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The stay-at-home dad: A Turtle maniac after four tries

by TYLER WILSON/Coeur Voice Contributor
| June 22, 2022 1:00 AM

The “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” defined my childhood. Ah, heck, let’s just admit it; I’m still a huge TMNT fan.

When I was young, I watched the old TV series every chance I could, collected a bunch of the action figures (with a preference for Raphael), and harassed my parents to take me to each of the 1990s-era movies multiple times (then subsequently wore out the VHS tapes). My first full size poster was of the 1991 sequel, subtitled “The Secret of the Ooze,” (that’s the one with the admittedly groan-inducing Vanilla Ice cameo, and luckily, the rapper didn’t feature on the poster).

Nowadays I’m considered one of those nerdy, middle-aged Turtle fans. I like the current comic book series and pledge allegiance to two different cartoon series that came out when I was an adult (a 2003 2D-animation series and the 2012-era CGI one from Nickelodeon).

Across my first 11 years as a parent, I tried to inspire a new generation of Ninja Turtles fandom. My oldest daughter gravitated toward “Doc McStuffins” and “Curious George,” among other things, and never made time for those heroes on the half shell.

My other daughter, now 7, never cared a bit about anything except “Dora the Explorer” when she was young, and now she has a contrarian attitude about almost all children’s programming except maybe “Frozen.” (Though she still maintains the Hot Take that “Frozen II” beats the original. Nonsense.)

My oldest son, almost 9, claimed to like Ninja Turtles at various points of his young life, but I honestly never believed him. Any time I turned on an episode of any version, he wandered out of the room long before the credits. He watches and rewatches episodes of “Ninjago,” however, which is infuriating to me because… well, you obviously like ninjas, kid, so watch this cooler ninja show instead!

So my youngest son, now 5, is my last chance for continuing the Wilson legacy of Turtle fandom. I don’t want to speak too soon, but we could have a chance! If he can put aside his Hulk and Spider-Man obsessions for just a few minutes every day, I think he could really get into it.

He likes Mikey, the goofball/party animal of the group. I always found his antics to be a bit grating, but OK, I’ll take what I can get. At least he’s not a Leonardo guy (such a Splinter bootlicker).

He likes the episodes we’ve watched just fine, and the '90s movies held his attention despite their '90s weirdness. Toy wise, he’d still prefer his “Paw Patrol” and Spider-Man lineup, but don’t worry. I’ve got Turtle toys galore in my personal collection to tempt him to my side.

The big change, however, was his excitement seeing me boot up our Nintendo Switch and play the side-scrolling video game throwback, “Shredder’s Revenge,” a new game that emulates the style and gameplay of the old arcade and Nintendo games of my childhood (“Turtles in Time” remains a high-water mark in the history of gamedom, in my nerdy opinion). Watching me toss robot foot soldiers across the screen for 30 seconds proved to be the Green Machine spark.

He wanted to join in, though I actually wondered if the gameplay would be too complicated. Of course, this was one of the stupider thoughts I’ve had in recent memory, as it’s essentially a game where you can mash two buttons over-and-over again and survive.

He beamed with excitement playing the game, and we busted bots and chased Bebop and Rocksteady together across the bright-colored streets and sewers of New York City. He repeated every single uttering of “Cowabunga!” and he celebrated every Pizza-themed health boost.

Now, look, as much as I am a Turtle fan forever, I do see the irony in being concerned about my son pretending to be a ninja, making toilet-paper-tube weapons and drop-kicking his siblings at every opportunity. I remember my parents being wary of such behavior with me, and I recall some big trouble the night after my mom took me to see the first Ninja Turtles movie because I came home and immediately “swept the legs” of my brother. In my defense, my brother was 8 years older than me and a huge butthead.

Anyway, I’m comfortable having those conversations with my son about pretend vs. real life. At least the Turtles don’t use guns, and, unlike the Hulk, they don’t create billions of dollars of collateral damage in every battle.

Plus, I think to my son anyway, he likes the Turtles because of the pizzas and the “Cowabungas.” I’ll save the discussion about the brutality of real ninjas for sometime down the road. For now, I’m just happy to have a Mikey to go alongside my Raphael in the battle against Shredder and Krang.

In other news, my older son wants to play a Ninjago video game with his younger brother. I said no. Not at this impressionable moment in time, anyway. The heart can hold only so many ninjas.

• • •

Tyler Wilson is a freelance writer and stay-at-home dad to four kids, ages 5-11. He is tired. He can be reached at twilson@cdapress.com.

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