Very few things in life can be predicted with 100% certainty, however in addition to death and taxes, I’d like to add the following to that category:

  • The probability that I will eat cake if it’s within 5 feet of me
  • The likelihood that I will join the slowest checkout line at the supermarket
  • The chances of Americans asking me, since we moved to the UK 10 years ago, if my kids have British accents (they don’t)

 I also remember, after I gave birth to each subsequent child, being predictably asked, “So how has it been going from one kid to two? Two to three? Three to four?”. That train never came late. 

But for me, the biggest adjustment was going from zero to one.  New motherhood felt like getting run over by a truck.  Then reversed over by the same truck. It was nothing like in the diaper and formula commercials I saw on TV.  I looked and felt like hell. I wasn’t prepared for the all-consuming nature of my new job. Eventually I found my stride and by the time my daughter was born less than 2 years later, the transition was smoother.  And smoother, still, when my next son arrived 2 years after that, and when the final jump from 3 to 4 happened (guess how many years later…. Correct, 2.  It makes remembering their ages so much easier) I thought “I’ve got this.”.  

The thing about having 4 kids so close together is that they go through the stages of life at the same time. The diaper/bottle/stroller stage ended abruptly and was unceremoniously replaced by the school days. Just as I was getting into the homework and after school activities groove, the high school/teenage years came in like a wrecking ball (is that phrase copyrighted? Whatevs) and just when I’m starting to get a grip on this strange new universe, my oldest turns 18 and ventures forth into the university years. 

In September he left for a year of study abroad and that’s been the biggest adjustment yet. I’ve had to process the fact that we raised a child into adulthood, there are no more childhood stages. And now the inevitable question is “How does it feel to go from having four at home to three?”.  Which means that if we are fortunate enough for life to take an expected trajectory, in 2 years we’ll have a 50% reduction in kids at home. Then 75%, then 100.  Whoa. 

All this time spent reflecting on my parenting career has produced a singular recurring thought: raising kids is like a game of Pac-Man. 

For the those unfamiliar with the game, first of all WHY NOT?? And second of all here’s a brief description of how to play:

*Pac-Man moves through a maze, eating dots and trying to get to the next level before a ghost touches him (more like swallows him whole) and he loses a life. Three ghost touches and he’s dead. 

*In the four corners are Power Pills which cause the ghosts to move away from Pac-Man and also give him temporary power to eat the ghosts which in turn sends them back to their “ghost box” in the center of the board.

*Each level has one fruit item which Pac-Man can eat for bonus points

*As the game progresses, the Power Pills render the ghosts vulnerable for shorter and shorter amounts of time, increasing the pace and intensity of the game. 

As a kid it was my favorite video game; it still is.   I wasn’t great but I did make it to the apple level a respectable number of times. The order is cherry, strawberry, orange, APPLE (impressed?), melon, Galaxian Starship, Bell and Key. I’ll admit I didn’t even know those last 3 existed till I Googled them a minute ago.  Also, now that I am a parent can I appreciate the attempt by Namco, the creator of Pac-Man, to promote the eating of fresh fruit. Who says video games are bad for kids? Pfffftt. 

The game is a constant shifting of power between the one yellow circle (me) and four colorful ghosts (my kids). This metaphor works equally well for any amount, but I’ve got four, each with very distinct personalities and needs so when I see a bunch of crazy-eyed ghosts zipping around a board all trying to get at me—er, I mean Pac-Man—I can relate. 

By eating a Power Pill which renders the ghosts vulnerable and sends them running away and ultimately to the “ghost box” Pac-Man gets some brief ‘me time’. The ghosts bob up and down as they regain power and blink back to life until they break free of the box and are once again chasing Pac-Man. 

So what is the Power Pill in this analogy? It could be going to the gym, learning a new skill or even a nap.  The power pill is a “time out” on the grind of life, a second to collect your thoughts and breathe or hide in the laundry room and eat 4 Kit Kats.   

When they were little and went to bed earlier than they do now, the nights were mine.  They’d be safely tucked in their beds, or in the ghost box if you will, and I felt like I had this parenting thing nailed, had them on a fixed 24-hour schedule just where I wanted them.  

The demanding and monotonous schedules of babies gave way to the routine of the elementary school years and we settled into a new rhythm. Until they all entered the teen phase in rapid fire succession and came charging out of the ghost box again, sending me scrambling to figure out the rules of this new stage. But they are not the only ones growing, changing learning. As I adapt to each new stage, I am changing too. 

I’m not saying that my four kids are trying to eat me alive the way that ghosts Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde wanted to consume Pac-Man.

I’m saying that as they grow, I’ve had to leave former iterations of myself behind because I’d outgrown them. I’m no longer a fashion marketing director, but I’m reborn as a writer. I’m no longer the pregnant mom, the PTA mom, the mom of little kids. I’m a mom of teens, about to be a college mom, ready to usher all of my little ghosts out the door, one by one yet all at once.

The trick is to keep my eyes (and mouth) open in search of the Power Pills, the things that energize me and propel me to each next level. I hope that you find yours, too.

12 thoughts on “How Parenting is Like Playing Pac-Man

  1. Gila, you really nailed it! Since I know you, you have always been a fantastic, humurous writer, but you outdid yourself this time! Kudos!!!


  2. Man, I thought the game ended at apple!?! Who knew!? I was always a Frogger girl, but that’s for a different post. Loved this!!


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