Parenthood is arguably the world’s greatest role-playing game. My brain works in mysterious ways and thinking about motherhood called to mind the fourth installment of the great gaming franchise, Resident Evil, where parasite-ridden farmers (Los Ganados) “remember” your last combination of fighting moves and bum rush you before you can get a clip off.
The art of mothering requires dynamic thinking and adaptation to a person who is constantly learning you and their environment. I confess I was never that good at gaming: my moves stopped improving once I realized that “Back + Back + B” only worked with Scorpion and no other player in Mortal Kombat.
I am the mother of an almost two-year-old playful toddler, who is daily my biggest challenge and greatest reward. She was originally known as Little Bean, but her handle permutations have evolved to include Bean, Beanie Siegel, Beans and Cranks, and Beanie Pie. Her successes, often imperceptible, inch her toward independence in ways that are both validating and uncomfortable for me.
The discomforting part of being a mother is the utter lack of control you have over this tiny being who you expect to control. It reminds me of why Artificial Intelligence (AI) and character responsiveness are so crucial to gamers’ evaluation of video games. Great AI gives you an eerily intuitive opponent who “hears” the crack of a missed gunshot and attacks. This can be fun, unless your game’s character responsiveness sucks, causing him to jerk to movement a millisecond too late to duck. The screen shutters gray and words in white block letters slide down, “YOU DIED.”
When I did play video games, nothing infuriated me more than being owned (or pwned, in gaming lexicon) by a computer. These days, nothing frustrates me more than being pwned by a 22-pound, 2-feet-tall little girl in Afro puffs.
Take last week. Bean clamors, “EAT! EAT! EAT! EATEATEATEAT!” until I pick her up and fix her something. Once the bowl is in front of her, she dips her whole hand into the oatmeal, rubs her fingers together, and proceeds to draw on the tray without eating a bite. Or, other times, when she is done with her food, she’ll look me straight in the eye and flip the plate of rice over the side of the high chair.
Better yet are the moments when I tell her, “Come here, Beanie,” only to watch her take off running, mouth upturned in mischief. I bark that I’m not going to chase her, but once I catch her, she dissolves into a bundle of infectious giggles. I giggle with her and am utterly pwned again.
Bean has perfected what I call the “toddler meltdown.” If she doesn’t want to go somewhere, her little brown legs melt into the ground. Her favorite word is “NO!” which, to older adults looking on, makes me look like I can’t handle my business. Cringe. No mother wants to look like the amateur dragging her kid through the store. But motherhood is an illogical balance of teaching children independence–that they have the right to say “No”–but only when we say so. Clearly, things won’t go my way 100% of the time if I’m teaching it right.
Ultimately, I adjust. In Resident Evil 4, when possessed farmers bear down on you with a tentacled alien sticking out of their heads, throwing the same punch that splattered your guts in the dirt…will get you killed again. You have to switch it up. Kid intelligence is obviously greater than a game’s AI; the capacity children have for learning is astounding. But none of that is fun if my responsiveness lags. I have to be as dynamic a mother, growing in response to her self-awareness, as she is a learner.
Finally, the greatest thing Resident Evil, and any other video game, taught me about motherhood is this:
Everyone gets pwned at some point, but the game always resets and allows you to try again, with greater nuance, until you’re the one doing all the pwnage. Game. On.