Mario, Luigi, and Me

I was never a kid who played video games. And in regular, everyday life circumstances, I don’t think one would have cause to question my motor skills. However, as I learned last night when I made my first attempt at playing a game, I am, as my boyfriend puts it, “special.”

Four year olds are supposed to be able to handle this game I’m playing without dying multiple deaths and falling down at every other step like I do. I’m having a hell of a time aiming my jumps. And I’m getting repetitive stress injury already from the death grip I have on the controller. My little cousin, who is four, plays video games and she’s exponentially better than me. This gaming experiment of mine has lead me to the painful realization that I was a sheltered kid. Robbed of my childhood, not exactly, but in the sit-around-and-play-video-games-all-day way, definitely.

I was raised by a single parent. And we were immigrants, so life was extra hard. My mom had to work, a lot and all the time, to make sure we survived. That meant that I had to pull my weight too. Not only could we not afford a video game system, but even if we could, I wouldn’t have had time to get good at it. I was a latchkey kid at age seven, and my carefree childhood included fun jobs like cooking, cleaning, and studying. To be fair, I have really fond childhood memories of playing on the swings, jump-roping, and chasing after the ice cream man too. And to take full credit for my lack of child-like activities, I really enjoyed cooking and playing school with my dolls (and human friends too), and I hated riding my bike. I know, that’s an anomaly, what kid hates riding a bike? Me, that’s who. I nearly had a nervous breakdown when I was at a bed and breakfast in the Bahamas a few years ago, and the proprietors were kind (evil) enough to lend me a bike to get into town. I had to ride for the first time in a long time, and it was stressful. The good news is, it’s true what they say about never forgetting how to ride a bike. And for a brief while after that forced adventure, I embraced bike riding. I bought myself a mountain bike, a helmet, and a water bottle holder, and went for a ride on the Washington Mall. I rode around all day, and guess what? I didn’t hate it (but I also didn’t like it). I rode my bike a couple of times after that, then never again. My mom ended up selling it on craigslist years later.

So, as you can see, I didn’t have a typical childhood. Since I was a latchkey kid, I wasn’t allowed to leave the apartment after I got home from school, because my mom wouldn’t be able to check in on me if I was out and about. As a concession, I was allowed to have friends over. So I made the most of it and held snack parties for my friends after school every day. My Old Bay fries and macaroni and cheese (from a box, but embellished) were all the rage in my elementary school. My soirees were exclusive events, VIP  functions that even the coolest kids in class coveted an invitation too. Between my home economic skills and my sarcastic sense of humor, no one seemed to notice that I couldn’t run a mile in under 12 minutes (the maximum time allotted, in which one could supposedly walk it – utterly untrue, because I did walk it and it took me longer than 12 minutes), or hit a softball, or that I never rode my bike.

And obviously, the things I got practice at as a kid paid off, and the ones I didn’t, I’m still stunted at. I can throw a dinner party for twelve people with a day’s notice and whip out a nine-course meal, no problem. But I can’t get my Mario past level 1. I could win a contest for speed cleaning, but I’m clueless (and disinterested) as to the rules of any sport. If I wanted to, I could write a novel and probably get it published, but I’ve never watched a single episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I can distill caffeine from tea leaves and make aspirin from scratch (I was a science major in college), but I have no idea what Laffy Taffy tastes like (nor do I want to – yuck).

At the end of the day, life is uniquely experienced, for some of us more than others. And we all have our strong suits, and things we naturally (or by design) excel at. And being a healthy adult is about accepting ourselves and loving ourselves for who we are, not being down about who we’re not. But I’ll be damned if I can’t get past level 1 this weekend! I’ve already turned down enjoying this beautiful day outside, to stay in and practice playing. And guess what, that cute little Italian plumber may not be for me in the end, but that’s why I also got a doctor game – I get the feeling I’ll do better at that one. Oh wait, there are cooking games too, right?!

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