You can broadly chart the development of children in terms of their relationships to smartphones. To wit:
Birth-2-years-old: Kids are subjects of pictures, videos, and Facebook posts, the majority of which are managed by smartphones.
2-3-years-old: Kids are pacified by Talking Tom or a similar app that utilizes The Three Stooges approach to comedy.
3-4-years-old: Kids beg to play Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies, and a slew of other games that inundate the app store. These games are weird at best, allowing kids to run a pet shop in which the animals become agitated if you don’t bathe them quickly enough or to fill virtual cavities (seriously, what kind of sociopath-in-training daydreams about dentistry?); and at worse, the games are the kind of fare you’d expect to find in those creepy Japanese airport vending machines that sell used women’s panties.
4-5-years-old: Same as above, but substitute “demand” for “beg.”
5-7-years-old: Kids test the Santa Clause premise, and when you insist that neither Santa nor his elves have the workshop capacity to make iPhones, you can hear their bullshit detectors go ding-ding-ding-ding. And when you try to make the comparison between Santa and the kids’ grandparents who struggle with cell phones the way dogs struggle with the concept of the doorknob, it may or may not buy you another year.
Charlee, my seven-year-old, has been asking for her own iphone, and I’m more inclined to pay for her to get a teardrop tattoo than I am to give her access to the technological equivalent of Walter White’s Blue Sky. Phones are, of course, the modern day pacifier, and it seems that we parents are fighting a losing battle. I suppose I’ll give in soon enough, but for now I’m going to fight the good fight and show my daughter doomsday articles about the links between cell phones and cancer. Sure, I will have to explain cancer to her (or just let her watch the film “Stepmom,” which is a win-win since I won’t have to be the one to watch it with my wife) but sometimes, as I often try to convince myself, uncomfortable conversations are worth the emotional trauma.
And sometimes my kids will just go around me. Case in point: Last week I went to fetch the kids from the neighbor’s house — it was time for dinner, which is the fancy term we use for Costco Chicken Dinos. I knocked on the door and was quickly greeted by Charlee and Sam, the two neighbor kids, and the neighbor kids’ mom. The kids and the mom are nice enough, but we know them only casually, and it seems that each time we’re around them, something awkward happens. For instance, Charlee has regaled them with stories of daddy brewing beer in the bath tub; Sam has bragged about his ever-evolving penis tricks; and so it goes. This time was no different.
The door whisked open and the first thing said comes from Charlee, and it is this: “Daddy, why does Siri think you’re a son of a bitch?”
Her tone was matter-of-fact. Clearly, she doesn’t know that son of a bitch is generally regarded as a PG-13 term. She has used the same tone when talking about a girl on her soccer team: “She’s gonna be pissed, really pissed, but I’m gonna have to tell her she needs to pass the ball.” Or when she and Sam discussed the correct pronunciation of the big daddy of profanity — Sam thought it was pronounced fock, which is how he heard it when Becky screamed it on one of those days that include one too many hours with the kids and too few glasses of coffee and/or wine (days that we all have, am I right?) but Charlee knew it was fuck since she’s been around a little longer and knows her shit. By the way, she learned that word from her grandma (or Anya as some of you might know her) which you can read about here.
After Charlee asked why Siri, that busybody hussy, thought I was a son of a bitch, I looked up and saw the neighbor’s mom, smiling, her face taut and rigid, clearly employing every facial faculty she possessed to keep up some semblance of neighborly decorum. I muttered something in an attempt to diffuse the tension. I think I remember not laughing but actually saying “Ha… Ha… Ha…” and then muttering something incoherent that included the words kids, alcohol, precocious, and, in the final Hail Mary moment, something about divine forgiveness.
It turned out that Charlee had found my old iphone in the garage. She charged it up and took it to the neighbor’s house where the kids decided to do some Siri Q&A. They quickly discovered that Siri knew my name to be “You Son of a Bitch,” which Becky had programmed into my phone a few years prior after I beat her in a game on the Wii.
I have a hard enough time convincing my kids that I know what I’m doing as a father and as a husband; I don’t need an ornery, vindictive, stupid smartphone to make that job any harder, thank you very much. So I might have to murder Siri, bury her digital fat mouth in the backyard, and mark the occasion by getting a teardrop tattoo myself. Perhaps the tatt will be just the right amount of street cred to make my kids think twice about asking for their own cell phones.
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