One weekend late last spring, there was a little bit of a breakdown. Actually, I was the one who broke down as I struggled to resolve one of those inevitable life issues that seem to have no simple or satisfactory answer. I’d become preoccupied by stress and despite my efforts to mask my emotions, I could tell that my daughters were worried.
To assuage their concern, I called a Girls’ Powwow–our name for the special meetings we hold when one of us has something important to discuss. As we sat around the kitchen table, I reassured my daughters that everything was okay, that my emotional roller coaster had nothing to do with them. I explained that I was struggling with some difficult problems, but reassured them that they needn’t worry or feel responsible for my stress. I apologized for not having a better handle on my mental state.
As I spoke, they listened carefully and nodded their heads with empathy. When I’d run out of explanation, there was a long pause. Just as I was about to adjourn our meeting, Emma, who’s twelve, said thoughtfully, “I think what you are going through is kind of like that game Pac-Man.”
It was such an unexpected response that I actually laughed–temporarily bumped out of my tight spin of stress. Although I couldn’t see how a video game and my current situation were in any way related, one rule of our Girls’ Powwow was that we offer and accept advice from each other while dropping our roles of mother, daughter, and sister. I composed myself and asked, “How so?”
“Well, in Pac-Man there’s a maze that you have to go through–that maze is like your life. While you move through the maze, you eat these little round dots that help you earn points.” Emma paused to see if I was following along.
“Okay, I got it,” I said, nodding.
Carefully, she continued. “So sometimes as you go through the maze, there are these bad things that come and try to get you.”
“The colored ghosts,” explained her eight-year-old sister helpfully.
“Right,” said Emma. “So these ghosts try to get you and bring you down. And that’s what’s going on with you right now. The ghosts have you trapped in a corner.” She offered me a small sad smile. “That happens sometimes in life.”
Her sister nodded her head with solemn sympathy.
“But,” said Emma. “There are also these big dots.”
“The big dots are good,” interjected Clara happily.
“When you eat a big dot you suddenly have more power. Then instead of the ghosts trying to get you, you can get them.” Emma leaned forward. “Those big dots are your support. They are everything you believe in and everyone that believes in you. They are what is positive about you and your life.” Emma’s voice sounded grown up and strong with conviction. “When you eat a big dot then you can bring down the ghosts instead of letting the ghosts get you.”
Emma reached across the table and squeezed my hand. “You have to focus on those big dots, Mom. If you do that, you’ll be okay.”
Her sister came and wrapped her arms around me and whispered, “You can do it, Mom. Just think about the big dots.”
As I absorbed their words of encouragement, I realized that my daughters had seen what I had not. I’d become so entangled in my problems that I’d let myself get surrounded and cornered by the ghosts. I’d forgotten everything that was beautiful, positive, and steady in my life. I’d even turned my back on those who were trying to support me.
After our talk, I found a Pac-Man game on the Internet and played a few rounds. At first, I wasn’t very good, but with a little bit of practice, I developed techniques that kept those ghosts from catching me. I found that it helped to stay loose and to avoid letting panic get the upper hand, no matter how many ghosts where chasing me through the maze. And the girls were right. The most important strategy was to aim for the big dots as often as possible.
Of course, I know that life is more complicated than a game of Pac-Man, but I did notice a positive shift when I began to apply a few video game tactics to my problems. Instead of letting the difficulties of life keep me cornered, I played a little smarter by tapping into resources that supported and empowered me. By embracing all that is good about me and acknowledging the blessings in my life for what they are, I neutralized those thoughts that were keeping me trapped in a stressful situation. If nothing else, it helped to realize that these challenges I was facing were just part of the game–part of the journey through the maze.
Thankfully, soon after that emotional weekend, life turned around. My path became clear, and the stress that held me hostage suddenly disintegrated. A sense of ease was once again restored to our household. Of course, it could just be a coincidence of timing, that I would have found the answers I needed even without my daughters’ advice at our girls’ powwow, but I don’t think so. Instead, I think for this round, I needed a good dose of creative twelve-year-old wisdom, a few online games of Pac-Man, and a whole lot of big dot focus.