I have this memory of being about four years old in our old sun porch with my father and my new friend, Garrett Kennedy. I always referred to people by their first and last names back then as if I was unsure whether my parents, the only people I ever talked to, would believe they existed otherwise. In my memory, Garrett is dressed like a G.I. Joe with a tiger-striped scarf. I look tiny in my turtleneck and paper Indian costume. But I know that is not how we were dressed. That image is from a Polaroid my grandmother took years later on Halloween, in a different room, in a different house. The photograph still exists in a messy box in one of the houses where pictures of our family are still kept. We have divided ourselves a few times since the day in my memory.
When University of Baltimore MFA student Terri Steel took her first babysitting job at age 12, she expected fun and games, not bad adult behavior — looking back, she knows she shouldn’t have been too surprised by what happened that life-changing night.
I thought I was made for motherhood. When I played house with my friends I was always the mom, improvising a game plan I was sure would come in handy when I became a real mom. My pretend house was tidy and my pretend kids did cool things and had lots of make-believe homemade treats, like chocolate chip cookies and fresh cherry pie. As soon as I turned double-digits, I sought fiercely for my claim on the babysitting jobs that came to other neighborhood girls, but no one seemed interested in me.
“Dating Data” columnist Sara Lynn Michener answers a (nice) young man who thinks that bad behavior might lead to better dates.
Dear Sara, I am 20 years old and I read your column. I was hoping maybe you could teach me to be a little more masculine. I am in love with a girl, but she’s not in love with me. I realize your gut reaction would be for you to tell me there’s “No way to get someone to love you,” and yeah I sort of agree, but I think maybe part of it is a matter of ‘manning up’ as much as I hate saying shit like that. I was wondering if maybe you could give some advice on how to fall between being a “bad guy” and being a “nice guy.” Because right now I think I’m the nice guy she doesn’t like.
I think the only way to begin to answer this question is to go Back to the Future. As in George McFly vs. Marty McFly. Both boys, it is important to mention, are fairly physically weak. Biff is the only one with muscles, and Lorraine isn’t interested in him at all, thank goodness. At the beginning, George is a meek pushover with an annoying laugh, and Marty is exciting, confident, rebellious, and, well, from the Future. George can’t compete with one of these things, but has the upper hand unbeknownst to him: he is not Lorraine’s future son. This scenario is not going to happen in the real world (at least not until someone invents time travel, further complicating all of our love lives). But I mention it to bring up a very specific point: You will always have the upper hand of not being the other guy; no matter how hot you think she thinks he is. You never know what his faults are, and everyone has them. In romantic relationships, sometimes the faults of the cutest guy in the room don’t make him any less cute, but make the relationship impossible. I’ve dated some amazing men, but the things that ended our relationship were very important signifiers of why each union would never have functioned long-term.
“But all my friends are playing them,” said my son.
Then he went on to explain, in actual tears, that he was being left behind and left out. In so many words, we, his parents, were depriving him of critical adolescent alliances in this tender developmental age when being part of the herd is much, much more important than, say, orthodontic hygiene or hanging up a towel after a shower. We were ruining his friendships and, therefore, his life.
The object of his desire? First-person-shooter games. For the uninitiated, first-person-shooter, or FPS, games are video games that allow the player — my 12-year-old son — to engage in close-range combat through the eyes of a buff protagonist, usually an American military squad leader. These games have names like “Call of Duty” (think there are any jokes about that one?) and “Gears of War,” and they feature firefights, sniper weapons, melee weapons, garroting, blood, and sometimes logic puzzles. The graphics can be stunning.
He begged for permission to play them.
And for the usual kumbaya reasons, we weren’t keen on this. We had notions: (1) The military industrial complex uses FPS games to train its soldiers. (2) FPS games minimize the lives lost in combat in real life (IRL). (3) FPS games will desensitize my son to violence IRL. (4) FPS games are a recruiting tool for the military. (5) Our son’s friends’ parents will hate us if we allow him to play FPS games — we’ll be ruining it for everybody.
But we entered into negotiations. Due diligence compelled us to canvass the parents of these friends, all boys, who played garden-variety video games and who, according to my son, were allowed to play FPS games, too. The parents’ comments were nearly unanimous: (1) The boy becomes a bona fide dope when he’s on the screen, regardless of whether that screen is a computer, a television, a handheld device, or something else. (2) The boy is bothering us about playing FPS games, too, and we don’t like them. (3) We want to pile up all the screens in the house and smash them with a sledgehammer. (4) We should take him camping more often. One of them said, “I feel like showing him the WikiLeaks video of the guy in the helicopter slaying innocent Iraqi citizens.” More on that later.