When my firstborn was a few months old, we went to dinner at a new acquaintance’s house. It was a family with older children, ranging from elementary students to teenagers. As a new mother, I noticed many things about the home and emotional environment that I wanted to emulate – happy kids, loving parents, celebration of creativity, etc. One particular exchange stood out to me between the mother and her son. He was showing her some Pokemon cards and explaining about all the different characters and she was listening with great interest, asking questions, responding in a way that showed him she was paying attention. I remember thinking, “How can she care about Pokemon?” and then realizing that she probably didn’t care at all about Pokemon, but she cared about her son and wanted him to feel valued. I was so affected by it that I resolved to be that kind of mom when my son was older.
And now that my kids are older, I am so not that mom. I am the anti-That Mom. I have become the kind of mom who says, “Are you talking to me about video games? Because I don’t want to hear about any video games,” or “I have reached my limit on the Rhett & Link trivia. Let’s choose a different subject,” or “Can we PLEASE drive ten minutes without talking about Pokemon?”
I’ve realized that I am happy to listen to my boys talk about subjects that interest me, but when they enter the zone of Things I Consider a Waste of Time: 1.Video Games, 2.YouTube videos, and 3.Pokemon, a.k.a. The Only Subjects My Boys Talk About, I tend to just shut them down. Sometimes, on a good day, I manage to respond with a distant, “Oh, really? Huh. That’s cool,” without actually listening to what they’re saying. But on my less patient days, I cut them off or ask them to change the subject, sending the message to my children that I just don’t care about what they have to say. And I’m ashamed that I’ve let it become such a pattern that they don’t even act surprised when I do it. I feel like I’ve failed at the one specific goal I remember making those first few months of being a parent.
This summer, we went on a trip just as one of the boys had downloaded a new Pokemon game. We were amazed that all of them were interested in this game (even the 16-year-old). They had to work out a system so everyone would get a turn and when they weren’t playing it, they were constantly talking about it or looking over the current player’s shoulder.
It was excruciating for us to sit in the front seat of the car and listen to the discussions, (“Psychic blah blah evolves blah blah super effective against yaddah yaddah rock type against electric type blah blah legendary BLAH BLAH BLAH…”) but neither my husband nor I wanted to interrupt them because they weren’t fighting. They were all getting along – all four of them AT THE SAME TIME. This never happens. I realized that as much as I hate listening to kids talk about Pokemon, I can’t deny there’s something about it that they value. And that’s when I realized it was time for me to learn about Pokemon.
My Pokemon training began two weeks ago. When I asked my boys to get me started, their individual responses revealed a lot about their different personalities. My 5-year-old (Fritz) started by giving me multiple choice quizzes: “Mom, what’s more effective against fire type? Rock type, water type or electric type?” My 10-year-old grabbed my phone and started downloading a game on it without even asking first. My 14-year-old, the most organized, googled a chart for me which divided the characters into different regions, types, effectiveness, etc. My 16-year-old, who considers himself above it all said, “All you need to know about Pokemon is that it’s just glorified dog fighting.”
All the information was too overwhelming, so I just asked specific questions, starting from the most basic. Fritz and my second son answered them very clearly – so clearly, in fact, that it was obvious to me that Fritz had already worked these questions out in his mind enough to give me very reasonable answers. I had always assumed that when he played with the older brothers, they were just humoring him, but he seemed to be able to hold his own in our Q and A session.
Fritz approaches Pokemon as an educational experience. Like his brothers were at his age, he’s more interested in non-fiction books than stories. He loves learning about animals and remembering facts about their habitats and food preferences. As we watched Pokemon together, I realized he’s just transferring that same interest in actual creatures to fictional ones. He once asked me to pull up a new show on Netflix because he needed to learn about all the Pokemon. In other words, he doesn’t see the shows as entertainment but as a form of research.
I was watching one of the shows with him and was thinking how annoying it is that the only sounds the Pokemon make are their own name. I mean come on, a cow says “moo” not “Cowcow COW cow.” But Pikachu says “Pika…Pikachu.” It was really driving me crazy. As if he was reading my mind at that moment, Fritz turned and explained to me, “The Pokemon only say their own names. That’s how you know what they are called.” And then it made perfect sense. How else are these kids supposed to recognize and learn the names of all 718 characters?
I know I’ll never be able to keep track of all the Pokemon, but I did make an effort. I studied them all on pokemon.com and tried to absorb the information but it all became a bit of a blur in my mind. If you’re new to this whole world, I don’t want to overload you with too many facts, but here’s a sampling of what I consider to be the most notable creatures.
In my opinion, the cutest Pokemon are (L to R) Ditto, Espurr, Furret and Piloswine. Seriously, Piloswine is so super cute.
The Pokemon that make me think, “Huh?” are: Lickitung (Wouldn’t it trip over that tongue?), Sudowoodo (What? I don’t get it.), Mr. Mime (Why does it bother me so much that his fingers are all the same size?), and Probopass (I just…huh?).
The most frightening Pokemon are: Mantine (because Sting Rays), Infernape (because Monkeys), Beedrill (because Bees), and Tyrogue (because icky fingers). And no, I’m not weird for thinking those things are scary.
If I had to choose the top four (only four?) Pokemon that make me say, “Well, that’s a stretch,” it would be: Bayleef (What’s that on its head?), Girafarig (What’s that on its tail?), Cofagrigus (Did they get it from a Scooby Doo episode?), and Shelmet (Gee, I wonder how they came up with that name?).
And these guys just creeped me out: Lopunny (Ew), Stantler (Is that a growth? Should we get him to a vet at the Pokemon Rescue Center?), Luvdisc (Luvdisc? Am I the only one who thinks that’s weird?), and Jynx (Yikes! Nightmares!).
But I think the most awesome Pokemon are those that look like they’re on their way to audition for Jem and the Holograms: Blaziken, Entei, Zangoose, and Luxray, (“We are the Misfits, our songs are better…”).
During my weeks of intense training, I watched many Pokemon episodes (so, so many), explored the official Pokemon website, tried playing one of the video games, attempted the card game, and I’m still totally, helplessly confused. I took this quiz and got 1/20 correct.
I think my boys appreciate that I made an effort – they seemed to enjoy playing the teacher, even when (or especially when) I was clueless. I now understand more than I used to and I have a better appreciation for what my kids see in it, but I think theirs is supposed to be a world without grownups. I don’t think it’s supposed to appeal to me and I don’t think I’m supposed to get it. I’m afraid I’ll still be answering them with, “Oh, really? Huh. That’s cool,” whenever they talk to me about Pokemon from now on–not because I don’t think there’s anything to it, but because there is simply too much to it and they’ve got too much of a head start for me to ever catch up. Hopefully they’ll know that it’s not because I just don’t care. It’s because I don’t understand what the heck they’re talking about.