Tagboys

ADHD Playdate

My dogs both have tracking transmitters. While our family doctor may raise all sorts of weird, fussy “ethical” objections, I’m hoping the vet may be an easier sell on my proposal to have one placed on my daughter. Diva is ten – ten – and I haven’t seen her for three days and perhaps only a dozen times since the start of summer. Oh, she’s not missing, or anything. She just sort of has a life of her own which, at present, has taken her to a marathon sleepover/playdate. What the hell… it’s summer, right?

We got her a cell phone and she’s very good about having it with her at all times but all that texting and Facebooking plays hell with the battery and she’s drawn the line at carrying around a power cord as well. So, the tracker. To be fair, I haven’t seen a whole lot more of Wild Child, but no tracking device will ever be necessary to locate him. While my daughter roams her kid-sized world with an ever widening circle of friends, my son keeps mostly to his room, ensconced up there in his underwear, surrounded by the discards of snacks and very…um, vocally…playing his Xbox. If I’m not at home though, he’s even harder to reach than my daughter is, as his phone is invariably somewhere useless and far away.
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I was out the other day and needed to reach him fairly urgently. No answer. Hmm. I pulled over and used my phone to access the computer in my office next to his room. I typed in 96pt. on the desktop: GO GET YOUR DAMN PHONE! then cranked up the system volume to full and turned on something from Avenue Q (which usually gives him fits). I figured he’d hear it, go check it out and see the note. Nope. “Now what?” I wondered, “Ah”. If he couldn’t hear it, it must be because he was wearing his headset. And that meant he was online with his friend. So I called his friend. “Jason, are you live with Wild Child? Yes? Will you tell him, please, to go get his damn phone?” That did the trick. When he called, the first thing he said was “Why does my mom have to be the biggest geek?”

While I worry about Diva’s independence and Wild Child’s lack of it, I was even more concerned about my son’s tendency toward isolation. I’m an introvert and can fully relate to being comfortable with a fairly high level of solitude but “comfortable” in his case, is not “happy”. So when the Xbox took over his life, we went into full panic mode. That our already odd, not-exactly-popular, loner might well disappear forever into a virtual world seemed entirely probable. We put in place rules, limits, timers; we forced him to go outside, we nagged him to call his friends, we badgered him relentlessly and threatened to take away the controllers – in short, pretty much what parents do. None of which had the slightest impact on his consuming desire to retreat to his room and play Xbox.

My little adventure with trying to reach him tipped me to something I’d been missing all along: He isplaying with his friends. That they prefer to meet in a bombed out urban wasteland or on a distant planet, that they communicate over headsets, that some of them are in a different time zone, doesn’t – and shouldn’t – make that much difference. They get together. They play and have fun. In between bellows and shouts and “COVER MY BACK!” and “DUDE, YOU TEA BAGGED HIM!”, they talk about stuff 12-year-old boys talk about. So I think the next time I want him to see his friends, I’ll send him to his room.

My son, the First-Person Shooter

One of the things we agreed on even before we had children was no “war toys”. I spent my childhood days with the neighborhood boys, all of us armed to the teeth, playing war. My evenings were typically spent in front of the TV watching coverage of the real war. My spouse was ROTC and a crack marksman. One would think that it might have occurred to us that our own childhoods, steeped as they were in violent play, nevertheless produced the kind of adults that, well . . . ban war toys. Parenthood is not typically that clear-eyed, however.

People with all the trappings of expertise were telling us that toy guns were bad and turned innocent children into desensitized little monsters, so we listened. We also made sure that our kids never saw anything on TV more violent than the Muppets. We vetted everything they might watch and then insisted that TV only be watched with all of us together, on the couch, a throw over our laps. This would be our peaceful family ritual to combat the evil influences that strained and slavered for our precious children.

As anyone with more experience could have predicted, by two, or son was nevertheless pointing sticks, broom handles, even Barbies at people and shouting “bang bang”. He became obsessed with guns. And swords. And grenades. Pretty much everything, in fact, on that list of forbidden toys. It must have been Kmart, during the holidays, where my then three-year-old son stopped dead in front of a gun. The celestial choir sang as he said in awe, “that’s the Power Rangers GRK10 Thousand X,” (or some such) “its a laser pistol and a flame ray, and that part comes off and it’s a photon grenade”. (again, or some such; suffice to say, it was the ultimate multi-tool for mayhem.) In my most stentorian parent voice, I said “Now you know we’re not going to get you a gun.” He shifted to stand in front of me, looked me in the eye and, like someone trying to reason with an hysteric, said “Ima, It’s. a. TOY.”

I called one day from the kids’ favorite toy store. “Hon, you know how much he likes playing dress-up and there’s a suit of armor here that he’s just mad for and it is pretty cool but, well, it comes with a sword. I was just thinking that if it was part of a costume . . .” He got the sword.

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He obsessed relentlessly over a cap gun he saw while on a camping trip. We gave in and got him the gun. It was the only toy he played with. For 27 hours. That’s how long it took for his gun obsession to vanish.

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These days, his room harbors an arsenal: Bokken swords, Nerf guns, air soft guns, water cannons, six shooters, laser guns and more. He’s got a real Vietnam era helmet, a soft cover and a collection of replica service medals. We’ve moved from “no war toys” to an acceptance, even an appreciation of first person shooter games: Call of Duty, Halo Reach, Portal and a host of Lego adventures. The only time or wild child is not wild is when he’s parked in front of one if his video games. His body stills, his mind calms, his attention sharpens. He’s fascinated by World War II, writes his grandpa to learn about his experiences there, and has learned how to make chain mail armor.

He also dances ballet, makes animated movies and wants to be an artist. He’s sweet and patient with small children, tender-hearted toward animals and avoids fighting with anyone but me or his sister. God only knows how he’d have turned out if he was still obsessing over that gun.

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