Our House: The Power Pad and the Glory, Or When It’s Time to Level Up

We publish a lot of content for parents, but what about parents-to-be-to-be? As in, those who have not yet started the process and are not sure if they want to quit playing Donkey Kong long enough to.

Photo by: kosmosxipo

The time machine was $50–priced to move. My brother Luke, who makes a hobby of going to yard sales, found it one Saturday morning in a battered cardboard box full of broken toys. Not hesitating, he plunked down the cash and brought the device over to my place, where we plugged it into the wall and waited with held breath to see if it’d work.

At first the screen was black. There was a smell of burning dust. Then Luke took out the cartridge, blew on it, and the past sprang into blocky, digitized life. We assumed the controllers and, in another moment, there we were again in the Year of Our Lord, 1995.

That might seem a bit late to those of you who got your first Super Nintendo when the system debuted in 1991. But in my family, we only ever got devices once they’d been out for several years: Always right about the time our friends and neighbors upgraded to The Next Big Thing. There were seven of us kids, plus my Catholic parents retained an anti-materialist streak from their late ’60s hippie days.

To journey back 20 years was to discover that nothing, nothing at all, had changed. The music was so familiar I hummed along without realizing. I could recall the location of every hidden magic barrel – somehow they were all in exactly the same places! Likewise, my skill level hadn’t budged. It still took me and Luke a dozen lives to conquer Donkey Kong Country’s Mine Cart Carnage board.

And just like back then, my house today is littered with stacked games and accessories–Game Boys, Power Pads, controller wires all strewn across the floor. Luke’s yard-sale-ing continues, his collection of these now-vintage devices keeps expanding, and all over again, we’re sitting for hours on the very edge of the couch, bitching about who is hogging turns, entering in “ASS” instead of our initials for the high score on Paperboy.

The past may not have changed yet absolutely everything is better now, because I’m not a child anymore.

Arrested development? Sad regression? Not really–or not sad, anyway. The past may not have changed yet absolutely everything is better now, because I’m not a child anymore. Today all of life seems like having the first turn at the buffet. I stand before you my own Line Leader. I’ve got my own house, my own money, and my decisions are my own–well, except for one. The biggest one there is.

People say adulthood is disappointing. It was childhood that disappointed me, and that was no one’s fault. For my tastes, there were just too many things going on, many of them unsettling: school-bus rides, church, bunnies, teachers, summer camp. Meanwhile puberty gathered like a storm cloud on the horizon, dark and threatening.

Of course I’m ashamed of this now, all my reluctance and fearfulness and ingratitude. My parents were (are) kind and loving. Our home was chaotic but about as happy as one could reasonably hope for. I’m not the first person to dislike being a child, and I’m aware, sometimes painfully, that other people have had to overcome much more.

To wit: A dozen or so years ago, for our student magazine, I interviewed Henri Monteith Treadwell, who was the first black woman to attend the University of South Carolina. As a teenager, she helped lead the integration movement, braving grave threats against herself, her family and her community.

“Weren’t you scared?” I asked.

“I didn’t know fear. I don’t know fear,” she said. Later, she earned a PhD in biochemistry and did aid work in Africa. And she had three kids, too. Without question, a worthy life. Even heroic.

In all the years I’ve been turning this over in my mind, I haven’t managed to reckon how it is that someone in terrifying circumstances would act fearlessly, and how those whose circumstances are plush and who’ve never been called on to act with courage can respond with fear to even the most basic biological stimuli. Maybe I can’t because it brings up, among many other things, a tremendous sense of failure of character. My own, that is.

I mean, pretty much all I’ve ever been asked to overcome is my own wayward, ignorant, pathetically selfish self! And it’s still taken me until my 30s to figure out–more or less–how to listen, how to talk to strangers, how to hold down a job, and how to be a decent friend. And all this in conditions of near-comic privilege both then and now, in a larger world where, as my friend Aaron says, “There is an entire nation just walking north to Europe. And another nation down here in jail because they didn’t pay a parking ticket.”

So of course I’m ashamed. Especially when my husband gives me a look right in the eyes, says at least half seriously, “Time’s up. Let’s have a baby,” and my entire reaction is one of weeping terror. I put my head down on the kitchen counter and cry.

It’s not that I don’t want to have a baby. I think having a baby is a great idea–a great idea for two years from now, which is what I’ve been saying for the last, oh, seven or eight years.

It’s not that I don’t like kids, either. You hold up your keys over a baby’s car seat and it’s like flashing an iPhone at someone from the Middle Ages. A cheap thrill, maybe, but also like interacting with a mostly friendly alien. And no one is funnier. Talking to my 5-year-old niece, Viv, is like an even better version of Coming to America.

And meanwhile my husband is the kindest person I’ve ever met, a person who is thoughtful and really sees the people around him. Ideas as to how to do nice things for them occur to him on the regular. He hands me our all-day parking validation as we leave our space and tells me to go give it to the person over there who is about to pay for their own parking. He sneaks an extra present into the gift bag we are preparing for our nephew. He feeds the stray cats in our neighborhood so often that going out unto our back deck is like facing the Children of the Corn. I’ve benefited from this kindness personally for the better part of 10 years, and whatever progress I’ve made toward being a kind person myself is a lot to do with his example and his love.

So I really should help him have a baby, right? Right. Also, because having a baby is one of those things that cannot be put off foreve–maybe not for as long as I’ve already put it off. In fact, in some ways it feels like the universe has come chasing after me with a bill showing the cost of all this glorious freedom and maturity (however considerable or inconsiderable), while I dither and stammer about how I just don’t know, not now, maybe soon though.

One thing is clear. The next level of adulthood will be much harder, and I don’t have a dozen lives to waste on it. If only this Super Nintendo could tell the future the way it can show the past.

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Catherine Baab-Muguira

Catherine Baab was born in South Carolina, but grew up in Richmond, which explains a lot. She sometimes blogs about her escapist nautical fantasies at shegoestosea.blogspot.com.

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