“My boys asked me why I can’t be a nice mom like you,” my girlfriend told me.
This comment was misguided and untrue, of course, but amidst the daily beatings I lavish upon myself for my various imperfections, I take whatever niceties I can get…
“They think you’re the nice mom because you let your boys play ‘Poke the Penguin’ on that website and I don’t.” she continued.
I asked why she didn’t allow them to play the game, ignoring the fact that letting your child play anything with the word “poke” in the title is bad enough.
“It’s disgusting and gross and bloody and barbaric,” she explained, recounting that the object of the game is to poke a cartoon penguin with a white-gloved cartoon hand until the penguin gets so mad it turns around and bites the cartoon finger down to a dripping, bloody stump.
I had to tell her that I am not, in fact, the nice and cool mom her boys think I am, but instead the ignorant and negligent mom since I didn’t even know the game escalated to that level of blood and guts. I mean—I knew the penguin got mad and all, but I guess I had never stuck around long enough to find out when the penguin had really had enough of the damn poking already.
That evening, feeling embarrassed and lowly, I asked the boys to get on the computer and show me the game they had insisted was not bloody at all. They loaded it up and began poking at the penguin, who got mildly—and rightfully so, by the way–pissed. The penguin turned around and yelled at the cartoon hand.
I nodded to the boys to continue.
The penguin got increasingly angry, and finally set off a cartoon bomb, blowing a big hole in the cartoon hand’s white glove. There was no blood, however…just soot and smoke rising off the finger a la a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
The boys shrugged and poked until finally they were so sick of it that their eyes glazed over and they could not poke that penguin one more time.
“Keep poking!” I insisted.
“But we want to do our homework and bathe and eat vegetables!”
“I have to do everything around here,” I scoffed.
And there I sat in a dimly lit kitchen–while my children fed themselves healthy food and finished their homework and chores—sadistically poking a cartoon penguin in the kidney as he alternately yelled back and exploded my cartoon finger.
There never was any actual gore–turns out my girlfriend had been thinking of a different game all along–and her poor, poor kids had suffered all these years from not being able to play “Poke the Penguin”. My kids, however, would be happy if they never saw the game again.
So, which of us is the nice mom, now?
I beat myself up for hours over these things. I torture myself for not knowing what was on that game, for having my boys play it ad nauseum, for putting off grown-up work to poke away at a cartoon penguin well into the night.
My list of imperfections as a mother is endless, traveling far beyond a little computer game debacle, and I have assigned myself a personal criticism for each and every line item.
But, as I grow and mature, I am beginning—just beginning–to catch a glimpse of the fact that it’s not always what we let our kids do or not do that matters the most.
Maybe what matters even more is how much they know we care about what they do.
Maybe the simplicity of our love and good intent for our children—our absolute and non-judgmental adoration of them, the painstaking hard work that goes into keeping them safe and happy, the endless cheering and watching from the sidelines even when they are not in the game–goes a lot further than I once thought.
When our children are grown, that love and good intent–not whether they were allowed to play a silly computer game or not–is what they will remember most.
The penguin, I would assume, feels quite differently…
Published in The Broomfield Enterprise, 1/27/08