all innocent, like even though there are six stories in there, the whole collection counts as one. Each night I inform her it does not. 
Her other stalling tactic is to ask me to read one of the three stories again, as if the repetition doesn't count. It does, I inform her. She sighs. Why is Mommy so unreasonable?
Finally, showing me that even though she cannot yet read she somehow understands the fine print, she figures out that though Mommy will only read her three stories, she can keep the book on her lap after lights out and pretend she's reading. After all, Mommy didn't say anything about her reading. Loophole!
Meanwhile I'm clinging to the chair with only half an ass wondering how it is that such a tiny person needs so much room. Zoe is a real estate hog. Just like Trump.

Let's stop here, Mom.
Your eyes must be tired.
(And that's why he was Jesus.)

4. "Sometimes by losing a battle, you find a new way to win the war."
The ultimate bedtime avoidance tactic---where she will always win and she knows it---is employed after she's been in bed for a while and she asks to get up because she has to go potty. She knows this will always work. She's holding all the cards, and in order to avoid getting them covered with urine, I've got to let her go.

5. "In the end, you're measured not by how much you undertake but by what you finally accomplish."
And as she perches on the toilet, singing to herself in a self-satisfied manner, pajama pants dangling around her ankles, my deal-maker, my heart-breaker, in a voice dripping with sweetness, inquires, "Can I have an M&M?"

Hope you enjoyed this trip back to November 2014. Last night during her bath I asked Zoe if she'd like to run for president. Consider: she has the same amount of political experience as Trump; she's often grandiose, having outsize notions of her abilities as well as the funds available to her; she's been known to call people names; and she can be quite shallow (beautiful princesses only!). 
Her response? "Poopy butt. With pee on it. And diarrhea." 
Folks, I think she's ready for American politics.

Zoe: 128; Universe: 0

 For more of Zoe's hijinks, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse
I need a win here, people. 

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