In a loving family, sometimes it takes an ultimatum.
Standing in front of the television screen in the universally accepted hands-on-hips-mom’s-pissed-off stance, I announce: “It’s the Wii or me.” Stunned the males I share my house with look at each other shrug, “Sorry, mom, — would you mind moving out of the way — you’re kinda blocking the field?” As I stalk away I know my husband’s mirror neuron freak out is just moments away.
For the blissfully uninitiated, the Wii is a Nintendo game system that creates a virtual game reality and allows players to feel like they are actually “playing,” in this case, international soccer, without breaking a sweat. “Players” just flip their wrist this way and that to control avatars of professional players. Brain research on mirror neurons seems to show that when a human, (say my husband), watches another human (or Avatar) do something they have already done before (play soccer and lose), their brain reacts as though they are doing it themselves: thus my husband’s predictable freak-out.
“You know it’s not real, right?” I say. My husband growls in response. The males continue shaking and swatting the Nintendo Wii video game controllers. Suddenly, the virtual FIFA crowd (Federation Internationale de Football Association — that’s international soccer league in American) and my 10-year old son cheer — his team scored another goal. My husband, who did not score, shouts expletives at “his players” and throws the sweaty Wii controller in disgust as he tries to pace our small sunroom. “Pip, pip, Mum,” chirps my son in a British accent , “Could I get a bit of tea to celebrate?” Off Wii, my husband is the, “good guy,” the kind of guy that’s everyone’s first call for help. But when it comes FIFA he’s angry and combative.
This scenario has played out in our house with various degrees of swearing, cheering, and accents since Christmas morning. While the effects of Wii FIFA on my son, seem to be the acquisition of a the virtual commentator’s British accent, and the faint dawning that his adored Dad, may be nuts; my husband has turned into the Bobby Knight of FIFA. (Luckily we have a built in window seat, no chance for a Bobby Knight chair toss.) “Mum, Dad’s in depression mode.” My son said as his dad wonders around the house after another loss. No matter how many pre-game conversations my husband and I have about sportsmanship, swearing, modeling nothing has kept the Bobby Knight of my husband’s soul at bay. As the virtual crowd starts to cheer and the commentators start to comment, my husband’s mirror neurons start to boil, “I’m behind 16 to 0 what’s not to get mad about?” “OK,” I said, “If there is ANY angry yelling or swearing FIFA is mine.” “Oh, come on!” yells, Bobby, “But, Mum!” cries my son.
Well-dressed Italians in Parma, Italy — the town that brought you good cheese — discovered mirror neurons. Brain scientists were doing an experiment with a monkey watching how particular neurons react in the monkey’s brain when the monkey picked up a peanut. One fateful day, the monkey was sitting there, still hooked up to the neuron imaging equipment, and possibly plotting his escape, when the monkey watched a possibly hungry researcher pick up the peanut. As the monkey watched the researcher do this, the monkey’s neurons fired. To the monkey’s brain the researcher picking up the peanut was as if the monkey had picked up the peanut himself. Here it was: the beginnings of mirror neuron research.
You can see mirror neurons vibrating on the sidelines of any kid’s sporting event in America. Parents like my husband, pace the sidelines, hands clasped over their mouths, banned from yelling out instructions. Parents who were, and are, amazing athletes, arms crossed over their bodies to keep control of their amped up mirror neurons yelling out encouragement, while muttering less encouraging comments to themselves, and non-athletes (like myself) chat on the sidelines and look at our watches.
Later, hoping a little cognitive behavioral knowledge will help him gain control of his emotions, I sit my husband down and play NOVA website video. “So, how do you feel about your Bobby Knightness now?” ‘That’s pretty interesting, he said, then he whispers, “Explains porn too!”
Now, when the Wii clicks on and FIFA game starts my husband’s mirror neurons are still in charge, but now Bobby Knight is yelling shitake mushrooms and Hoover dam and it makes our son laugh, “Cheerio! Pip, pip! There’s a lad, Daddy!”
Kelley Garry is a freelance writer and lives in the Lynnhurst neighborhood. Her work has appeared in many publications, including Tribune Media Service publications and the Chicago Tribune.