If my adolescence was a high security prison, then my mother was the 20 feet walls that took the wind out of my gale forces, so to speak, defeating me at every attempt to coax her into getting me what I wanted.
She was unbending, and adroit at keeping me on the (deprived) side of teen temptation.
I remember at 14 I had decided to get my very own Sony Walkman, the hot product of my era. I was so excited at my purchase that I failed to contain myself when I later met up with my parents at our car.
“You bought a what?” My mother had asked. “Oh no, you are returning that. NOW.”
I protested and within minutes found myself shouting and then crying. Even my father intervened in my defense. But my mother was unyielding, confident, resolute, so sure was she that my new headphones would burn me like crack.
Losing yet another battle, I pulled myself back to the store and up to the customer service desk, sobbing as I explained to the 20-something year-old behind the counter why I was returning this Walkman just minutes after I had bought it. He sucked his teeth in sympathy. “Man, just wait till you come of age; ain’t nobody gonna tell you what to do.”
I nodded in appreciation and walked away.
Somewhere in the decades that followed, that teen memory morphed into something to look back and laugh about and then, recently, into something to dread. The tables would be turning, I knew, and soon it would be my turn to be prison guard. We mothers all know this moment is coming, right?
I just didn’t know it would come so soon.
Over the winter break, Fred came home from his best friend Jack’s crying, “I want a Wii. I am the ONLY person at my school and in this neighborhood who DOESN’T have a Wii!! WHY are you being so MEAN to me??” He had found out that yet another friend of his had gotten a Wii for Christmas.
Of course, it wasn’t the first time we’d heard this. We’d been hearing it for months, and each time I’d staunchly put my foot down about “NO VIDEO GAMES” – end of discussion. It is probably easier for me to gloss over this obsession of Fred’s because I am so “lo-tech”; to this day I do not have and do not care for an iPhone and the idea of Kindles taking over books leaves a pit in my stomach. I’m still a bit dreamy in my 1970s/80s world of books, board games and all things natural. It is hard for me to appreciate Fred’s need for a Wii, and so much easier to chalk it up and dismiss it as his puerile flavor-of-the-week.
Two weeks after Christmas, though, Max, my lo-tech ally in all of this, showed signs of bending. Our neighbors got their daughter a Wii for Christmas, and Max played a few games of tennis on it when they had us over for New Year’s. He liked it. In fact, he was hooked. He could see why Fred wanted it so badly. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all, he’d persuaded me. It would be fun for all three of us, plus it would get me to move.
And, so, as a poorly disguised early birthday present for me, we indirectly got the Wii for Fred. Secretly thrilled for myself, I remained nervous for Fred. His strongest intellectual quality is his intense curiosity and creativity. Will a videogame replace the time he used to spend building Legos, folding Origami, and conducting his own science experiments? Will the mind-numbing instant gratification of technology quash the meaningful but more arduous work of creating?
Perhaps these are similar worries my mother had when she made me return my Walkman nearly 30 years ago. The Walkman could’ve come from out of space for all she knew, and she was afraid of the potentially addictive quality of portable music. She was afraid of what I’d be listening to. She was afraid of what it would do to my ears. The thing is, she was so confident, or at least she appeared so. It would only be last year that she shared her doubts as a mother for the first time. “I didn’t know how to be a mother. No one teaches or tells you anything.”
But I suppose if we listen carefully, we can find lessons – in our mothers, and in our own experiences. While the Wii does make me nervous, I’ve finally decided it’s good for Fred to have it in his life. It’ll give him a chance to figure out how to balance his different priorities and desires. It’ll force him to learn how to stay in control. As the mother, I, too, need to listen a little better, and learn how to balance keeping those gates closed and letting them open once in awhile.