Last week Emma’s dad asked his daughter if her little half brother could sleepover our house. It was something that was discussed for months and now he was cashing in his ticket.

So last Friday Emma’s little brother stayed over our house. To just be frank, it was really cute. He arrived around 5:30 and he had no idea that his parents weren’t staying over our house as well. It was a big shock to him, and a happy one at that.

Emma is catching up with her dad and Max’s mom, and all she can see in her peripheral vision is Max pacing around with his hands behind his back. You remember the feeling when you were dropped off at a play date or sleepover, but your parents wouldn’t just leave? You just wanted to get the party started. You wanted the freedom. The lack of watchful parental eyes is almost more alluring than hanging out with friends or family.

Max’s parents finally leave and the kid immediately goes into his audition for The Flash. The young man bolts towards the office and immediately looks at the gaming systems that Emma and I own. While I own a Steamdeck, we are old school when it comes to consoles; Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, GameCube and PS2.

Yes, let the nostalgia punch you in the face.

Max bounces back and forth between these gaming systems like a racquet ball being palleted and ricocheted across all possible walls. He always starts with Super Nintendo and a 2D scroller. Frustration is somewhat apparent in this game, but Max was playing this game with his brother Stephan so they were bonding when one got past a level. However, when Stephan had to begin cooking dinner with Emma, the patience began to wain.

This is when I got home. I got a high five and then immediately asked if I wanted to play. I hadn’t even taken off my backpack yet. I hopped on for a celeb appearance but I needed some time decompress. During this time Max asked to go onto the GameCube. He wanted to play Mario Party 6, so I hooked him up with the mini games solo mood. While offering to set it up for him so he had a chance to win, he took the controller back and set the computer level to “Normal.” This was not the right move. He played like three mini games and then switched it up.

Max loves to just pull games out and not properly eject, turn off, or reset the systems. It is painful to watch. Emma and I wince every time we see him try to do it right, but inevitably fail. He is only eight, he doesn’t know how delicate these systems are. I was shocked that he know the old school way of blowing out the dust on the bottom of the cartridges. That is something i thought only people born in the 90s and laters knew.

But back to the changing games, it got really dicey when I plugged in the PS2. He was bored, and looking for a game. All Max wanted to do was play with people, but I was exhausted, Emma didn’t want to play, and Stephan was deserving of rest after entertaining Max before I got there. Also, at this point when I am setting up the PS2, we had already had dinner. Smashburgers, hot dogs, corn on the cob, chips and salsa. Classic Americana.

I think if there were three foods I could enter for a competitive food competition, it would be chips & salsa, corn on the cob, and rice. Fucking love those foods man.

Anyway. Back to the tale at hand.

It is around 8 PM and the Celtics are in a battle with the Philadelphia 76ers. At this point it is game three, a very pivotal game. While the game is on in the adjourning room, I am dusting off (literally) the PS2 and getting all the necessary wires and convertors to set it up. I was having a devil of a time because Max had created a wire ball that made me twitch with uncontrollable frustration. We told him to wrap up all the controllers he had used before playing the PS2, and he just wrapped them all up together.

Anyway, I get the PS2 set up and I put one of two games that Emma and I have. I put in Simpson’s Road Rage. A perfectly fine, entertaining one player game that should occupy him for at least 20 minutes. That is the rotation we are working with here. Max doesn’t understand the concept of braking so Emma, Stephan and I are giggling at him running over Flanders approximately two dozen times.

It is about 8:30 PM. It is almost halftime of the basketball game, but we are just reaching peak Max hyper focus time. He picks up the other PS2 game. Kingdom Hearts.

Now I have never played Kingdom of Hearts, but Emma and Stephan have and they love it. When the game gets plugged in, Emma is VERY vocal about making sure her brother helps Max NOT save over any progress she made back in the day. Emma loves this game, but she never finished it, and that is a topic for another day.

Max is immediately enthralled by Kingdom Hearts. You could tell in his eyes, and how quiet he was. I don’t think he had ever had a game where he made choices that directly affected his character. You have to choose your strength (he chose warrior) and your weakness (he chose magic).

The really cute part was that during the beginning of the game the main character is asked What do you hold dearest? (I am paraphrasing) and there are three options. One of them was “prized possessions”, another was “being number one” but Max chose friendship. That was really cute.

Then came this absolute heart breaker: What are you so afraid of? There are three options: getting old, being different, and being indecisive. Emma, Stephan and I were in the living room watching the TV with bated breath to see what he chose. He hovered over being different, before going down and picking being indecisive. It was a moment into a young kid’s soul that you don’t normally get to see.

For the next two hours, Max is absolutely locked into Kingdom Hearts. He takes down the shadow monster and then begins exploring the island. The game is probably a bit over his head, but that is okay. It is a learning experience for him. It is one of those things where Max needs to work through things instead of just backing away when he doesn’t know.

This is one thing that video games can teach people. You need to learn with failure. If I am being honest, that is something that Max needs to work on a little bit. You can’t die and then want to move on right away. You can get frustrated, but that frustration has to be channelled properly.

Now this is me talking. Not a parent of a child. Not a master of psychology. I am just talking about what I learned while playing video games.

So here comes bed time. The Celtics won and the living room was vacated for Max to fall asleep. It was definitely past his bed time, but that is what sleepovers are for. I probably helped his hyper focus by feeding Max cookies and used that as a reason to have more cookies so there were just a lot of cookies eaten that night.

Max may be the messiest eater of all time. We charred corn on the grill for dinner and it looked like he had stepped out of a coal mine after eating in. Then the cookies, he at it as if he was a chipmunk nibbling on a sidewalk snack that he had stolen from a picnic. The tiniest mouse bites of all time. Tiny bites result in a ton of crumbs. Vacuuming was an essential.

Anyway, besides the point of that tangent, we arrive at the next day.

Actually, before that, I should point out that before I closed the bedroom door on Friday night, I told Max that if he needed anything to softly knock on the door. Now I meant anything important, like if the house was on fire or if the cat was annoying you in your sleep.

When I heard a knock on my door at 5 AM, I thought it was a clogged toilet or a I miss home moment. Nope, what I got was “Can you change the PS2 to GameCube on the TV? I want to play Lord Of The Rings.”

Now, who am I to be the one to deny a young mind the beautiful world of pixelated Lord Of The Rings? Surely I wouldn’t do that.

Now the responsible part of my brain that was not triggered, but should have been, could have told Max to go back to bed for a little while. But Max had been up since 4 AM, so he told me. He was playing Simpsons Road Rage but was ready to switch it up.

Can you think back to when you were a young child staying over a place that wasn’t your own house? You wouldn’t waste any moment possible. You would play all the video games possible. You would watch all the TV you weren’t allowed to. You would gobble up all the cookies you could possibly imagine. Max was living the eight year old dream. He was going through all of the crazy emotions of freedom and euphoria.

So I set him up on Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers. He wants to start a new game, so he does. Starting fresh. He is asking me all these questions about attacks, blocking and he is just mashing the A button for all of its worth. Max had a hard time grasping on the ranged weapons aspect of the controls. Doing two buttons at once while aiming the joy stick was throwing his brain into a pretzel.

So Max died. At this point it is like 5:45 or 6, and he looks at me and he wants breakfast. I am like son, I need some coffee, so lets go have some breakfast. I heat him up some croissants, he helps me feed the cat, and we sit down at the kitchen table….for about 30 seconds. Turns out Max eats croissants faster than you can blink. His little nibbles act like a snowblower on a ski lift when it comes to buttery pastries.

While we were eating our speed run breakfast, Max asked me to teach home about switching the cables so he wouldn’t have to ask me anymore. A very noble gesture. So with fresh caffeine in my belly I explain the simplicity of RCA wires, and skip the concept of 720 vs. 1080 depending on the system. Max was most fascinated by the two different audio cables compared to the yellow video cable. He was captivated by it.

While I am finishing up setting up everything, Max grabs another game and so we begin with X-Men: Legends. That lasted about 10 minutes before he died. He struggled with the whole health concept and dodging attacks. Enemies that fire back at you is still something new that Max is getting used to.

Time passes, I go lay in bed with Emma and the cat for a bit, and then another knock occurs on at our door. Now is time for everyone to get up. Max walks over and he wants to play Kingdom Hearts, but Emma does the good sister thing and gets Max to calm down about the video games and walk around a bit. He is asking her when his parents are coming while saying also that they said he can stay with us all weekend and he is never going home.

Max’s mom came to pick him up around 9 AM, and for the 30 minutes before her arrival Emma and I had to fight off constant requests for Max to take home the PS2. He really does love the Kingdom Hearts game, even thought he needs help a bit understanding where he must go to accomplish some missions.

But in terms of this sleepover with Max, it was a successful mission. Max had a blast and he got to experience a sleepover of his dreams playing video games non stop. Stephan got to cook for everyone and he taught Max some things on video games and was his gregarious self. Emma got to be with her family and could spend time with Max in her own home, and knowing your younger brothers wants to stay with you because he likes you is a loving thing. And I had a good time teaching Max about setting up video games and hanging out with the family that I will be marrying into.

It was a damn good night.

P.S. If you are Max’s parents, don’t read this, but Max said a curse word. A little “What The Hell?” when the cat did something weird. My eyeballs grew and my ears perked out. This is funny because Emma asked him what his favorite bad word was when he first arrived on Friday and he told her “Lame.”

P.S.S. Stephan, if you are reading this. And Emma too. We know what the Simpsons Road Rage memory card file save name was. We had a huge laugh.

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