By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, September 9, 2007
My sister Kristin is visiting and makes an offhand remark: "You should think about getting another laptop so your girls don't fight over the computer."
"A 6-year-old does not need her own laptop!" I snap, with way too much force. "And neither does an 8-year-old!" It's an old conversation that has nothing to do with Kristin. It's a reprise of me and my inner-Santa duking it out last Christmas. Blinded by alluring electronics ads, incredible deals, a soft spot for gizmos and gadgets, and the ancient human urge to see thrilled children's faces, I was beginning to give in to the impulse to surprise my daughters with laptops. Then I soaked my head in cold water. If there is an age when a child needs her own laptop, my kids have not reached it. So, for now, they peck away at the rickety old computer I retired from my office two years ago. "You think I'm wrong?" I ask Kristin.
"Lots of kids have their own computers," she says, with a shrug. "I'm just saying, if they're fighting for computer time, there is a solution."
It occurs to me that I'm an old crank; I think kids should fight over computer time, in that I think the time should be limited. My kids go weeks without turning the thing on, and then one of them will ask, and so the other will, and so I allot each of them an hour. Hmm. Just an hour of computer time every few weeks? That might be ridiculous.
"Is that ridiculous?" I ask Kristin, who happily accepts the role of reality-checker.
"It's . . . unusual," she says. "But it's up to you." She points out that I don't have a PlayStation or an Xbox or any game console in my house. Nor do my kids have Game Boys or whatever the latest version of those things are.
"Yeah, I seem to be the lone holdout on that stuff," I say. "Am I turning into, like, one of those high-and-mighty home-schooly moms with hairy legs and Birkenstocks? Because I am not that. I am not!" Not that there's anything wrong with those people.
"Relax," Kristin says.
"Look, I believe in outdoor play," I continue. "And the more incentive there is to stay inside, the more your kids are going to stay inside." I feel a rant coming on. "My kids have not asked for a game console!" I say. "Have not asked! So I'm just gonna get them one? I'd rather see them outside digging up worms! Worms, do you hear?"
Kristin is silent, patiently awaiting her turn. Finally she says: "You say a 6-year-old does not need her own laptop. But does a 4-year-old need her own horse?"
"Okay, that horse was for me!" I say, an obvious and yet embarrassing admission. I got my older daughter a horse when she was 4 because the horse was free, and I had wanted a horse my whole life. I sort of thought I was getting it for my kid, but, apparently, deep down, I knew the truth. "If Mom had gotten me a horse when I was little, I probably wouldn't have been so desperate for one in my adult years," I say, bringing this all back to the object of every blame: Mother. "That's my point," Kristin says. "A lot of the stuff we get for our kids is stuff we want for ourselves. For some people, it's a PlayStation; for others it's a stallion."
"He's a gelding," I say.
I wonder if this is a baby boomer thing. A delayed childhood thing. I throw the question to Kristin, who, because she is eight years older than I am, always gets the "fountain of wisdom" job. (Is that fair?) She shrugs. "It's probably just about passing on values," she says.
"Well, look, I value a game console," I say. "No one in this house wants a Wii more than I do. But, frankly, I think those things are dangerous: I'd become game-obsessed and never get anything done and probably never see real people again."
"See, it's as much about you as it is your kids," she says.
Is she saying I'm a bad mother? Is this an intervention?
"I'm just saying you're normal," she says. "I think you're doing pretty much what other parents do: getting your kids stuff you enjoy. I don't think it's productive to judge other people for buying their kids electronics."
I'm not! I'm merely highlighting the nobility involved in depriving myself and my children of the very many games of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess that could easily sink us into a life of sloth. Kristin is looking at me with one eyebrow up.
"You're trying to make sure I don't go all high-and-mighty and hairy legs on you?" I ask.
"You think I'm at risk?"
"You own two pairs of Birkenstocks."
"I only wear them in summer, and I never wear them with socks!"
She says nothing, blinks.
Hoo, boy. This is an intervention.
Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is email@example.com.