Lucy is counting the days until she gets a cell phone. Literally. She has almost 1,000 to go, as I am not getting her a phone before she’s 12 years old and can legally be left alone.
This counting thing would be annoying if it weren’t good math practice, which she sort of needs.
It must be hard, in some ways, being a kid today.
You see so much technology everywhere, so many adults and even some kids addicted to their Blackberries and iPhones. You can watch what you want when you want on TV, fast-forwarding through commercials. Even books have gotten digitized.
It makes me feel like an incredible fogey to utter this line, but when I was a kid, we had none of that.
We used to fight over who got to try my dad’s calculator, and even then, it was only when he was in a pretty good mood because it cost $72. (An equivalent calculator can be had, these days, for about ninety-nine cents. Or free with a pack of gum.)
I remember the first time I saw a computer. It was a Wang, and I was about Alice’s age—too young to appreciate the inherent hilarity of the name.
But I proudly showed off my souvenir printout to my grandfather—a small rectangle of tag board with holes punched in it—and he said if he could do anything on a computer, anything in the world, it would be to build a database of all the varieties of rhododendron.
That was a really good way to deaden my interest in computers for many years to come.
Kids today don’t have that sort of turnoff. The graphics on the games are nothing short of incredible for someone who grew up looking at green text on gray-black screens. Even Turbo Tax looks kind of fun.
Both kids have been begging for their own e-mail accounts for a while. I promised I’d set them up as soon as they spent some time learning to type.
How was I to know that learning to type with Sponge Bob Squarepants was going to be not only fun, but also effective? Lucy can type better than many of the newspaper editors I used to work for. And Alice’s nimble fingers are nothing short of amazing when set to the keyboard.
So the kids earned their e-mail and I finally set up accounts for them. I doled out stern warnings never to share their e-mail addresses with anyone they don’t know in real life. I told them not to reply to any e-mail from a stranger. And I told them this did NOT mean they could look at any old website. It was e-mail. That was it. Period.
The girls nodded. We had an understanding.
To make things easier, I stored a few e-mail addresses in Alice’s account. The addresses would pop right up as soon as she started typing. I thought I’d done the same for Lucy until for the third or fourth time in as many days, she asked if I’d received her messages.
At first I thought it must just be some delay in the system. My mail is sometimes poky. Then I thought maybe I hadn’t quite configured the account correctly (I opted for our own domain instead of one of the freebies, just for that added measure of security).
Then it hit me.
“Lucy,” I said, “What e-mail address have you been using for me?”
She rattled off two addresses, neither of which belongs to me, or anyone we know.
“Uh, did the e-mails come back to you? Did you get a message that said they were undeliverable?”
“Nope,” she said.
“Um, what did you write in those e-mails?”
“I wrote HI MOM in one. I wrote I LOVE YOU in another. And in a third, I wrote HOOPDEPOOP because that is a funny word. Also, I did that thing where you turn up the volume.”
By this, she means she made the font huge. She intuitively understands how to shout in a computer. That’s my kid. Fluent in loud, whatever the platform.
“Lucy,” I said gently, “I have some bad news. You sent that e-mail to a complete stranger.”
After my lecture about Internet safety, I thought she’d be concerned. Maybe even sick to her stomach. Instead, she and Alice thought it was funny.
“You said HOOPDEPOOP to a stranger,” Alice said. “A complete stranger!”
“I know!” Lucy said.
Then she and Alice succumbed to the laughter fairy.
When Alice is completely overtaken by something funny, her head falls back on her shoulders and she turns her face to the sky, as if asking the gods for mercy from the hilarity of it all. This happens at least three times a day, which is one of the side benefits of life with a funny big sister.
It’s probably highly symbolic that a technology that is life-sucking and potentially dangerous has already gone comically awry for us. Pandora’s box is open wide.
And I know I screwed up in not filling out Lucy’s address book. There is now someone out there with a name like mine who has an inbox full of inscrutable love notes from a nine-year-old.
But in a lot of ways, I like Alice’s response the best. It is pretty darned funny that Lucy’s been writing loud e-mails to someone who doesn’t know her. It makes a refreshing change from Nigerian bank swindles, at least. And when stuff like happens, you can only laugh, turn your face to the sky, and hope the world has mercy.
Martha is mom to Lucy and Alice, who are 9 and 6 years old. They live in the Pacific Northwest with daddy Adam and doggy Rosie.