Mario and Luigi, a House Divided…

Hello internet,

As you may recall, Santa delivered a 4 year-old Wii to our house about a month ago, and that little white console box might as well have been a Pandora’s box.

We never want our kids to get lost in another world and forget the real one where people and things matter, so we were very cautious about how much video game time (electronics in general) we have. Having said that, we thought we might try playing Wii for about a half hour about one or two nights a week as a family… so Santa delivered.

I know video games have come a long way since I was a kid, but we thought we would start our kids off on the classics, and Nintendo offered a Super Mario Brothers for their Wii console. Elements of the older games still remain. You still fight mutated mushrooms, turtles throwing hammers, and Venus fly-traps that rhythmically go in and out of pipes, but, the part we didn’t have as a kid was the ability to play simultaneously with 4 other people (Mario, Luigi, Yellow Mushroom Man, and Blue Mushroom Man)! Since the baby is not interested in games just yet, this is the perfect scenario for all of the others to play together. Also, if you die, and you still have a man left, you will eventually float by in a bubble. If someone doesn’t mind bursting your bubble, you may reenter the game. Yes! Not only will my kids get to play and have fun together, they will learn teamwork too, methinks.

Not so much.

First, let me address playing style.

Oldest Son – “If I get to the end first, I win!” I explained several times that they are playing as a team, but he is still interested in getting there first. The problem is, everyone is on the same screen. If you run off ahead of everyone else, the side of the TV pushes all of the stragglers forward, whether they are ready to move or not. Nonetheless, in his mind, the object is to get to the finish-line, so stopping for coins, stars, or Yoshi takes a back seat to making good time.

Oldest Daughter – “I’m having fun even though I’m crying!” She really enjoys the game until she falls off a platform or gets squished by moving blocks. Then she gets super upset… but keeps playing. She’s also the one that works so hard to keep the four-headed snake moving together. Needless to say, her and the oldest boy have gotten into numerous arguments.

Middle Son – “Whatever my man is doing on the screen, I’m also doing it in real life.” Seriously, if it wasn’t so bad for him, I could watch him play video games for hours. He jumps when Mario jumps. He moves his feet when Mario runs. He leans in one direction or the other when Mario is close to danger. Usually after a level or two, he has unconsciously jumped all the way to the front of the TV, which becomes a big distraction to everyone else trying to play.

Youngest Son – “What, this place is dangerous?!?” I swear, this boy is cannon fodder. I keep thinking it is just because he doesn’t fully understand what’s going on, but he will absolutely walk into a pit, turtle, or anything else… While the other’s are fighting Bowser, he’s just enjoying the stroll through the country-side. The good news is, Wii keeps track of the number of continues each player has, and he gets excited about his “high score”. He even gloats about it to the others.

Tonight, after Bible time, it was a little early for bed and we haven’t played Wii in over a week, so I thought it might be fun for about 45 minutes while Beth and the baby went to the bedroom and folded laundry.

It started out nice enough… The first few levels were nice. A few bumps and bruises, but overall, things were good. However, as the levels got more difficult, a friendly game of Mario morphed into a civil war.

The middle son had bounced his way in front, and was definitely told by the kids on multiple occasions to move, which only fixed things temporarily until he bounced back. The oldest son was running up ahead of everyone else and dragging the stragglers off of cliffs, into turtles, or into walls, killing them instantly. This definitely made the others mad, especially the oldest daughter. She refused to pop his bubble a couple of times because “he’s not nice”. She also shouted to the others that they needed to catch up, and if they didn’t hurry, she was going to leave them. Another eruption broke out when a question-mark box was hit to produce four eggs that instantly hatched and created anthropomorphic dinosaurs to ride (Are they all named “Yoshi”?). I thought it was nice that everyone got one, but they spent about a minute arguing about which one they wanted… they were all different colors, and it just didn’t make sense for Mario to ride the blue one and Luigi to ride the yellow one. Through a series of mounts and dismounts, accidental dismounts, and unfortunate accidents, all of the dinosaurs were made extinct again. Several random times, the youngest son managed to avoid danger when everyone else died, and suddenly, knowing their continuation depended on his timely popping of their bubbles, they all turned to him shouting things like “Press 2”, “Set me free first”, “Walk over here”. Usually in a matter of seconds, while he’s listening to everyone and trying to decide what to do, a mushroom would walk into him, killing him instantly. This caused an eruption of frustration, and, in the oldest girl’s case, tears. To add insult to injury, this would usually lead to him telling everyone that he was winning the number of continues tally… and trash talking a bit.

I gave them the “one more round and it’s over” warning, which obviously put a ton of pressure on an already tense situation as they had to “make this one count”. Since the middle son had the number #1 controller, he decided the level, and through a series of accidental button taps, took them to one of the first levels that they played, angering all others who wanted to do the water level that they were on one last time. This time the oldest quickly dragged all of the others off a cliff and ran into a turtle within a matter of seconds, ending the “fun”.

Frustrated, tired, angry at one another, and with tears in their eyes, we ended family-fun game time and went to bed. Only the baby, who did laundry with Mami, was in good spirits. I quickly realized that this was no state to leave the kids, so despite wanting to get them down quick and watch “Parks and Recreation”, we had a teachable moment instead:

1. Wii is for fun. If we can’t have fun while playing it, we are taking a game way too seriously.

2. If Wii can’t be used for fun, we won’t play Wii any more (this led to more tears, but I accepted it, given the fragile state Mario had left them in).

3. We (not to be confused with Wii) are a family and a team always, and we always act nice to one another.

4. God, family, church, school, and friends are all more important than Wii. That’s where we need to devote our hearts.

Wii is now on a probationary period… If tears, bad attitudes, and sibling problems persist, a Wii will be up for sale on “Midlothian/Mansfield Moms Buy-Sell-Trade” soon. I hope they can learn to put things into perspective and not get so wrapped up in a video game in which the outcome doesn’t matter. After all, we only have one man and no continues in life… We have to make them count for things that do matter.


This is a nice before shot…before the wave of sadness enveloped the living room

At the dinnermesa,



Here is an Ugly…

Tomorrow is Sanctity of Human Life Day, started back in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan.  The date was chosen to coincide with the 11th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade. “We have been given the precious gift of human life, made more precious still by our births in or pilgrimages to a land of freedom. It is fitting, then, on the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade that struck down State anti-abortion laws, that we reflect anew on these blessings, and on our corresponding responsibility to guard with care the lives and freedoms of even the weakest of our fellow human beings.” (excerpt taken from here)

This is something that, until recently, I did not fully comprehend.  I know what you are thinking: it’s when the kids came home & you became a family & the magical-roller-coaster of our family began…wish I was more mature & could say yes that is when the realization hit, but it happened last week.  One of my very dearest friends announced that she is pregnant.

I had wanted to be pregnant since the day I married my husband.  It was a desire of my heart. It was a life goal. It would justify of how I saw myself as a woman.  It would earn my spot in my marriage.  It was a way to leave a legacy. It was a way to spread my faith.  It was a blessing from God.

Then the ugly truth hit- it wasn’t going to happen.  You need to know that my husband was very okay with that.  Adoption had always been a part of the plan, the long, someday-in-the-future plan, but it was there, & he never made me feel anything less than wonderful in my role in our family.  God bless him for that!  But I let the ugly truth set in because in the midst of my waiting period, God allowed my friends & family to get pregnant & have beautiful, wonderful babies.  Deep down, I was so happy that God chose to bless them with children, but at the same time trapped in my own bitterness, jealousy, & the inconvenience of my circumstances that I had to distance myself.  I didn’t want my stench of ugly to ruin their joy.

Then we brought the kids home, & I became so focused on the new aspects of our life that I didn’t have a chance for jealousy to set in, but I wondered if it was still there.  I have a beautiful family, more that I could ever imagine, but had I given up the feeling of “failing as a woman” deep inside?

Then we were blind-sided. We were at our friend’s house celebrating his birthday with friends & family, and it became time for presents.  He opened up his gifts & then a family member became very concerned about getting the video camera to work, which I didn’t get because there was only one present left, and it wasn’t even for the birthday boy!  They slid it over to my friend’s mom & dad, and asked them to open up a late Christmas present. Inside were some very precious baby booties, & her mom looked up and asked, “Are you pregnant?”  His wife replied, “yes”, and the hugging began.

I sat at the opposite end of the table overrun with emotions, but for once, my vision wasn’t clouded by bitterness. I could hardly hold it together because I finally got it.    Joy came tumbling out, & I understood how a single baby can change every feeling in a person.  Unspeakable joy that still leaves me in tears, even while I type.

I was so trapped in my circumstance that I didn’t allow the miracle of life to penetrate my heart & open it up to the joy that it is.  I wish I could tell you that I had been better & realized this before our adoption was made complete, but God saw my struggle & filled those holes in my heart (apparently there were 5 of them).  I wish I would have been strong enough to revel in my friends’ & family’s amazing news because I robbed myself of unspeakable joy.  I see that now on the other side.

Oh, United States! Take off your bitter glasses, your unfair circumstances, your inconvenience, and your honor of the politically correct, and begin to value life.  We can’t choose which lives are worth it. It must be all of them.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:34-35

At the dinnermesa,


Push Came to Shove…

Well, I come to the interwebs a little embarrassed tonight…

I try to live consistently with my beliefs such that I don’t ever appear to be hypocritical or have to take back things I’ve said. However, yesterday presented me with a situation in which two of my principles were at odds with one another… principles I have blogged about previously:

1. I will take care of my family and keep them safe.

2. I will avoid debt at all costs.

The situation that created the dilemma was Maroon 5, (AKA – Ottobus) our 2006 Ford Van, dying.

I saw the writing on the wall and was already thinking about what we would do when it did finally bite the dust, but I was hoping to limp along with it for another year or so. My master plan was to finish paying off our adoption expenses in March and immediately build a war-chest so that we could buy a more reliable car about this time next year. Maroon 5 forced my hand.

I believe that Ford makes a pretty decent car, but I think we just got a lemon. We purposely bought that car in April of 2012 for our children. It was six years old, but it had low miles, and we could definitely afford it.  We wrote a check for it, which was great to do. It was the vehicle that we first rode home as a family. It was the car that we have have gone everywhere as a family since we have been a family. For those reasons it was very special to us.

However, as the months ticked by, we had lots of little problems. Within 3 months of owning the car, we got our first “Check Engine” light. The following year and a half, we had 4 more “Check Engine” lights, one of which is chronicled in this blog post. Over time, I slowly pumped in a lot of my personal time and money to keep that car running. The engine computer was replaced. The alternator was replaced. The fuel filter was replaced. I ran full synthetic oil in it, but changed the oil out on a non-synthetic schedule. Factoring in purchase price, fuel costs, maintenance, and insurance, the van was costing me about $1.50 per mile to operate with me doing 75% of the labor. I kept hoping that we would find the knee of that curve and start to see operating costs go down at some point, but stuff kept breaking. We just really needed to keep it going another year to make my plans work.

Yesterday, while at work, I get a call from a panicked wife telling me “it’s doing it again.” This time, Maroon 5 let us know it meant business by skipping the “check engine” light, and going straight to the picture of the crescent wrench!

I came home fully prepared to spend a very cold evening underneath Maroon 5, dropping the gas tank or changing out the pressure sensor on the engine… whatever was my best guess (both were listed as probable causes for the indicator I was receiving). I even got into my nasty crotch-ripped pants, and my big grey oil-stained sweat-shirt. As I was changing, I asked Beth a series of questions… What was it doing? When did it start? How did it act? In the midst of this back an forth, I asked another question that was both on and off topic at the same time: “Do you have confidence that this van can get us to Pennsylvania and back this summer for our big road trip?” Her answer echoed what I was thinking: NO! It was becoming clear to us, that our car could no longer meet our needs.

Every extra dollar we have is going to pay off the adoption, and, as previously mentioned, it is almost finished. We will be doing a happy dance in March as the repo man can’t ever take the kiddies back (Wasn’t there a Forest Whitaker movie like that a few years ago?) Because of our aggressive plans at retiring debt, we didn’t have the war-chest to buy a car outright like we planned for next year. My family needed a reliable car, and the only way I can give it to them was to finance a new (to us) one.

I don’t know if a lot of people find their principles at odds with one another, but I sure did in this moment. I sat and tried to exhaust every other idea I could, searching for a way to have consistency between my words and my actions, but it was clear something was going to have to give. I had to weigh the two principles I had, and maintain the one with the highest priority – Providing for my family.

So, I got a car loan, for the first time in four years. It still makes me sick to think I was less than 2 months from not owing anyone except the mortgage company, and now I am saddled up with another debt… Beth and I will still have to say no to a bunch of things, and keep working as hard as we have the past two years for a little while longer, but I guess it’s OK.

Things don’t go to plan. Life gets in the way. I had all of these excellent plans to get out of debt, get a few bucks in the bank, tear down my barns, build bigger ones, sit back and relax, and not have to depend on God so much (sarcasm intended)! I also wanted to be a person of integrity and do what I said I would do: avoid debt at all most costs. It’s a little bit of pride, and it’s a little bit of just wanting more control in my life. I hope I made the right decision. As much as I am sickened by the year-long consequence of my decision yesterday, I think I did.

The good news is, I got a new car attached to that car loan… and not a moment too soon. The old Ford died as I pulled into the dealership… I had to push it into a parking spot with the help of the lady that sold me my Toyota Tacoma (with twice as many miles and only one problem in seven years), and the Toyota Matrix that we would still be driving if it would fit 7 people. This time, she sold me a Nissan NVP. Yes. We are back to having an all Japanese fleet again!

Is it an SUV? Is it a van?

Is it an SUV? Is it a van?

It's a box on wheels.

It’s a box on wheels.

What Darth will see at least twice a day from now on.

What Darth will see at least 45 minutes a day… This is her spot.

Slidey door view... for the tight parking spots we have to put these whales in, it's nice to have a slidey door.

Slidey door view… for the tight parking spots we have to put these whale-sized cars in, it’s nice to have a slidey door.

The piece of mind of having two reliable cars is nice, and the kids are fans. They told me they named it this evening. It is “Jerry” named after their favorite cartoon rat. They also told me it was married to my pickup which does have a lady’s name: Molly.  That’s good… the two of them will be spending the next ten years together in wedded bliss in our driveway if I can keep these plans! We’ll see.

At the dinnermesa,