Why I'm Giving My Kid Free Reign Over The iPad

by Elly Lonon
Originally Published: 
A dark-haired girl with pink headphones wearing a grey shirt, black leggings, and purple socks playi...

“C’mon guys. Seriously. I said no more videos. Back away.”

I trudged menacingly toward the familiar rumps protruding into the air. Clutching the iPad in its ridiculous faux-Gumby protective sleeve propped against the back of the sofa, the boys were bent over, faces inches from the glowing screen. As I reached between them to grab the device, my eldest jumped back, chagrined. It wasn’t the PBS Kids app. It wasn’t Elmo’s ABCs. It wasn’t even that bizarre thing with the bouncing sun that shoots out farm animals every time you touch the screen.

It was Pandora.

“I just wanted to see who was singing, Mommy.”

“Oh,” I found my proverbial sails deflated faster than you can list all of Kajagoogoo’s No. 1 hits. To call me a music junkie would be an understatement, in much the same way calling Donald Trump outspoken might also be considered an understatement. Internally, I was already congratulating myself for clearly mastering the ability to foster a love of music in my progeny. I scrambled to remain indignant. “I still think that’s enough time with the iPad.”

“Then may I use your phone?”

“For what?”

“To make a video.”

“But I’m almost out of memory, and Mommy needs to be able to use that thing.”

“Just one more, Mommy. I promise.”

Well, that would give me enough time to compose a witty social media comment about my raising a audiophile. “Go to it, kid.”

I attempted to wrangle the iPad away from the toddler, who was using a stubby arm of the case for a chew toy. Six minutes later, my eldest returned to find us both sweaty and yelling. “Do you want to see it?” he asked, sweetly. “Sure, kid. Show me your dazzling cinematography.” I took a long drag of watery apple juice from the toddler’s sippy cup. “But let’s do it somewhere cooler.”

Once positioned in front of the air conditioner, I pushed play. Blue digital numbers on a background filled the screen. “Is this a clock?” I asked the beaming child. “It’s the radio, Mommy.” He clenched his shaking fists in excitement. “You took a four-minute video of the clock on the radio? I’m pretty sure I know why my phone is so slow today.” I found my indignation returning.

“But listen, Mommy.”

I turned the phone up and moved away from the deafening hum of the air conditioner. I could just make out the throbbing bass line. “It’s our song,” he proudly announced.

Dammit, I think, because this is it, right? This is as close as my kids are ever going to get to lying on a shag carpet in a damp basement underneath a pool table with a portable record player and a crate full of LPs. This is as close as my kids will get to spinning in an avocado green desk chair, listening to the “flap, flap, flap” of the reel-to-reel player while the harmonies of Simon and Garfunkel whir through their minds. This is as close as my kids will come to twisting a fingertip against a circle of white prongs, watching shiny ribbon retreat into the plastic cavity of deceptively light casing, and then sliding it into the plastic brackets behind the door of the cassette player. This is as close as they will come to waiting anxiously by the radio, a finger poised over the record button, hoping to bootleg a copy of their favorite song.

Dear Lord, these children will never know liner notes.

I let the horror of the realization settle. Then I, the Sergeant of Screen Time, the Tyrant of Television, the Denier of Digital Media, well, I led my son back to the living room and the now-soggy iPad. I plopped my knees on to the floor, draped my stomach over the leather upholstery and propped faux-Gumby against the back cushions.

“New family rule,” I paused to brush away the desiccated grape and various shards of cracker that had accumulated in the crack between the sofa cushions. “If you’re listening to music, not videos, you may use the iPad without asking.”

“Now,” I grabbed faux-Gumby by his purple arm, then used my other hand to unlock the screen. “Let’s see who’s singing, kiddo. It sure does sound like a band I used to listen to quite a lot, and it is! It’s They Might Be Giants. I haven’t heard them in ages! They had this song called ‘Particle Man’ that your uncle loved, and I was obsessed with this song about a little blue canary. Man, I just…”

“No, Mommy. You’re wrong.”

I faltered. We continued to listen as grown men crooned about tubular meat. “I’m not, Bud. It’s definitely They Might Be Giants. It says so right…”

He pointed emphatically at the album cover. Wait. Are they still called album covers? “No, Mommy. You’re mistaken. Mickey Mouse is singing,” this from the kid who thinks it OK for “our song” to include the lyrics “Bang bang all over you, I’ll let you have it.” Though it would be hysterically awkward and wonderful to someday play said song at his wedding during our tender mother/son dance, I’m looking forward to finding a more appropriate song and all the musical exploration that will entail, regardless of the medium.

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