Thursday, October 18, 2012

Weekly Offutt Wii Competitive Sibling Super Mario Brothers Death Match

The man in the red hat ran and jumped, hurtling a bloodthirsty Venus flytrap in some far-off jungle filled with pits, giant mushrooms, and deadly turtles. A man with a green hat ran far behind him.

“Wait,” a voice called. “Wait for me.”


“I’m serious,” the voice called again. “Wait.”

The man in red leapt over a pipe and grabbed a flagpole, and the man in green fell off the side of the world.

“Aaarrrrggg,” the voice screamed, then the Boy knocked the Girl off the couch and the two children rolled on the carpet until one of them cried. It didn’t really matter which one. They take turns.

Welcome to the Weekly Offutt Wii Competitive Sibling Super Mario Brothers Death Match. Whoever came up with the idea that video games would be more fun if multiple players had to work together to win must have been an only child. Brothers and sisters operate under a series of peace treaties more breakable than soap bubbles; forcing them to cooperate isn’t natural.

My wife and I discovered this when we upgraded our one-player-at-a-time Super NES video game system (circa 1992) to a multi-player Wii to make sure our children had an adequate platform from which to launch peer-bonding conversations about pop culture.

OK, that’s a lie. We just wanted them to leave us alone for five minutes.

We quickly found children will never leave their parents alone for five minutes. I should have seen this coming; I was once a kid with a video game.

My first video game system was an Atari 2600. Space Invaders, Pac Man, Demon Attack, ExciteBike, Dig Dug; I had all the most popular 8-bit games that, looking back, weren’t nearly as fun as walking down to the creek and throwing rocks at frogs.

But my Atari 2600 taught my young mind something important – video games are serious business.

“Woe to the one who steps in front of the television,” The Book of Zelda, 4:27.

“Dad,” the Boy yelled from the basement family room my wife and I had hoped was far enough away from the rest of the house we wouldn’t get dragged into this very thing. We were wrong. “She’s not playing right again.”

To guys video games are training programs for real life. Somewhere in our heads float the understanding that one day we will have jump on the head of an intelligent, evil turtleman to save the life of a princess. We will catch the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl. And we will have to mow down the living dead with machine guns that are, for some reason, lying around an abandoned amusement park.

So when your sister doesn’t take this responsibility with the same level of seriousness, it’s a problem.

“Well,” the Girl yelled back. “Mario is just stupid.”

The Boy reset the game, and the dance began again.

What did kids do before video games? Well, household firearms and zombies were a lot more common back then. I told you they were training programs.

Jason Offutt’s column has been in continuous publication since 1998 appearing in newspapers and magazines across the United States. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheJasonOffutt.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Dining With Feral Children

The clock on the minivan radio read 4:59 p.m. as we pulled into the restaurant parking lot. One minute to five?

“Wait a second,” I said to my wife as she opened the door.


“It’s not five o’clock. … OK, now it is.”

Five p.m. is not a normal time to be in a restaurant unless you work there; with these exceptions, 1) you have a senior discount, 2) you have children, and 3) you’re already at the bar.

My wife and I were Number 2, had a coupon so we were nearly Number 1, and if the children behaved like they did during The Dinner of Doom, we’d wish we were Number 3.

A shiver ran through me just thinking of The Dinner of Doom. The Boy was four, the Girl two, and I was one step closer to death. They jumped on every empty bench, they spilled every water glass. Call me paranoid, but I’m pretty sure the hostess dialed 9-1 and kept her index finger over the 1, just waiting for us to leave.

Maybe things would be better this time. I mean, that was three years ago.

“Good evening,” our hostess said, her smile meaning our pictures weren’t tacked up behind the station under a handwritten notice reading, “Do NOT serve these people. Immediately call the National Guard.” That was a good sign.


My wife said yes, and we followed the hostess into the dining room.

People sat a two other tables, one single man and a couple with a senior discount. The hostess seated us dangerously close to the single man, who immediately ordered another Budweiser. I don’t know if that was because of us, but I wouldn’t doubt it. Word gets around.

Well, we were seated. In a restaurant. With the kids.

Children come in two types, polite, and feral. The problem for parents is the types coexist inside the same child and we never know which one is going to be the dominant personality in a given situation. I always brace myself for feral.

“Have we decided?” our waiter asked.

“I would like chicken nuggets, please,” the Boy said.

“Yes, chicken nuggets, please,” the Girl squawked excitedly. “With French fries.”

Two pleases? This dinner outing had already gone better than I’d hoped.

Of course, we all knew the food would eventually come. Back during the era of The Dinner of Doom, my wife and I ate in shifts. One fielding the children while the other ate like we’d been lost in the forest for a week. Now …

The children ate without complaint. I could taste my food. And … OK, so that was just one glass of Sprite spilled onto the floor. Oh, no. The Girl said she was full. And, yes. She shot out of her chair and landed with a plop onto the empty booth opposite ours.

“Can I take this home?” the Boy asked, pointing at the food remaining on his plate.

My wife and I looked at each other. It was time; we were just minutes away from a nice family dinner devolving into something from Animal Planet.

We paid and left.

“The couple is still there,” my wife said as we stepped into the parking lot. “Why can’t we stay in a restaurant longer than 30 minutes?”

“Because,” I said, “they’re a couple, we’re a quadruple.”

Jason Offutt’s column has been in continuous publication since 1998 appearing in newspapers and magazines across the United States. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheJasonOffutt.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Saturday Soccer Gigglefest-O-Rama

Fall soccer is probably pretty exciting. The running, the not scoring, the weather that’s as unpredictable as a squirrel.

But I’ve never seen soccer in its competitive form. I have a kindergartner.

Put together two teams of five- and six-year-old girls and the soccer match becomes less like a sport, and more like a birthday party. If the ball were filled with candy, it would be perfect.

The Girl plays youth soccer on Saturdays and is still a little miffed her team color isn’t pink. Her team name is, however, The Butterflies, so she’ll let that slide. Just this once.

“Is it my soccer day?” the Girl asked one Saturday morning, although she’d asked the same question not a half-hour before.

“Yes,” I told her. “At 2 o’clock.”

“Can I get dressed for soccer right now?”

If I couldn’t feel her level of excitement for the game sizzling in the air, I would have thought all the jumping and squatting meant she had to pee.

“No, it’s only 9 in the morning,” I said. “Let’s work on breakfast first.”

“OK,” she said, still bouncing. “I hope they have treats and juice at the game.”

The thrill of soccer to a little girl; post-game snacks.

There are a few rules for all youth sports. One of which is this: small children are like test animals. To encourage a test animal to exhibit X-behavior, promise X-reward. For rats solving a maze, it’s cheese. For monkeys putting the square peg in the square hole, it’s fruit. For kindergarten girls playing soccer, it’s Goldfish and a juice box.

As we made our way down the sidelines with our canvas lawn chairs, a shiver ran through me. What would happen if a parent forgot a snack? What if that parent was me?

Oh, wait. A Wal-Mart bag with boxes inside sat next to a team mom. Whew.

Another rule: parents must practice the sport at home with their children.

I can go on record saying I’ve done that. Not as much as a parent who played sports in high school does, but in-season the kids and I have occasionally played catch, practiced batting, and made use of the basketball goal that came with the house.

Give me a break; I’m good with Legos. Besides, youth girls soccer teams have their practice before the game.

“OK,” the coach said, pointing at the Girl. “Dribble to the goal.”

The Girl looked at the ball which was, of course, pink, bent and picked it up.

“No hands,” the coach yelled. “No hands.”

Not looking at her coach, or apparently hearing him, she started walking as fast as she could bouncing the ball from her hand to the ground, hand to the ground, hand to the ground. I was impressed. You know how hard it is to dribble on grass? She’d never done that well in the driveway.

In my defense, I know nothing about soccer.

I’d make a terrible coach.

Jason Offutt’s column has been in continuous publication since 1998 appearing in newspapers and magazines across the United States. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheJasonOffutt.