I failed again. It's already 11:30 a.m. and my nearly 6-year-old son has been playing his Lego Star Wars video game since 8:30 in the morning. I promised that I would monitor him better and only allow him to play a couple of hours a day. But he's home sick today and I've got a slew of things to get done, not to mention a 3-month-old baby who needs constant attention.
We took an hour break, and that was tough. "Can I play video games again?" he whined at me.
"No, not yet."
"When?" he inquired, frustrated and upset that he couldn't play.
Video games are going to be the death of us. I know what doctors say about too much TV and video games. I try to limit his time, but some days it seems impossible.
I feel nothing but guilt about this, like I'm aiding in his delinquency as a youth. Why can't he play the educational ones? Or why doesn’t he just pick up a book and beg me to read it to him?
Back at our old home, in Southern California, we had endless sunshine, so I could tell him to go outside and play. In fact, I didn't really have to tell him. He just did it.
But here, where the weather is often wet and cool, video games have become his backup playdate. Plus, my husband is out of town, so I’m on day three of being solo with the kids.
Today those chocolate chip cookies are the savior I need
“Okay,” I interrupted the beeping and buzzing of his video game. “We’re going to bake cookies.”
“Now?” he asked. “Can I have a few more minutes?”
Not even the idea of making chocolate chip cookies entices him to immediately stop playing.
“Five more minutes,” I say, flustered by his question. He’s fine with that.
We bake our chocolate chip cookies, and we have a blast. There is a whole system to what we do. We wear aprons, put on sun visors, and pretend we’re short-order cooks at a restaurant. He loves it, and I love it, and today those chocolate chip cookies are the savior I need, the distraction to keep my son from turning into a video game zombie.
We talk about things, from small stuff like who makes the better chocolate chips — Trader Joe’s or Nestle Tollhouse — to bigger things like how some kids are not always nice at school and how sometimes he misses his “old crew,” a group of four boys from his preschool in Southern California. I know making cookies is not necessarily the healthiest activity, but I mentally argue that it gives him a different set of skills: measuring, mixing items together, and creativity (he puts sprinkles on top of his oddly shaped chocolate chip cookies).
As we make our cookies, there is no whining to play his video game or hint of boredom. He isn’t agitated from staring at a screen or frustrated that he can’t beat a level. Instead, he is scooping dough, molding it onto a cookie sheet and sprinkling his creations with extra sparkle. And for a few hours, there is peace in our house.
We even move on to painting for a bit on our deck. “Look at what I’m making,” he hollers at me while I bounce the baby in my arms. He’s using a sponge to add finishing touches to his masterpiece. Honestly, I’m impressed. Then again, he could put a green streak of paint on the paper and be done and I’d be wowed — after all, I am his mother.
Shortly after that, though, boredom sets in. “Can I play my video game now?” he asks.
“Sure,” I relent.
“Yes!” he excitedly says to me. “You know I have Jengo Fett? I also have the Emperor!” he continues, animated. By now I’m well-versed in Star Wars: the characters, the drama of the saga and the Dark Side.
In my head, I replay the discussions I’ve had with other parents about how their children mostly play the educational games. And while my son definitely plays those, he seems rather adept at setting up our complicated television system to his most favorite video game. He can’t seem to pick up his toys on his own or brush his teeth without reminders, but somehow, just somehow, he can get his Star Wars game up and running in three seconds.
Later that night as we’re getting ready for story time and bed, he asks, “If I get up early, can I play video games before school?”
I sigh, feeling a bit defeated.
“No,” I say.
“Because. You can play after school instead.” I have no real good reason for him at that moment, other than it’s just an absurd request.
I flash to tomorrow in my head, and I know what question will be waiting for me when I wake up: “Can I play video games?”