I heard Colleen Wares on WTCM Newstalk 580 talking about Pokémon Go on the radio a week or so after it came out. She was looking for answers. I had answers. In the form of my 13-year-old son, named Kendall.
I emailed her. I was going on the next day for GTWoman, but did she want an expert on another topic as well? No, not an adult. Instead, a real-life user and his beautiful mother. Yes! She was enthusiastic.
It was the beginning of my first-ever Pokémon Go outing.
We started the morning at WTCM at 7 a.m.
Kendall put on the headphones and Colleen fired one question after another at him, which he handled easily with the flair of someone who doesn’t realize it’s live radio even though it is.
But when she pointed out all the stories about users going crazy over the game, the trespassing, the accidents, the mob mentality, I held my breath. What would Kendall say?
But I didn’t have to worry. He came back with a simple answer: “There’s nothing wrong with the game… the only thing wrong with it is the people using it.”
There was silence in the studio. As they say, “out of the mouths of babes”! We all had to laugh when we went off the air.
We left the station a half-hour later to head out on a Pokémon hunt. And before we even had a chance to move the car, Kendall let out a whoop.
There was a Rattata in the car.
“IN the car?” I asked. I was skeptical. From where I sat, I could see only “Reverse” and a tangle of hair ties.
“There, Mom, on your lap! Hold out your hands!”
Because I was parked safely (unlike some Pokémon hunters), I complied.
Kendall changed his phone to camera mode and the game app will transpose the image on whatever is in your camera view. So he pointed the camera at me. I held out my hands. Yes, I had a Rattata (transposed!) on my hands now!
He snapped a picture, “threw” a Poké Ball at it, “caught” it and we admired the picture and points acquired.
Video games may be the bane of parents everywhere, but this particular game can only be played outside of the house, where virtual Pokémon are found all over the world. It’s one of the first of its kind and is causing quite a stir: A game that isn’t played on the couch. Mothers everywhere aren’t sure if they should ban it or play it.
How it works is that the players open the Pokémon Go app on their phones and off they go on a giant scavenger hunt. Players might find the creatures in the mall, in their yard or in my lap. Their phones vibrate when there is a Pokémon nearby or they can use a map that shows different Pokémon “stops” (for example, the sign in a park might be a “stop”—they can tap on it and earn game items.). Sure, they spend a lot of time looking down at their phones, but there are also long, glorious stretches of just walking, because walking 5k or 10k distances hatches Pokémon eggs—a game that rewards movement! (Let’s not talk about the kids tying their phone to their dogs’ collar or electric trains.)
And so there we sat in the car, me celebrating the marvels of technology, when Kendall asked me the key question: “Will you go for a walk with me?”
When was the last time my teenager asked me to go for a walk? It is far more likely that I would ask him to go for a walk and then lure him into going using his dog Cookie.
Off we went, walking in downtown Traverse City on a Pokémon hunt.
First, we headed down to the bay. It was 8 a.m. and I was along the beach on a beautiful July morning, the water perfectly still, with Kendall. The game was earning major mom points now.
We headed to the pier, a spot loaded with Pokémon, according to my expert companion. I didn’t really care what the reason was. I wasn’t home doing dishes or laundry or litter boxes. I was out in the fresh air, walking the pier, admiring boats and listening to Kendall explain the difference between a Meowth and a Squirtle.
We sat on the bench at the end of the pier. Kendall was having a blast. He caught about a million Pokémon in the five minutes we sat there, and I enjoyed the wind in my hair.
I forgot for a moment that we were playing the game at all. It was a moment of mother-son harmony, where we were both quite pleased with ourselves. Me, with my hair. Him, with his Pokémon.
When it was time to move on, the day was still new and most of the world wasn’t even at work yet. Downtown TC would be ours for the taking, void of anything but imaginary creatures with odd names. We hit Front, then Cass, then Park.
That’s when I saw them. There, on the corner, another mom and her son.
“Pokémoning?” I asked, very in-the-know.
“Yes,” she demurred, also very in-the-know.
We exchanged looks of sheer pleasure.
We left them and moved on; this time it was my turn to try the game. I figured out how to get a picture of a Pidgey sitting on Kendall’s shoulder. Forget all the angst of my 7th grade photography class and those B&W shots of my cat Farlie. That shot of Pidgey on Kendall’s shoulder was award-winning stuff, the best of my career.
When we got home, Kendall immediately booked his Mom/Pokémon chauffeur for the next day.
Again, it turned out to be a pretty summer day. The breeze was in my hair, and even if he was half ignoring me, he wasn’t half ignoring me any more than usual.
Kendall’s younger brother, Nelson, was riding his bike next to us and begging to do something else. Again, the norm. It was a great time. And we got an ice cream while hunting (caught a Weedle near the counter). What a lovely day.
We’ve even taken this show on the road. When we vacationed in Lake Placid in August, we waylaid a few Pikachus in the Adirondacks over the fire pit.
Since that day on the radio, one thing has become clear: Despite the negative press, Pokémon Go is bonding mothers and children everywhere. For players too young to drive, their mothers hold the (car) keys to the (Pokémon) universe.
Enjoy it, moms, for our glory days are here again.
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