Teen Speak: A Translation for Beginners–On Minecraft, WOW, and Other Irritants


Teen Speak: A Translation for Beginners

(The one where I talk about gaming and its continued annoyance in my otherwise perfect life)

The other day when my computer refused to charge, I used Mancub’s. As I booted it up, the computer itself seemed to cringe a little, as if wary of the new user. It was probably still hung over from last night’s Mine Craft marathon.  Immediately I was inundated with Minecraft world info…New Mods! New Servers! New Videos about the new mods and new servers! I felt like I was being yelled at by shifty carnies at the fair–my tactic is to avoid eye contact but that doesn’t matter here.  Dear Parent, if you have not heard of MineCraft, then you can just count your lucky stars. It’s one of the biggest time wasters on the entire planet. Picture everything you like about Facebook, then turn the resolution WAY down so everything looks like grainy legos. Then turn it down even more.

MineCraft itself is a world of its own. Remember how people talked about WOW? When I was taking Latin, there was this girl who sat next to me, so very confident in her Latin abilities (she was really good–I was unashamedly embarrassed of her translating skills) that she actually brought her laptop into class and played WOW during lecture. I cornered her after class and said, “Look, we’re all just thrilled to death that Latin, to you, is akin to a Dora the Explorer episode, but if you ever bring that to class again, I am going to totally rat you out. Count on it.” Mine Craft is similar to WOW in that it’s always new and exciting, and creative “mods” are introduced practically on an hourly basis, written by unwashed men who live in their mother’s basement and are far more acquainted with their online friends than annoying people IRL (in real life, for those of you who don’t know). The biggest problems on Mine Craft? People slowing down the server, the server being “down” (what will happen to our sheep??????), creepers (bad guys), and griefers (those who pillage the Mine Craft world, unfairly stealing from others who have also sat unwashed tinkering with one thing or another until they have the perfect sheep breeder or whatever. Coupled with the fact that people can actually talk to others who share their obsession AND watch hours of videos about the fascinating world of blurred legos, it can become quite a problem. Left unchecked, sleep, hygiene and skin tone can indeed suffer. When my boys play too long, they get sucked into the MC world and the real world seems…less fun.

Anyway, when I was using Nate’s computer, I was listening to music so I put on his headphones which are perfectly adapted to completely tuning out my voice unless the words “Hey….food” are heard. The Engineer comes in (he is similarly afflicted with the MIneCraft Virus) and asks me a question.

“What?” I say, much louder than necessary.

“I said, are we going to lunch?”

“Oh,” I pretend to deliberate. “I’m sorry–I didn’t hear you. I’m Mine Crafting.”

Lee is not impressed.

“Reallllly?” He says.

“Yeah. I was just talking to my friend Wart, who lives in Sarasota. We’re both sick and tired of Sasquatch29 griefing our turf. We’re trying to get him banned from the server.”

“Oh,” Lee says, trying not to grin at my completely lame attempt to speak nerd.

“Good luck with that.”

There are things you can do, dear parent. You can install a timer that shuts down the computer after a certain amount of screen time. I let Mancub play for 3 hours a day during break, only after he’s done a list of chores I’ve given him. Then, if he wants more time he has to earn it. How? By doing more chores or READING A BOOK. I took care to choose books I thought he’d like, including Ender’s Game and Divergent. It’s tough competition against a backdrop of lego pig farms, but it’s a cross he’s got to bear.


Conversations With Mancub

Mancub in his natural habit. He's got it pretty rough, folks. Warning: this may be hard to read, like the "Arms of an Angel" dog commercials.

Mancub in his natural habit. He’s got it pretty rough, folks.

Warning: this may be hard to read, like those “Arms of an Angel” dog commercials. Not really.

Yesterday, I made it home kind of late. After teaching my night composition class, I was hanging out with my sweet friend Katie who just had an operation in which THEY BROKE HER FACE. Actually, the doctor broke her nose in an effort to reset and repair sinus issues that have been making her miserable for years. Anyway, I showed up at her house with Tacos and Tom: the best sick buddy combo ever. Tacos from Rusty Taco and a Tom Hardy movie. In this case, Wuthering Heights with Tom as Heathcliff. And before you ask. YES she likes Tom Hardy and YES she wanted to watch it…I know some of you were thinking that this was some sort of bullying on my part because Katie was poor and helpless with her broken nose. All you naysayers can just go to h.e. double hockey sticks because she loves Tom Hardy too.

Anyway, back to Mancub. It’s his first week of summer vacation and I’m already struggling with how to keep his butt from permanently growing into his desk chair as he “catches up” for lost time (meaning the annoyance that is high school) on his favorite past time: video games. During the school year, we don’t make him clean the kitchen (his normal chore) on Wednesdays because that’s when he goes to Youth Group with Watergirl and he needs time to do his homework and practice (theoretically) his horn and do the various good Samaritan deeds he does throughout the community and his many other philanthropic pursuits. Well, here’s the rub. It’s summer–so he doesn’t really have homework. He has youth group but that’s only for a couple of hours.

I’m over at Katie’s, selflessly hanging out with my medicated friend watching Tom Hardy (hey-she would have picked it if she had a choice! I swear) on Katie’s supersoft bed in her immaculate apartment when Nate calls. He’s asking for money to go to this restaurant called the Cotton Patch tomorrow for lunch. I’ve been there: it’s ok…good not great. However, it survives in Tyler for two reasons: it’s a family restaurant that serves everything deep fried. I bet I could ask them to deep fry my sweet tea and they would.

Restaurants have a hard time surviving in Tyler unless they are pretentiously expensive and serve all manners of booze. This one restaurant called “Double D’s” caused a big ruckus when it opened across the street from the high school and next to Toys R Us. That’s just good marketing, folks. Eventually it went out of business, so then it became some kind of chicken shack and now it’s for sale again.

Mancub knows I don’t carry cash so he’s learning to plan ahead where this is concerned. Never mind that he and Watergirl just went to Chili’s earlier (with the sisters). But I stopped by the ATM for him anyway. I also stopped by and got The Engineer and I some frozen custard. I didn’t get the kids any because I’m mean.

I came in the living room with the custard and Mancub’s like, “Did you get me some?” Um, no. I’m the meanest mom around, and sometimes I gotta remind him of that. Plus he just said he was avoiding junk food for “a while.” He gets this from me. Awhile means one thing when I’m dieting and another when I’m doing something painful like watching Sci-fi.

Earlier, he and Watergirl were making juice in the kitchen. They juiced an entire pineapple, some carrots and anything else they could get their hands on.They might have considered juicing the chihuahua but he’s mostly fat pockets which is not healthy.When they were finished, Mancub left the juicer exactly the way it was and didn’t rinse anything off. He gets THAT trait from his dad. Apparently if you just leave your dishes lying around or kick off your dirty undies next to the shower, it disappears like magic–presumably by our invisible butler named Jeeves.

If you’ve never juiced before, you should know that juice pulp, when left on a juicer, takes approximately ten seconds before it magically turns into a hardened, ancient oatmeal consistency that somehow manages to become part of the molecular structure of the juicer. The pulp clings to the juicer parts like the Gosslin kids used to cling to Kate before she got the hair extensions.

“Nate. You didn’t clean the juicer.”

“Oh yeah. It’s my day off.”

“I’m sorry? Day off?” I ask, with a slight lilt in my voice that suggests that I don’t understand English.

“Yeah. Youth group day.”

“How does that translate to “I get to leave a bunch of crap for mom to clean up?” In case you really thought we had a butler named Jeeves.


“Plus, what do you do today that’s left you so exhausted? Sleeping in? Hanging out with Watergirl? Napping? Watching reruns of Avatar? Fighting off creepers in Minecraft? I know these are all extremely taxing activities but I’m gonna have to ask you to clean up that juicier.”

So he did. Call CPS if you must.

5 Easy Ways to Reconnect With Your Teen



I picked up Mancub from school the other day and I’ll just admit it: it was tense. We had an argument that morning before school and it pretty much ruined most of my day. My stomach was in knots about it and my overactive imagination was running away with me. I pictured him never speaking to me again, joining a gang and getting in a rumble downtown. That’s where rumbles happen, people.

If I didn’t nip this in the bud, we were a Lifetime Movie waiting to happen.

I asked myself why we had that conversation. Why did everything go down that way? Why did everything feel so sad, so desperate? Where did my sweet little boy go? And, perhaps more importantly, where did his patient Mama go?

With school, work, band, church–sometimes it feels like the only time we talked with each other is when I’m asking him to wash dishes or checking on his homework. That wasn’t working out so well. We needed to connect positively–to make a deliberate effort to spend time together in a non-nagging environment…STAT. I’ve been watching too much Grey’s Anatomy.

When he got in the car, I didn’t take the normal route home. I was honest–I told him our argument had bothered me all day long.

Get this: he apologized.

Afterward, we stopped by Chipotle and I bought him a giant burrito (you know the kind–it’s roughly the size of a newborn baby). There are few things besides Water Girl and Minecraft that put THAT kind of a smile on Mancub’s face, and I love that smile. It’s sort of my world. I need more of it.

I’ve experimented to find ways to reconnect with Mancub, and I hope you don’t mind if I share it here.

5 Easy Steps to Reconnect With Your Teen

1. Have a weekly lunch or dinner date, just the two of you. Here’s the kicker: let him pick the restaurant. Even if he wants to go to the greasiest hamburuger joint or the most questionable Chinese food in town, let him. His arteries won’t likely clog from this one event. Let him be the boss on this. He has so little control in most areas of his life.

2. Make him breakfast. It doesn’t have to be fancy–you don’t have to make heart-shaped crepes or anything. Rice Crispies are fine, as long as you are there. Take a minute to say hi to your sleepy Mancub–bringing a food offering is a safe way to approach him in his early morning jungle.

3. Take an intererest in his activities. Mancub plays horn in the band and if it’s at all possible, I’m there at every concert and most home ball games. I cheer at a volume that frightens flocks of birds. He knows I’m there.

4. Share your interests with him. I’m an English professor, so I love books. I have little hope of converting Mancub to enjoy love poems written by the British Romantics, but I might be able to engage him with the hottest YA titles. We are currently reading the Divergent series. I put the audiobook on the car stereo when I pick him up from school. It’s sort of the only choice. We talk about the story–try to guess the protagonist’s next move. We make fun of him/her when she screws up. It’s a good time.

Here’s the link if you don’t already have this book series.


5. If the teen won’t come to you, go to him. Sometimes I just hang out with him in his room while he’s on his computer and chat. When he asks me, “What’s up?” I just say, “Nothing. Just missing you.”

And I DON’T mention that his room resembles an Exxon bathroom. It doesn’t matter today. In the words of Scarlett O’Hara, “I’ll worry about that tomorrow.”

JOIN THE CONVERSATION: What are some easy ways you connect to your teen? Write your suggestions in the comment box below.