When did I realise I was obsolete? Thank you for asking. It was last week, when the five-year-old pushed my helping hand away from the touchscreen and said, with some impatience, “It’s fine, Mom, I can do it. You take too long.”
These are the exact words I remember my brother and I using back in the eighties, every time one of my parents tried to do anything with our video recorder. The machine was clearly out of their league – they could manage to turn it on, and press “record” or “play” but that was it. They certainly couldn’t make it do complicated things like record something at a set time in the future, no matter how long they spent sitting on the floor with the instruction manual. After one too many missed episodes of CHiPs, my brother and I took over and our parents hardly went near the VCR again.
And now … now my own children see me as the same sort of techno-bungler. Hopelessly past my “best-by” date. So very Last Century.
“What are you doing?” they asked in bewilderment during a recent game of Charades, as I mimed lifting a handset and dialling a number. In reply, I mimed slower and louder, but of course that didn’t help. Even when they were babies, the toy phones had push buttons.
No, they have definitely left me behind, my children. When they have a question, they don’t ask me to impart maternal wisdom anymore; they just ask me to Google the answer for them.
Similarly, if they want to learn a skill (like hand-knitting, or doing a Hannah Montana dance) they don’t ask me to teach them, but rather to find the YouTube demonstration.
My role now is purely one of monitoring and control: making sure it really is Hannah Montana’s dance they’re doing, and not Miley Cyrus’s; and restricting viewings of the dreadful Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse to a ratio of one Barbie episode to any three full-length Studio Ghibli movies (preferably Totoro because I love that one).
But it’s not an easy job! The five-year-old adores the Barbie show, and doesn’t care if her brain turns into a lump of pink plastic. She managed to hack into my computer the other day, get onto Netflix and start watching Life in the Dreamhouse before I even knew she was upstairs. Turns out I’d been too relaxed about typing my password in while she was watching me. It takes us fifteen minutes of teeth-grinding and tears to get through one page of her phonics reader, so who knew she could follow the typing-in of an 8 digit password from across the room?
Anyway, there’s still hope for me. My 70-year-old mother – she who never managed to get a clear reception on the television because she couldn’t figure out where to point the aerial – recently bought herself an iPad, and she absolutely loves it. So I’ll be fine with whatever technology we’re using in in thirty years. I’ll just get up in the morning, have my coffee, plug the Internet into my head, and it’ll be great.
And how I’ll laugh when I see my little grandchild, on her way to school, push her mother’s hand away from the teleportation unit.
“It’s fine, Mom, I can do it,” she’ll say. “You take too long.”
Being made to feel incompetent by your children: it’s the Circle of Life.
Robyn Goss is a South African writer, recently moved to Switzerland. You can read her blogs at www.robyngoss.com