Managing Big Emotions: Learning to Control our Inner “Fire Power” Because in a World of Marios, Somebody’s Got to Be Luigi

I was enjoying 45 seconds alone in the bathroom with the door locked (Ha! I’m getting smarter!) when I heard blood-curdling screams and hysterical cries from the family room. They weren’t the cries that indicate a bumped head, a stubbed toe, decapitation or a severed limb… these cries meant something far worse… someone wasn’t getting their way while playing Nintendo. <insert mom eye-roll here>

Hubby was down in the lair with our 3 kids and seemed surprise to hear me say “Let me guess! You guys are playing Nintendo?!” as I approached the top of the stairs. Yes. This nonsense really does happen every, single time they play. That is how I ‘guessed.’

“I want to be Mario but M said I need to be ‘Nuigi!’ (pronounced New-ee-gee by 4 year old, Mr. C)

“He got mad and threw his controller right at my face!” cried Miss M , “…and he didn’t even say sorry!”

You have got to appreciate that at this age, a lack of apology is far worse than the actual act of violence that is warranting the apology itself.

Just the word ‘Nintendo’ sends chills up my spine…

Hubby bought the kids an old-school Nintendo console with the classic Super Mario games from the 1990s on it. At first, it was a lot of fun. He picked it up on New Year’s Eve and after we finished our family steak & lobster feast, we thoroughly enjoyed playing old-school Mario with the kids. It’s incredible how easily one’s Mario knowledge comes back… where to find the pipes that you can go down to find more coins, how to jump over huge holes and which bricks have hidden ‘money’ inside.

Now, however, this Nintendo console is torturous.

Hubby had to show the kids that it was loaded with a lot more games than just the simple, classic Super Mario Bros. I begged him not to expand their Nintendo knowledge because I knew what was going to happen… not only were they going to get into games that were completely inappropriate for their ages but they were going to need help with every little thing. I realize that I sound neglectful by saying this but when my kids get screen time, whether it be for television shows or now, for video games, it’s so I can do the dishes, wash the floor, put a load of laundry away, read a news article or just sit and not answer the never-ending fountain of skill-testing kinder questions for 30 minutes.

And, it’s so they can have some ‘down time’ to just relax and decompress. I am not a gamer and really don’t want to spend half of my life trying to sensor the bad games from the good; nevermind trying to figure out how to play them just so I can not listen to Mr. C having a complete meltdown because he doesn’t have fire power. Seriously? What 4 year old needs fire power?!

Fortunately, the original Mario is pretty easy to separate from reality. We, children of the 1980s seem to have survived playing it without having the urge to throw real fire balls at real turtle/ducks (Seriously, are those things turtles or ducks? I still don’t know!). So, I suppose it is okay in tiny, dramatic, highly emotional doses. Serenity now.

Co-parenting is tough. Regardless of whether you are together or separated from your partner, you are still 2 individual people with your own thoughts, opinions and parenting styles. You are both trusting your own instincts and literally making it up as you go along and hoping that you are getting some of it right as you raise these incredible, tiny human. Most of the time my husband and I are on the same page with our parenting decisions but sometimes, we are on opposite planets.

My husband decided to set our 4 year old and 5 year old up with video games. I probably wouldn’t have just yet if given the choice, but with moderation, we will be fine. He is excited and eager for them to be able to do ‘big kid stuff’ while I want to wrap them in bubble wrap and snuggle them like babies forever.

Somehow, we find a balance….

Just this past summer, Hubby decided that our kids were ready to ride scary roller coasters and water slides. I disagreed and thought that they should still find the carousel and other ‘toddler rides’ exhilarating for at least another 10 years. We try to compromise and meet somewhere in the middle… and thank goodness for that because just look at the pure joy on Miss M’s face while on the scary ride at the carnival with Daddy that I never would have let her ride!

Back to the Nintendo…

I tried to calmly encourage Mr. C to take a deep breath and stop screaming so that we could talk and figure out a solution that worked for everyone.

At this stage of our parenting journey, we find ourselves spending a lot of time trying to coach our kids through their larger-than-life emotions while biting our tongues, gritting our teeth and trying not to lose our own $h!t in the process. Patience is a virtue… a virtue that is more precious than gold in this house these days as we navigate highly emotional waters and try to guide our little humans to independently resolve their issues with limited blood shed.

“I just want to be Mario!!!!!!!!!” was screeched back at me and the brain-frying screams continued. This kid has quite the vocal range. When he’s proud and confident, he has a voice as deep as a middle-aged man and then when he is devastated in a way that only a Nintendo situation can cause, he can scream in an octave that can cause migraines. It’s insane. Note to self: investigate peewee opera lessons.

So, I took a deep breath, calmly sat down in front of my devastated 4 year old and 5 year old and diplomatically presented the 4 options that came to mind:

1. We voluntarily put the Nintendo away and do something else.

“Nooooooooooo!!!!!!” (in unison)

2. We continue to play but take turns being Mario.

“Nooooooooooo!!!!!!” -Mr. C

3. We set up another ‘station’ so that one person can play Nintendo and the other person can play ‘Dreambox’ (their new math-based video game provided by their school) and then switch stations.

-silent contemplation from Miss M

-a hard NO from Mr. C

4. We continue to scream and argue over who is being Mario until Mommy takes the Nintendo away and most likely throws it out the window.

They both stopped to giggle at the thought of me throwing the Nintendo out of the window. Sometimes, you just have to laugh and break the tension! Then, Mr. C continued to scream about being Mario and Miss M started to cry over always having to give in to his nonsense because he acts this way and it isn’t fair and Hubby and I both just sort of stared at each other wondering what the hell happened to our restful, lazy, quiet Saturday mornings of yesteryears.

I took a deep breath and tried to think through all the crying. “I have an idea!” I said. I ran upstairs and grabbed a quarter from my purse. I explained the concept of a coin toss. They liked this idea. But then proceeded to fight over who would be ‘heads’ and who would be ‘tails.’ I quickly decided that Miss M would be ‘tails’ or the side with the ‘moose’ since moose started with ‘M.’ They agreed. And why wouldn’t they? This solution was kinder-logic at its finest.

I flipped the coin and we all watched eagerly like it was the coin toss at the start of the game on Super Bowl Sunday. “Tails…or Moose!” I said as I revealed the coin, before cringing in anticipation of Mr. C’s ugly reaction to his big loss.

As expected, he stomped off yelling “It’s not fair! I hate this! I hate this game! I hate this coin toss!” through huge, salty tears. I had to laugh under my breath a little bit because as he angrily stomped off in a very dramatic exit, he was slowed down at the stairs because he was still wearing his shark tail blanket… a fleece ‘sleeping bag’ that tapered down to the ankles with 2 fins at the end which hold his feet. He tried so hard to angrily stomp up the stairs but since his ankles were basically tied together by the tapered end of his shark tail, it was difficult… and somewhat amusing to watch.

Even more frustrated by this (but still not stepping out of the blanket), he turned around, glared at me and said “I HATE this and I HATE YOU!!! I HATE YOU MOMMY SOOO MUCH!”

Hubby and I both basically jumped down his throat at the same time; both of us telling him NOT to talk to me that way. I told him to go to his room and take some time to cool down. Then I turned to my husband and sarcastically said “I love Nintendo” through a sociopathic forced smile.

Miss M happily embraced her coin toss victory and her brother’s absence and started to play a 1-player game as Mario. Mr. C screamed in his room behind the door he had dramatically slammed shut and 2 year old Mr. O continued building his magnatile tower, completely unaffected by the nonsense…which is probably the most disturbing part of this whole incident. This drama is normal.

I started to rage-clean… the tidying and speed-laundry folding that occurs when you need to think fast and digest your anxiety and inner rage without breaking stuff. I was trying to be present for Miss M’s game and Mr. O’s tower building while my mind raced trying to decide the best approach for appropriately handling Mr. C’s not-so-little freak -out.

Sadly, his fits over Nintendo remind me of how I used to act while playing Scrabble as a child. I didn’t like to lose and remember getting my Scrabble Junior board game taken away on several occasions, a tidbit from my childhood that Hubby never finds less hilarious. Mr. C’s completely unnecessary rage was somewhat relatable to grade school-aged, stubborn, unbendable me.

“Do you want me to go talk to him?” Hubby asked. “No I will.” I insisted, firmly. My sons need to grow up knowing that women are strong and can stand up for themselves and will not be treated anything less than fairly and respectfully. While I appreciate the support, I think it’s a learning opportunity for my feisty, strong-willed, little boy to have to face the person that he hurt, be accountable for his actions and handle the consequences. Having my husband explain to him that he needed to apologize to me wasn’t enough. This behaviour was completely unacceptable. I don’t think that little boys are ever too young to start learning these lessons. I like to think that their future partners will thank me one day.

I went upstairs expecting to have the “Your words hurt Mommy” talk. I knocked on his door and asked if I could come in. I heard a mutter that couldn’t be distinguished each time I asked l, so I finally opened his door to see him sitting on his bed, looking sad, with his arms wrapped around his knees and his big, teary, blue eyes looking up at me, dreading the talk.

My heart broke seeing him so sad. This was a little boy who overreacted, said some things he didn’t mean in the heat of the moment and now, just wants it to go away. We’ve all been there. He knew he was wrong. There’s nothing that I can say to him that he isn’t already feeling. I was actually quite impressed with his emotional maturity in this heartbreaking moment.

So, I calmly sat down beside him, put my arms around him, pulled him close to me so I could kiss the top of his sweet head and told him that I know he didn’t meant what he said. And that I know he doesn’t hate me. And that I know he was just angry and caught up in the heat of the moment and that I know he didn’t mean to hurt me.

He looked up at me, said nothing except “Mumma” and then hugged me back tightly, nuzzling his head into my chest. His actions spoke loudly, telling me that he appreciated my understanding. I told him that we all overreact and make mistakes sometimes. Sometimes we say hurtful things that we don’t mean. It doesn’t mean that our words aren’t hurtful. We can still hurt people very much with our words. But as his Mommy, I will always love him with my whole heart and I forgive him. He looked up at me and started to cry tears of relief. He said “I love you Mommy.” My heart melted.

I told him that when things like this happen and we make a mistake, it’s important to be accountable and to own it, to apologize to whoever we hurt and then to move forward. We can always move forward.

I don’t know if he fully understood everything I was saying but he liked my tone and definitely liked the idea of moving forward. I asked if we could move forward and not let this ruin another minute of our day together. He jumped up squealing “Yes!” and hugged me with all his might.

“I didn’t mean what I said,” he reassured me. “I know!” I reassured him.

“Just like you didn’t mean it when you said you were going to throw our Nintendo out the window, right Mommy?”

“Well, actually… if we are being honest… if you continue to act like this every, single time you play video games, I probably will eventually throw the Nintendo out the window.”

And I wasn’t lying.

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