Heater, Mother of Lance

“Let’s go!”

On the morning of December 28, 1986 I was sitting in my neighbor’s living room when I stole a scrap of paper from her backpack and scribbled, “Today I saved the princess!” I then dated it and signed my name because that somehow made it more official. No notary public was present, no witness even. My neighbor was still asleep and had been for the five hours I’d been playing Super Mario Bros. on her Nintendo.

Before your outrage makes you prematurely scroll to the bottom of this post to see if it is sponsored, let me assure you that my butt lobbied hard to be featured at the beginning and end of this story but negotiations ultimately failed. It was demanding emancipation.

I remember that piece of paper because I ran home and stashed it in a special box that held other important memorabilia like ticket stubs, discarded gum wrappers, and tin foil that I had fished out of the garbage and planned to recycle because that gesture alone was going to save the world from Communism. I eventually ended up with a basketball-sized wad of tin foil that my mother found while cleaning out the dumpster that was my closet, and in her exasperation she threw the whole thing back into the garbage. I expected the Soviets to topple Reagan within days. The fact that they didn’t obviously means they were being just as careless with their recycling.

My siblings and I only ever owned an Atari growing up. Ours was a household without cable TV or R-rated movies or unnecessary evils like a Nintendo or a Sega Genesis. So I spent hours at my neighbor’s house watching MTV and Lost Boys and playing her Nintendo, specifically Super Mario Bros. No other game interested me, and when she was willing she’d let me spend hours trying to complete levels, tossing fireballs at potentially harmful turtles, collecting valuable golden coins, finding hidden passages through those giant pipes. That’s why it took me over a year to save the princess. A whole year. A year ending on December 28, 1986. Somewhere in a Southern landfill there is a scrap of paper to prove it.

If my life had taken one or two different turns I might be out there now digging around trying to find it, all while dressed in a ratty nightgown, faded pink curlers in my my hair, and half-eaten roadkill tucked up under my unshaven armpit.

Meaning not very different from what I’m doing now.

Friday night Leta was huddled up under a blanket on the couch at my mother’s cabin, her head and mind buried deep within a game on the Nintendo 2DS that Santa had left her in the oven. Yeah, the oven. Santa is clever and left her clues to find it there, one that led her to my desk, one that led her to the dog food and so on until she found a gift where we had baked cookies the night before. Thank god he left clues, otherwise we’d have every reason to report him for operating eight reindeer while under the influence.

I heard a very familiar groan escape her mouth, and then, “I WON’T EVER GET PAST THIS LEVEL!” Aha! She was playing the game that had come with it, an iteration of Super Mario Bros. that closely resembles the version that I mastered all those years ago. I asked if I could sit down and see what was holding her up, and suddenly I was holding the game in my hand. Same controls I grew up with BUT THE WHOLE GAME IN MY HAND. If the eleven-year-old Heather could witness this future she’d totally forgive the fact that she ended up living in Utah.

The date? December 27. That’s almost 27 years to the date.


What happened next surprised me more than it surprised Leta, and she was sitting there with her mouth wide open, stupefied.

“MOM!” she shouted a little too close to my ear. “HOW… WHEN… YOU’RE SO GOOD AT THIS!

The muscle memory of the A and B buttons returned immediately, the ability to jump over dangerous holes and fires while simultaneously shooting at plants and turtles animated my fingers within seconds. I was good at this! I WAS A GENIUS! MAD SKILLZ HAD I. Except, I’m just as good at remembering every single word to all the songs I knew when I was eleven years old as well:

All the school kids so sick of books,
They like the punk and the metal band.
When the buzzer rings,
They’re walking like an Egyptian.

In fact, I can’t scrub those words from my brain. Play the first two chords of a New Kids on the Block song and you might as well pour gasoline on my head and light it on fire, the ensuing hours of joy would be no different.

Still, for a moment I was not the mother she avoided when faced with a dilemma concerning a video game. An alien had abducted the real me and replaced me with a better model and she couldn’t have been more appreciative. Unless I was also going to let her have ice cream for every meal and then maybe she could find a little more appreciation somewhere.

Those memories and thus the ability to recall them so easily must mean they reside somewhere in the same vicinity of the brain, that’s the only explanation for the fact that I haven’t touched that game in over 25 years and there I was showing my daughter how to get to the next level. For the next few hours we took turns trying to advance past the next obstacle, and the only reason we stopped is because she got really tired and started running off of ledges for no reason whatsoever and I was all DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW MANY COINS WE HAD TO COLLECT TO EARN THOSE LIVES?

  • Casey

    2013/12/30 at 1:50 pm

    I remember the day I won too. It ruled. And how Tetris taught me how to organize groceries and my fridge and pack a suitcase or a car after Christmas. Algebra in high school taught me NONE of that.

  • LisaMarieWhatsherface

    2013/12/30 at 2:03 pm

    Ah yes, the DS version of Super Mario. I played my sister in law’s DS during a bridal shower weekend trip, and then promptly bought myself a DS so that I could finish the game…

  • Laurie

    2013/12/30 at 2:15 pm

    I OWNED my son on Super Mario Bros. That poor kid had no idea what was coming. We, too, had no game systems or cable TV. In fact, my dad “accidentally” stepped on the Atari our cousin gave to us. And I was raised Catholic – you’d think my parents would have been a lot more corruptible. 😀

  • adriana

    2013/12/30 at 3:22 pm

    here is where i confess that boyfriend and i bought a wii u the other day just so we can play super luigi. do we have kids? no. do we have disposable incomes and are over 30? afraid so. is this harder than i remembered? omg hella harder.

  • SmithShack71

    2013/12/30 at 4:24 pm

    Nothing makes me cuss more than Super Mario.
    Love that game. I’m still good at it, too!

  • Ali

    2013/12/30 at 5:31 pm

    I am glad to know I am not alone in my shame of gleeful gloating when I beat the young one.
    My moment was when I figured out a tricky lego configuration in 2 minutes after the Boy and Boy Father were stuck for an HOUR. Very hard not to throw a lego in their very open-in-awe mouths!

  • americanrecluse

    2013/12/30 at 5:35 pm

    Now I’mma have to ask the internet how to connect my SNES to my hip modern television so I can play Prince of Persia. THE ORIGINAL, thankyouverymuch.

    I blame you.

  • Katybeth

    2013/12/30 at 5:51 pm

    How FUN. It’s so great when we can surprise our kids and better yet be the “cool Mom” for a few minutes before we have to remind them to brush their teeth. I stood on my head a few years ago (i’m over 40 and not athletic–secret is a flat spot on my head) and my son still talks about it—-The best I can do with computer games is win a few games of Quiz It on my i-Phone.

  • Michelle

    2013/12/30 at 10:12 pm

    Did you ever learn how to get hundreds of extra lives on level 3-1 of Super Mario Bros? Learning this made me feel like a rock star! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-DNt_erbL4

  • Katerina

    2013/12/31 at 12:03 am

    How have I only JUST discovered this blog! Such a great voice. BTW, I think I must have been the only child who hated playing video games. The music from Mario Brothers brings back memories of being bored to tears on my friend’s couch, while she hopped over mushrooms for hours! I haven’t read much of your blog (yet) but I went to high school in a small Mormon town in Nevada, so the fact that you write with such frankness is so amusing! Can’t wait to read more!

  • Deiter Weinerman

    2013/12/31 at 4:43 am

    I couldn’t follow the lyrics until I stuck in the “oh way oh” after “the buzzer rings”.

  • Lauren3

    2013/12/31 at 7:48 am

    Love this story. It brings back memories of the Christmas I got SuperNES and my sister got Sega Genesis. We ended up pretty much swapping because I adored Sonic and she kicked ass on Super Mario Bros. My thumbs never quite got the hang of things.

  • Richard Morey

    2013/12/31 at 9:13 am

    You may enjoy playing old Atari (and other games) here https://archive.org/details/atari_2600_library. They don’t have the Nintendo games though so no Mario Brothers.

  • Abbey

    2013/12/31 at 9:04 am

    I’m a notalgic freak that got chills reading this. Long live 80s.

  • Tiffany Dalenberg

    2013/12/31 at 2:01 pm

    We never had video games as a kid, because my parents knew EXACTLY what would happen: I would never stop playing! I kicked Mario’s butt at my cousin’s house though, and as soon as I was old enough to earn the money, I bought myself a Gameboy. That was just my gateway system though, and I bought pretty much every system since then, culminating in a Wii U this Christmas. My son is thrilled with my ability to play with him, and we’ve spent many a hour in the past week giggling over how many times we fall into pits, and are impaled by spikes. It may not be the most traditional way to bond with your kid, but it works!


  • Debra

    2013/12/31 at 2:35 pm

    As usual, awesome post. I just loved it. Love to you and yours as this fuckface of a year, ripe with opportunities to grow or go crazy takes a bow and farts in our faces on the way out the door.


  • Debra

    2013/12/31 at 4:20 pm

    Welcome to Dooce! Heathers sense of humor is the best thing ever. Her trials remind us she is human, and for the most part, brings out the great in people. I remember way back when I first started reading her blog and I thought, oh lord, this is who I want to be when I grow up. I still haven’t grown up, but I’m more and more inspired! The internet has it’s ups and downs, and the very best of it, in my opinion, is right here. Sometimes you get a hater and I get all stop picking on my little baby sister, but mostly it’s lovely!

  • lunacydress

    2014/01/01 at 3:09 pm

    There was an interview on NPR a couple months ago with a woman who wrote a book and/or did a study about how the skills you learn and are passionate about in the 10-15 year age range can stick with you more than what you learn at any other time in your life, even if you don’t practice them later in life, because of how much brain development you go through in that time.

    The woman specifically mentioned how she mastered a video game when she was 12 or so, (I think she was a little older than you, Heather, so it was Space Invaders or something) and didn’t play it again until she was in her late 30s/early 40s, with her own kids, and within minutes, the muscle memory in her fingers just knew all the moves and she beat the game before her kids did!

  • Gem Wilder

    2014/01/02 at 1:10 am

    Yes! That is exactly what I thought of when I read this. I heard her on the Middle School episode of This American Life.

  • Jen Wilson

    2014/01/02 at 9:39 am

    That’s the only video game I’ve ever liked as well. It remains the only video game I’ll play. Besides maybe some Dr. Mario/Tetris. We also only had an Atari growing up. I miss it. Especially that game with that robber guy. I cannot for the life of me remember what it’s called.

  • Rebecca

    2014/01/02 at 11:24 am

    I didn’t even have Atari…I had generic Atari called, “Gemini.” We somehow figured out If you stuck Popsicle sticks in with Atari games, they’d work on it. So yes, I too was often at my friends’ house not caring if she was doing something else while I tirelessly played her Nintendo.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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