Confessions of a Nintendo Mom: The Day I Unplugged My Eight-Year-Old

Ten-year-old Peter Newhall with monitor showing Final Fantasy game he has just won. Photo by BF Newhall

Two years after being unplugged, Peter won the original Final Fantasy game; we took a picture to prove it. Flash forward another couple of decades — Peter received Final Fantasy XIII, Part 2 for Christmas 2012. Photo by BF Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall, The Oakland Tribune, April 30, 1989

At 7:20 a.m. last Sunday, I was making plans to leave home.

Like any normal person with a job, two kids and a front yard full of weeds, I had been sleeping in on a Sunday morning – until I heard Jon and Peter playing the new Nintendo.

I burst in on them. “Hey. It’s 7:20 in the morning. YOU WOKE ME UP.”

No answer. Scenes from the Legend of Zelda flickered across the transfixed faces of my husband and my son.

They didn’t care. So enraptured were they – man and boy – with their dratted boomerangs and Oktoroks that they actually did not care that they had wrecked my beautiful Sunday morning sleep-in.

The gold cover of The Legend of Zelda game cassette.

The culprit — The Legend of Zelda. “Man, what an epic, epic, epic game,” says Peter twenty some years later.

I stomped back to bed, covered my head with my pillow and cried. I like my pillow. It cares.

I’d leave home, that’s what. I’d pack a few clothes and leave. In my new life as a single woman, my job and some clothes would be all I’d need.

I’d check into a hotel. It would have to be something cheap, probably something with noisy air conditioning and windows that didn’t open.

Later on, I’d phone Christina, our 5-year-old. Did she want to come live with Mommy in the place where the windows didn’t open? Or did she want to stay with Daddy, Peter and the Nintendo?

With any luck she’d choose the Nintendo. I’d be a free woman.

But first, I’ll just cry myself back to sleep a bit. No point in starting a new life with that grumpy, no-sleep feeling.

I Lose My Cool

Half an hour later, the hotel room had lost its appeal. It would probably smell of Lysol. I ate breakfast and got ready for church. Peter ate his breakfast and went back to the Nintendo.

Soon it was time to wet down the cowlicks and put on the shirt and tie.

But Peter wanted to kill himself first.

“No way,” I said, hanging tough.

“Please, Mommy,” he begged, his eyes fixed on the screen. “Can’t I just get killed? If I don’t get killed I’ll lose all my stuff.”

Nintendo character Link with sword and shield, 1992 instruction booklet illustration. Nintendo image.

Legend of Zelda’s hero Link in 1992. Nintendo image.

“Then pause it.”

“I can’t pause it. Daddy wants to switch to his guy while we’re in church.”

“Peter, you pause that thing or I’ll pull the plug on you.”

He didn’t.

I did.

On the morning of April 23, 1989, I pulled the plug on my 8-year-old son.

He burst into tears and went to find his necktie.

“It’s a flaw in the system,” said Jon. “You can’t just turn it off or you will lose everything. You have to wait till your guy gets killed.”

Monday morning I decided to get counseling.

I dialed (206) 885-PLAY in Redmond, Wash. There, 75 Nintendo Team Power Game Counselors answer 35,000 calls a week from Nintendo players and their significant others.

At 12:15 p.m., all circuits were busy. At 12:20, 12:40, 2:08 and 2:14 all circuits were busy.

It was time to go home. I would pull no plugs tonight, I told myself. Pulling plugs is bad for young egos and 12-year-old marriages. Pulling plugs wreaks havoc on expensive electronic equipment.

Christina Newhall dressed up as Link of Nintendo's Legend of Zelda, Halloween, 2012. With sword and hat.Photo by Christina Newhall

If offered the choice to run away from home with me, Christina, now 29, says “I totally would have chosen to stay with Peter, Dad, and the Nintendo.” Here, last Halloween as Link of the Legend of Zelda. Photo by Christina Newhall

Fifteen minutes past the kids’ bedtime, I found Jon, Peter and Christina sitting, arms entwined, before the Nintendo. All eyes were on the monitor. “Bedtime,” I said, keeping my hands to myself.

The Nintendo is not just fun, asserts a 31-page white paper from Nintendo of America, Inc. It’s educational. It enhances creativity, reasoning, self-esteem, spatial skills.

The Nintendo requires children – and adults – to keep track of competing stimuli. Players must acquire tools, set goals and respond to enemy attacks – simultaneously.

The white paper did not say anything about simultaneously responding to the word “bedtime.”

I Get Counseling

On Tuesday, and none too soon, I got through to my game counselor at Nintendo. His name was Jeff. Yes, Jeff could save my marriage and keep my family intact.

Just pause it, he said. Then push up A and B on controller No. 2, put the arrow on save, push start, hold the reset button down and turn the power off.

That will save everything. When my loved ones come back to their game, their guys will still have all their rubies.

What a relief. Jon and Peter will be able to switch off the Nintendo at the drop of a power bracelet. They will be on time for church. They will be on time for dinner, for school, for bed. They will listen to me.

If not, maybe Nintendo has a Team Power Family Crisis Hotline.

Reprinted by Permission of The Oakland Tribune

The original 1985 Nintendo Entertainment System console with controllers and wires. Photo by BF Newhall

Our original 1985 Nintendo Entertainment System console with controllers — and wires. Photo by BF Newhall

Update 2013

Peter says at age 31: “I don’t remember you pulling the plug on us exactly. But I do remember when Dad would get excited in a super tense moment, yank on the controller and accidentally rip the system out of the power outlet.”

Jon says: “I wouldn’t yank the cord from the power outlet. I’d get so excited I’d jerk or jump to the left or the right, disconnecting the hand-controller’s cord from the Nintendo. This would cause the entire system to freeze, requiring a reboot of the system.  Very embarrassing, and very, very frustrating.”

I say: Nintendo technology has changed a lot since I wrote this story back in 1989, but Jon hasn’t changed a bit. A  few weeks ago, on Christmas Day, I watched my husband and a 7-year-old family friend play Super Mario Bros. on a thoroughly updated Nintendo console, a 3DS.

There were no bulky controllers in their laps. No dusty mass of wires sprawled across the living room floor. No clunky, 70-pound discarded TV set functioning as a monitor. Just a handheld console no bigger than a wallet displaying Mario in dazzling 3D — ever so quietly.

If you enjoyed this post and want to get regular updates, just click on one of the icons at the top of the right hand column — and subscribe by email, RSS feed or Facebook.

For more stories about young Peter go to “Will My Kids Grow Up to Be Cheaters?”  Also, “Small Boys: Reading, Writing — and Yucky.”

NES Mario Bros. 3 character Mario is flying in illustration from 1990 Nintendo instruction booklet.

A 1990 version of Mario in our Nintendo Super Mario Bros. 3 instruction booklet. NES image.





  1. Great article! Brings back a lot of good memories and makes me excited to play FF XIII-2, ;).

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Thanks, Peter! How many of the Final Fantasy games have you played over the years? Have they gotten easier?


  1. […] wrote this no TV column for the Oakland Tribune. A few years later he would beg us to be allowed to have a Nintendo. We resisted, but finally gave in when Peter made it clear that he wouldn’t be able to […]

  2. […] you enjoyed this post, you might like “Confessions of a Nintendo Mom: The Day I Unplugged My Eight-Year-Old,”  “Scrubbing the Floor With My Daughter Cinderella” or  “When Your Kids […]

Leave a Comment