I haven’t posted in a while, mostly because of the holidays, but also because I’ve been trying to learn a new language. Liam has found a new obsession, one that has (temporarily?) supplanted Pokemon and even Star Wars: Bakugan. Bakugan apparently started on the Cartoon Network and is aimed (like so much of television and the movies – Adam Sandler, anyone?) at ten year old boys, which to Liam is the age of ultimate sophistication.
The Bakugan TV show exists, as near as I can tell, as a platform to sell toys, video games, trading cards, and web applications. The genius of the story rests in its complexity, the endless lists of minutiae that governs each and every character. Here is what I learned the other morning when I walked Liam to school: there is a Bakugan who has 700Gs, which is the most Gs but you can get more Gs if you use a Masquerade card and then you get 800Gs but then in a battle with Mantris you can actually increase to 1000Gs and that’s the most you can ever get so you can win.
Actually, what Liam said was way more complicated than that, but as is the case when a middleish-aged person starts to learn a new language, I only caught about every other word.
Here are some tips from the Bakugan Strategy Corner that may help you see what a steep learning curve I’ve got ahead of me:
- There’s no point in using Blaze, which only gives bonuses to Pyros, Aquos, and Ventos Bakugan if all your Bakugan are Haos!
- The card Earth, Wind, and Fire combos nicely with Forest Fire. You let your opponent win that first battle, then on this battle, you’ll get a bonus from the Gate Card along with an extra 100 G-Power as your opponent will have more Gate Cards, and ANOTHER extra 50-G because of Forest Fire!
Now, I know that Earth, Wind, and Fire can make a person’s bootie shake like a house a-fire, but I don’t think that’s what’s being described here. What is being described? Um…It’s got something to do with rolling these little plastic balls onto cards that are magnetized and then the balls spring open into little figures while the players shout “bakugan brawl!” After the brawl, there is usually much shouting about rules and what is or is not fair. Then this process is repeated. And repeated.
All this rule-bound minutiae is obviously just training for what is to come: sports trivia (number of RBIs in a season, pitches thrown by left-handers in a playoff game, bases stolen by right-hand Dominican players with ponytails, etc). Or maybe sports trivia is simply compensation for lost youth: no grown man wants to be seen carrying around Bakugan balls or a Pokeman deck. But clearly the rules and details of these childhood games set up a template that will exclude the female equivalent: the minutiae of relationships: “I told you, they split up and now he’s dating her ex-roommate and she hooked up with an old friend but didn’t know that he’d also dated the ex-roommate and now she’s furious at the roommate but the roommate doesn’t think she’s done anything wrong…”
It will come as no suprise at this point if I tell you that I’m not a fan of the games that Liam loves, just as I’m not a fan of sports trivia. I think it’s all…dull. There. I said it. Boring, maybe even bordering on pointless. I don’t get it. And I don’t particularly want to get it. Yes, I cheer for the Mets (a pre-condition for marriage) and we go to the occasional baseball game, and I even usually learn the starting line-up (by the end of the summer). But that’s about it.
As parents, of course, we all spend time doing things we don’t want to do, and pretending we’re interested when we’re not (ever made a grocery list or compose an email while reading a bedtime story for the eight gazillionth time?). No one ever warns you about the boredom that accompanies so much of being a parent. It’s not in any of the parenting books.
But Liam’s love affair with Bakugan seems different, somehow, because now he’s eight and seems more and more like … like a boy, and not a child. His silly game gets wound up in my questions and fears about being the mother of a boy: how will I find common ground with him, as he grows up?
A few years ago, I saw a mother on the beach with her two sons, who looked to be in early adolescence. The three of them were playing lacrosse together – the boys clearly better than their mother – and they seemed to be having a good time. But watching them, I wondered if that mother would really rather be taking a long walk, or sitting in her lounge chair reading trashy novels, instead of dashing around on the sand shouting “good pass!”
Each time I found out that I was pregnant with a boy, I was amazed. It is a strange thing, if you think about it: I mean, tomatoes don’t suddenly sprout, you know, beans or onions or some other non-tomato vegetable. But women give birth to…men. For clarity’s sake, men should give birth to boys and women to girls; it’s really the only logical system. Instead, I’ve given birth to this creature who shared everything with me for the first years of his life and now he walks by a table and flips the magazines on the floor, and when I ask him why, he just stares at me and shrugs.
The mother of boys. Sometimes I think I should start a support group for women without daughters – we can all call each other and chat, when we’re in our late sixties, and ask one another all the questions that sons never do. My mother, by way of consolation, insists that boys treat their mothers like queens and while that may be true, that’s not the type of relationship I’m looking for (unless the rest of the world would like to chime in and agree to crown me empress of the planet, in which case maybe we can work something out).
Liam is, actually, not a very typical eight-year-old-boy – he cheerfully spent an hour tonight after dinner making a beaded necklace for himself, carefully selecting various shapes of pink beads. (And, yes, I realize that “normal” is a loaded word, but still, you know what I mean). But even so, he has that need to hurl self and others through space, and the inability to sit at the dinner table without tapping, chirping, drumming, whistling, gurgling…and, of course, the insatiable desire for tiny factoids that he can fit together into intricate schema that will become the winning strategy for The Game.
And his love for The Game makes me wonder: do I have to learn the language of Bakugan to stay close to my son?
No, of course you don’t have to learn Liam’s language-of-the-moment to stay close to him: your relationship with him is very much like that of a mother and daughter because you have already taught him the language of loving, feeling, sharing, and caring. And in your late sixties, he will talk to you the same way you and your mother talk to each other — mark my words!
What fascinates me about the phenomenon you’re observing is the chicken-egg question, or to say it another way: doesn’t it seem as if the purpose of sports is to give men something to talk about? I just had lunch with three colleagues, two women and one a man, and the man and I–who were meeting for the first time–got caught up in a reverie of Ken Griffey Jr. scoring from first base in game 5 of the divisional playoffs in 1995. Neither of us is particularly jocky, and we have tons of specialized professional compatibility to supply conversation, but something in our Y chromosomes just resonated to reliving that moment together. And we shared the pleasure even though the memory is a joy to him and a sharp pain for me. So if your son didn’t discover Bakugan, he’d have to invent it, because something has wired him (pre- or post-natal is another question) to thrill at such distinctions, calculations, and record-keeping.