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Technical Difficulties

My kids laugh when I tell them we didn’t have computers when I was a kid. There were no iPods or Nintendo DSes or Wiis or Game Boys or electronic diaries or digital pets. In fact, the only two high-tech gadgets I can remember from my early youth were the hand-held hair dryer and the medical alert button that spawned the classic line “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”

Their usual response is, “Wow. Did you have electricity back then?,” at which point the conversation ends as I walk away in disgust. “Dag nabbit,” I mutter. “No respect, that’s what wrong with kids today. Why, back in my day—” and that’s where I usually stop. “Back in my day”? What am I, 90?

But I am getting older. I was an older parent to start with, for pete’s sake. Now I look at these BlackBerrys and hand-held notebooks and think, “I can’t see those buttons without a magnifying glass.” I tell my college students I boycott text-messaging because it butchers the English language, but the truth is the buttons and screens are just too small to read.

I’ve become That Parent, the one who asks her kid to program the DVD player that she finally broke down and bought a month ago because the odds of finding a new VHS movie were growing slimmer by the hour. The one who walks into the electronic game store and stands mutely until someone with either black plastic glasses or a pierced something comes to my aid.

The Webkinz craze is a case in point. For those whose kids either haven’t gotten there yet or go to boarding school overseas, it works like this: The parent buys a cute, cuddly stuffed animal. The children cuddle said pet for approximately as long as is necessary to rip the tag off its leg, at which time they toss the animal over their shoulder to be used as a chew toy.

They then sit at the computer with the little tag in hand, enter the Webkinz Web site, and use the code on the tag to adopt an online version of the pet they just gave to the dog. They can then use special money they earn through games to buy things for their pet’s house. The Web site is clean and family-friendly, and so I’ve let my kids have at it.

One day I heard them together at the computer as my daughter was adopting and naming her latest Webkinz, a reindeer. She’s a very visual girl; her cat is named Whiskers, her dog is Brownie, and her frog, Slimey. I was thinking about this in terms of her new reindeer when I heard my son spelling for her as she typed: “H-O-R-N-Y.”

Momentary silence, and then a child’s cry. “Mom! It won’t let me name my reindeer Horny!” I walked over to the computer and sure enough, a pop-up window advised that “all or part of the chosen name is inappropriate.”

“Yeah,” I muttered, “that’s right. Now send her to Mommy to explain why. Real nice.” We eventually settled on Antlers; that was a conversation I really didn’t need to have just yet.

Now my husband’s jumping on board the techno train. He came home the other day with an announcement.
Him: “Honey, I want an iPhone!”
Me: “A youphone?”

Him: “No, an iPhone! They’re new and can do all sorts of cool things! They’ve got computers, and cameras, and date books, and calculators!”

Me: “Um, I think they’re called planners now. Date books went out a few years back. And you HAVE a camera phone. The phone you have can take pictures. It always could. You just don’t know how to use it.”
Him: “Oh. Really? Does it have film?”

So he’ll get his new gadget, and the kids will help him set it up. I might just get off that train here, because I probably know all I need to know. Besides, my kids will explain things as we go, and smile encouragingly just as I smiled at my own mother when she bought her first computer and caller-ID phone. They’ll hand me the credit-card-sized magnifying glass that has become my lifeline to the written word, and come when they hear my plaintive call: “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t reach my blow dryer!”

Maggie Lamond Simone is a book author, award-winning writer and mother of two living in Baldwinsville. Reach her at msimone@twcny.rr.com.

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York