Playing Luigi


Feeling nostalgic one night, my boys brought their Mario Bros. Wii game out of retirement. I was delighted. Back when they were little, I would play tournaments with them and wasn’t half-bad. I was all-bad.

All four of us decided to play. My husband, Tim, was a yellow toad. Nelson, age 13, was a blue toad. Kendall, age 15, was Mario. And with unspoken consent, they gave me the Luigi character because he had the most lives in inventory. I thought they were being generous. In fact, they were being dubious.

We began. Luigi had nine, count ‘em nine, lives. Like a cat.

I assessed the lay of the land, what was ahead, what was behind, what all my buttons could do. I went to make my move and—

8 lives to go. 

It turns out you die if you’re too slow and get left behind. Who leaves behind their mother?

Never mind. If they wanted to treat me like an equal, all the better. I was honored to be chosen to go on this journey through Bowser’s Castle with them. Even if it was surrounded by chomping sharks. On leashes that were a little longer than they looked.

7 lives to go. 

I was a little shaken at this point. Two lives in under 20 seconds. My stock was in high demand. I needed to get serious about what every button meant on my controller. I figured out I could press “1” to RUN… and that I should.

6 lives to go.

Another handy button was the “A.” When you press it, you go into a protective bubble and can float through the game until someone pops it and lets you back in the game. It’s good to use if another (better) player can get through a hard section. You float behind in your bubble and then get let out of your bubble safely on the other side.

But everyone was shouting, “MOM, GET IN YOUR BUBBLE.” All the time.

I decided to do as I was told (for once) and floated over the scene while the other three cleared fireballs and DryBones skeletons and some other crazy stuff.

By the time they let me out of my bubble, I was eager to prove myself. I pressed “1” to run to keep up with the gang. I was on fire. But then Mario stopped. And I did not.

I pushed us all off a cliff.

5 lives to go.

“MOM, GET IN YOUR BUBBLE,” was now the cry of the game. But why? I had only accidentally killed one of them so far.

“I’m not going in my bubble,” I said. “I’d rather die trying.”

“Mom, no!” they cried as I went over another cliff.

4 lives to go.

Suddenly, in the next level, I got very, very good. The goal was to catch something called a “Nabbit.” I knew how to press “1” and run so fast and jump and spin and launch over everything, and I did. AND I WON.

“I got the Nabbit,” I shouted, wild with joy.

“Mom,” Mario said, “I got him. You’re dead.”

As it turned out, I was Luigi but I had started following Mario with my eyes. Mario became me, and I became Mario. Everything I did with my controller translated into a gorgeous level of play for Mario that I’d never been able to do before. Or ever, as it turned out.

Luigi was not even on the screen.

Oh, wait. There he was, floating in his bubble.

This might have caused extreme embarrassment for most mothers. Not me. I was impressed with myself for even thinking I could play that well.

3 lives to go.

My next three lives went rather quickly. I spent a lot of time in my bubble and a lot of time shouting at my children that I didn’t want to go in my bubble.

But every time I got out of my bubble, I bounced on one of their heads or knocked them off a cloud or let a Yoshi horse-thing get away.

Even worse was if a special power came up and I got it instead of one of the other three players. Then they would all shout at the “waste” of it.

The end game

I’m sure you’re thinking: Look at the abuse they are piling on their sweet, lovable mother. And one willing to get on a video game of all things!

Correct. I was being thoroughly abused.

And I loved it. The boys were laughing and shouting. One of them took a swing at me (so, so tenderly) and the other fell out of his chair to his knees begging me to stop trying.

It was so fun. The harder I played, the harder they begged me not to. And I was playing super hard. Really, I was. But I didn’t care how it went.

Because unlike the video games I used to play, I kept getting lives no matter what I did. Those kids have it so easy! Gone are the days of three Pac-Man lives for a quarter. I could fall off cliffs and go into bubbles any number of times. It really only frustrates everyone else around me.

In fact, that gives me an idea. I should challenge them to Pac-Man. Yes, that’s it! I know I can beat them without bubbles and with just three lives. Unless I forget, get excited and think I’m one of the ghosts.

This was my motherhood column for the GTWoman Mar/April 2018 issue. The full issue is here.