Dear Dave

Monday 12 October 2009

The obvious

Dear Dave,

Sorry your mum tells you that you should get more sleep on every occasion she sees you. It may be true but it's not that helpful. With small kids around, the amount of time you have to yourself is limited. If you want to stay sane, you need to spend some of those meagre hours doing stuff you enjoy, not just snoozing. Of course you could do with more sleep but time to watch films with explosions is important too.

Parents can't help stating the obvious, though. I think I've worked out why:

Lewis was upset the other night because he'd spent three-quarters of an hour fighting a boss in a computer game and then lost, resulting in a frustrating 'GAME OVER' incident. Almost in tears, he came and explained how he'd kept making Mario jump on Bowser's head, only for Kami Koopa to heal the damage whenever it started to build up.

Luckily, I speak Nintendo. "Why didn't you go jump on Kami Koopa's head and knock her out first?" I asked.

Lewis stared at me. Then it was like a light bulb went on inside his brain. "Ooooh!" he said, a smile returning to his face. "I never thought of that." Ten minutes later, Bowser was a little puddle of pixels.

I was glad the problem was fixed but I was rather stunned that the solution hadn't been blindingly obvious. 'Take out the opposition's healer at the earliest opportunity' is such a basic gaming survival strategy, I wouldn't have imagined it needed pointing out, particularly to someone with as much thumb-waggling experience as Lewis. If he hasn't picked that up, what else hasn't he grasped? And I don't just mean in games - what about in real life?

Does he know not to split up and look for the monster, for instance? More than that, is he aware that anyone suggesting doing so is worth staying well away from? They're either so stupid that they're going to go hide in the same cupboard as the monster at any moment or they are the monster. They should clearly be avoided at all costs.

To be on the safe side, I'd probably better warn him not to invite any pallid, cape-wearing blokes with pointy teeth into the house and to be wary of mysterious, magical board games. There are any number of basic tips he might be unaware of. Golly, perhaps he doesn't even know that if he has a problem, if no one else can help, and if he can find them, he can maybe hire the A-Team...

All these things seem obvious but I'm going to have to explicitly state them to him or he's not going to survive for long in the modern world.

Speaking of which, I've had a go at Fraser a few times recently for not looking out for cars while crossing the road. He's fine on his own but as soon as he's with other people, he can get lazy and leave it up to them. On noticing this, I pointed out that now he's nine, it would be wise to take some responsibility for his own safety. He agreed and then immediately forgot, relying on me entirely at the next crossing. I had to threaten him with crazy levels of punishment in order to finally lodge the idea firmly in his head.

Once I'd achieved this, however, his chances of getting across a road in one piece dropped sharply. He decided that rapidly glancing this way and that, as if he was watching a table tennis match from six inches away, was an effective means of spotting approaching vehicles. I can only imagine it blurred his vision and made him feel dizzy - not ideal for dodging traffic. Worse, he spent most of the time looking the wrong way.

I had to explain that it's possible to reliably predict which direction cars are going to be coming from on a given section of road. It's still useful keeping half an eye out for confused drivers heading the wrong way but it's much more important to have at least 1.5 eyes alert for crazy drivers approaching on the correct side of the road. If they're smoking while using a mobile phone, they may be expending as much concentration on not setting fire to their own ear as on looking where they're going.

Fraser seemed remarkably surprised to learn that there's a pattern to traffic flow and that cars don't just randomly leap out from behind corners in an effort to frighten children. His road-sense is improving rapidly.

It turns out there's a reason why parents have a tendency to state the obvious - it's because it's frequently necessary.

Admittedly, most of the time it's deeply irritating but after a while it must become ingrained. Just nod and smile at your mum and remember that it won't be long before your kids are sighing at you as they prepare to go outside in a storm and you keep telling them to put coats on because it's raining.

(They won't listen, by the way. They'll go out in t-shirts, split up to look for monsters and then bring home a vampire for tea. You'll have to hire the A-Team to sort out the mess...)

Yours in a woman's world,


PS Say what you like about the brain-rotting effects of computer games but a few months ago Lewis' reading abilities were nothing to write home about and he had no interest in books. After spending the summer playing adventure games featuring vast amounts of written dialogue exploring Mario's motivations for jumping on Bowser's bonce, he's officially two years ahead of the curve and has started working his way through the Mr Men.

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