Gaming While the Baby isn’t Looking

Last week, the Los Angeles Times informed me that I am weird. This, I already knew, but it is nice to see the confirmation in print. It turns out that only 1% of married couples with children of a certain age include a stay-at-home dad. Since this March (more or less), I have been one of that particular one percent. I wrote a little bit about what it’s like to be my particular flavor of new parent before. It involved much moaning and wailing about finding time to play videogames. I can report that a couple of months on, things haven’t gotten much easier.

My son, Halford, is now toddling around the house, looking for shit that he can pull down onto his own head. My job during the day is to watch him like a hawk, but not hover too close because that would be weird. I try to sit nearby, but not too near, as my boy ambles from the wall to the couch to the mantel to the book shelves. My intervention is rarely required. He just sort of cruises around, putting his open mouth on everything he can find, like Tongue-Tongue from The Tick exploring the world the only way he knows how. My task is to chase him if he goes into the kitchen, which is a place of incalculable danger. I play referee when dogs get too close to the boy. Contact is okay. It can’t be avoided, really. I just have to break up instances when one of our four pups get too rambunctious (happens sometimes) or when Hal starts manhandling one of the poor, docile dogs (happens often).

My task is to chase him if he goes into the kitchen, which is a place of incalculable danger.

I do this for a good part of the day, taking breaks to chop fruit, ham and cheese into tiny pieces and watch my son shovel it down while the dogs circle, snarling, at the foot of his high-chair hoping to taste some of the droppings. The only kind of gaming I get done in the midst of all this is done on my iPad. At any time I’ve got a dozen or so board and card games like Ascension, Agricola, Eclipse, Carcassonne and Lords of Waterdeep going. When I get a spare moment and can confirm that the boy isn’t in imminent danger, I’ll pop the game open and steal my turns. If I’m feeling super-ambitious and foolhardy, I’ll fire up an X-Com mission and sneak a turn here and there when the kid is occupied by a particularly tasty spot of our tile floor.

One of the many things they don’t tell you about parenthood is that your kid doesn’t need you until they do. So Hal is generally disinterested in my doings until he catches me doing something like playing games on my iPad. Then he’s suddenly super interested and pretty much in love with whatever I have in my hand (and I guess, by extension, me). That’s when I slip the iPad behind the couch cushion and pretend like the thing doesn’t exist. That trick works. For now.

Another thing they don’t tell you about having a kid is that every single moment with them isn’t a beautiful bonding moment that you’ll remember with a glowing heart for the rest of your days. There’s a shitload of moments in a day. A ton of them are boring. Often your kid is sick of you and just wants to eat/sleep/poop. Sometimes it’s vice versa.

I’ll fire up an X-Com mission and sneak a turn here and there when the kid is occupied by a particularly tasty spot of our tile floor.

For me, the least magical moments are when Hal is trying to get to sleep. The little dude sucks at sleeping through the night. He’s up and down every couple of hours. So when he stands, bleary-eyed, in his crib and starts wailing, I go pick him up so he can settle down. According to books and blogs and a ton of other know-it-all assholes you’re supposed to let the kid cry it out or something. Try telling me that shit and I’ll punch your you-have-no-idea-how-sick-I-am-of-hearing-crying face. Seriously. This is not a cry for help or request for advice. Thanks for caring, but please, for the love of God, leave me and my wife to suffer through this without your wisdom. So I grab the poor kid and let him sleep on my shoulder if he can. Often the transition from shoulder to crib will wake the kid and he’ll start crying again so I’ll just hold him.

Hal weighs over 25 pounds. I’ll hold the guy until my arm feels like it is going to fall off. And then I’ll hold him a little longer – until I get that weird psychic feeling that he’ll go down without waking up. You might be surprised, but these bleary hours drag through the night. They’re not magical, bonding moments at all. I don’t feel bad walking around with my son in my arms and my Vita clutched in my claws. I got through most of Tearaway that way. At least until the game got all motion-tilty and precision platformy towards the end. You can’t do that shit with a baby in your arms. That game was charming as hell. Now I’ve got my eyes set on that new Zelda game, A Link Between Worlds, but if I’ve got to use that goddamn stylus all the time that shit ain’t happening.

Just now, in the short time it took me to hammer out this column, the boy woke again.

Just now, in the short time it took me to hammer out this column, the boy woke again. I regularly tear my headphones off thinking, mistakenly, that I heard the wailing of a child amid the wall of heavy metal noise I usually listen to. This time it wasn’t a false alarm. Halford was already standing in his crib, crying with all his might. The little dude has lots to cry about. He’s cutting teeth; a good six are out now. The ensuing drool has left his chest all red and rashy. And since he’s eating solid food, there’s all kinds of mess going on below the belt. I would have a hard time sleeping too.

I hefted the kid over my shoulder, but he was too overwrought to settle in. I tried walking around, talking to him and caressing his back. I put lotion on his chest so he wouldn’t feel itchy. I fed him some water, but he wasn’t into that so I gave him some formula, which he guzzled down greedily. Eventually he passed out. You can tell by the heavier breaths. But when I tried to lower him into his crib he’d just roll over and sit right up, pissed off at the world. After a handful of attempts I gave in and carried him over to my office. I tabbed out of this story, fired up Hearthstone and played a couple of (winning) hands. That did the trick.

Halford went down and went down for good. For the next 20 minutes, at least.

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Pretension +1 is a weekly column about the intersections of life, culture and videogames. Follow Gus Mastrapa on Twitter @Triphibian.

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