Thursday, November 20, 2008

Playstation Addiction - Why Not?

Two items in the news recently have caught my eye, both about the addictive qualities of video games. There was the one young fellow who collapsed and went into convulsions after playing a 24-hour World of Warcraft marathon, and more recently, an unresponsive boy of 13 was rushed to the hospital by his worried father. After some examination of the boy, doctors told the father that his son had “Playstation Addiction”.

Yet just a few moments ago, I was informed by The Boy that the Playstation was boring, because there were no video games to play. Of course, this statement can be likened to the oft-heard cry of children, who standing in front of a refrigerator packed to overflowing, moan that “there's no food in this house”. What it really means is “there's nothing here that I want”. Nothing new, nothing exciting, nothing expensive, nothing to play, nothing to eat...

I suppose I should be pleased that The Boy is not suffering Playstation Addiction. However, it is clear that he would like to, if only we would supply him a new game that is sufficiently entrancing. The good news of course, is that there isn't one. He's a boy of 8, and his attention span is about as long as his pinky finger. New is good, new is exciting. He's anxious to conquer a game, and enjoys the rush and fame of having scored well, but he's also easily discouraged by a game that is too complicated or difficult.

I should be pleased when he does get hooked on a game that costs good money, and when he plays it long enough to justify its purchase price. But the lack of days spent running pell mell outdoors and practicing trick riding on his scooter is starting to show in a certain hint of pudginess.

I should be pleased that he's not hooked on video games to the point of seizures and collapse, but there might be a certain peacefulness about a boy playing a game intensely enough that he doesn't want a peanut butter sandwich or have time to make out his birthday party list or plan the number of new toys that Santa ought to bring with him that the contents of my wallet cannot cover.

I think that video games are like every other activity and pleasure, from entertainment to eating to exercise. All can be taken to extremes, which can turn out to be a very dangerous situation. But often, in moderation, all these activities can yield benefits. If the children slept with the game controllers in hand (I swear, The Boy did that only once) or refused to eat or go to school, refused the company of friends or the lure of Disney television, then I would worry a lot more than I do.

I really wouldn't mind though, if he got addicted for an hour or two once a day so I could get a nap.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Joy of Yard Sales

My mother shared many things with me as I was growing up, and amongst them was her love of yard sales. Shopping was a vocation for her, a natural talent. I don't think she could have prevented instinct from turning the car in at every sign that proclaimed a yard sale event.

Yard sales fit perfectly with my mother's idea of interior decorating, the first rule of which seemed to be to cram as many items of furniture and objet d'arts into every available space as was logistically possible. But more than that, yard sales provided the excitement of discovery, the thrill of negotiation and the satisfaction of acquisition.

Those pieces of milk glass, the tiled wall plaques fashioned by some avid craftsman, and even the blue vase that I filled each spring with apple blossoms, all became part of our family's home – none more so than a kitchen table with a bench that she snapped up when I a teen. The bench was covered in a vinyl material in what once may have been a colonial pattern but was now faded, tattered and worn. Together we bought several yards of vinyl in a sunny orange and yellow pattern and reupholstered the bench ourselves. Over the years the bench and chairs broke and were discarded but the table continued to stand in our kitchen. When a niece set up housekeeping on her own, the table was ceded to her. When she replaced it with a new and modern dinette set, the table came to me. When I moved, I gave the table to another family member and so it continued to serve for many years. That yard sale table had become as much a family heirloom as any antique passed down for generations. It became more - it became a memory of days spent with my mother, poring over the discarded items of another family, looking for treasure.

My mother's love of yard sales taught me many things. I learned to look for the value in something that didn't arrive new in the box, to look beyond the worn exterior to find the shine from within. I learned the excitement of the hunt and the pleasure of the find. With a few dollars in our pockets, we were on an exciting adventure, an expedition that would uncover hidden treasures - furniture, books, toys - whose former owners had outgrown their delights.

That is the essence of a yard sale. It holds not just dusty junk brought out of the attic into the bright sunlight once again, it holds memories and stories, that having once been stored away, come out to live anew. Each item will be forever part of those who loved it or who loved a child that played with it. A table that has seen a thousand meals and heard the conversations of a thousand family dinners can also be that which carries the memories of days spent in joyful pursuit of the perfect purchase and a loving memory of one who understood the joy of life.