Living with Cerebral Palsy: Mario Kart & Power Steering

Since its inception in 1992, I’ve been a fan and master of Mario Kart. I won championships on the Super Nintendo, shattered records on the N64, and continue to take checkered flags on the Wii. I’ve always been a Yoshi guy in case you wondered. Playing with my boys this morning I had to repeatedly correct young Andrew’s technique. Almost all young drivers make the same mistake – über steering. Full body, electrocution-like over corrections to the slightest indication of a turn leaves his poor driver spinning donuts while the other drivers lap him. See, the trick to becoming a Mario Kart Jedi (May the 4th be with you.) is mastering the art of subtle steering. It requires the deft touch of the Operation masters of old. Where I am a paring knife of precision, Andrew is a Dwarf’s battle ax of chaos. After I went Dale Sr. on Andrew and Jackson, I took Caedmon onto my lap to help him drive against his brothers.

I’m not sure which muscle groups are firing or which tendons are tight, but when Caedmon sits in my lap his legs and lower back stiffen and push his shoulders against my chest. It’s not an intentional act, but it is difficult to keep him sitting upright. He tends to slide down my legs, his toes pointed and legs rigid like an Olympic diver entering the water, and his shoulders inching toward my belly button (sorry for that mental picture). Eventually he must be pulled back against my torso, where the gradual slide begins anew. He has better control of his right hand than his left, so he will grasp the controller and I’ll place his thumb on the gas and my thumb on top of his.

Jackson has the race picked and the red light has already burned. Caedmon’s left arm is parallel to the floor, straight as marine’s sideburns. I take his left hand in mine and with delicate force bring it to the other side of the controller. The red extinguishes and the yellow illuminates the screen. Caedmon gets excited, his body stiffens, and he slides further down my leg. Just before the light turns green, I hitch him back in place, reset his hands, and the race is on.

Andrew’s whirling around like the Star Wars Kid, Jack, following in dad’s glorious Kart race marks, carefully navigates Toad around the course (he prefers Yoshi too, but I pulled rank), while Caedmon and I drive Wario. It reminded me of when a car’s power steering goes out. There is tension in seemingly every muscle threaded through Caedmon’s frail arms. A quarter-inch tweak on the four-ounce Wii remote requires the force (not THE Force) associated with opening the trunk of a 1985 Cadillac. His body simply doesn’t move the way we want it to. He lacks the dexterity to manipulate the buttons for more complex games, but he’ll shoot hoops on Wii Sports Resort, spin the Wheel with Pat and Vanna, and hit the links on Wii golf. Other times he gets help from me, Jeni, or any number of other people who love him and like video games. The competitor inside me wishes his little Kart had power steering, but I know he simply loves the time shared with the Sprague boys and I’m good with that.

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