Tuesday, July 27, 2010


The screensaver for our kitchen computer is comprised of pictures from our iPhoto library, which scrolls random photos across the screen in what I’m told is the “Ken Burns Effect.” I don’t know from Ken Burns, but every now and then when I sit down at the computer to check my email or my Facebook page or some other mind-numbing and equally unimportant activity, like Googling the lyrics to a Lady Gaga song, I stop and just watch the story of our lives float by.

It’s a happy story and every time I do this, I’m reminded to be thankful for everything we have.

Okay, so our everyday life—full of errands and squabbles and bills and messes—is not always so consistently happy, but this is my point. Who takes photographs of unhappy things? Most people stick to photographs of the good stuff. Christmas card photo out-takes notwithstanding, our photo album is full of mostly happy memories.

So I enjoy sitting at my kitchen computer and watching the illusion of the totally happy life float by. It’s hypnotizing to see all the Christmas mornings and vacations, school plays and get-togethers with friends, Halloween and birthday parties. Whenever the screensaver eventually goes black, I get sad. (Don’t tell my husband, the Energy-Star Nazi, but I’ve secretly extended the time span the screensaver will play.)

However, the photo album as screensaver also has its downside. Like trying to explain to guests why we have a picture of a chicken bone on whiteboard (Science fair project. Don’t get me started.)or a really dark and grainy picture of the moon (husband, digital camera and new telescope) or why, at that particular moment in time, I’m hiding under the kitchen table (a vacation photo of me in a bathing suit scrolled by.)

We resisted going with a digital camera for a long time, so our electronic photo library doesn’t start until 2003. However, once we made the switch, I can’t believe I ever resisted. Now, I fret about when I’m going to find the time to scan-in all the photos from all the old photo albums we have. No small task, since I just counted forty-one of them. We do, occasionally, pull one of the old albums down off the shelf and look through it. But only occasionally.

With our screensaver, the memories float by every single day. I can’t think of a better way to be consistently reminded of all the good things in life. Especially on the days when things aren’t so rosy, like when the kids are hungry for dinner because it’s seven o’clock and my husband’s stuck in traffic on his way home from work and the back porch grill is on fire (and my neighbor across the alley is watching me from his upstairs bedroom window, I’m sure critically and with 911 on speed-dial, because I don’t have a Y chromosome and what am I doing out there in the first place?) And it’s on days like these it’s nice to be reminded of how perfectly a Thanksgiving turkey turned out, or how a homemade birthday cake tasted delicious, in spite of the fact my husband and children thought it took two boxes of Betty Crocker cake mix and two cans of frosting to make a single double-layer cake. It may have looked like an illustration from Dr. Seuss, but who could argue with all that chocolate?

This is why I enjoy allowing myself to become hypnotized by our screensaver. It gives me many little reasons to be happy every day. And as Lady Gaga might say:

Not sure what it means
But this photo of us
It don’t have a price
Ready for those flashing lights

You know, if I were to ever Google the lyrics to "Paparazzi" or something.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Friends with Kids

My sons are teenagers now and therefore they spend the better part of their summer vacation sleeping and/or playing video games in the basement. They’ve been known to remark, upon finally stepping outside, “The light. It burns.”

I don’t really mind them being so plugged-in to their computers. They’re good kids: good students, responsible, respectful and obedient (mostly). (As my husband so astutely pointed out years ago, “Wouldn’t it be way freakier if they did remember to do exactly everything you told them exactly when you told them to do it?” He’s right. It would be freaky. And it could quite possibly mean they were girls.)

Playing computer and video games is how they de rez after a long year at school. And we do set limits, albeit rather lax ones. I don’t even want to think about how many hours of my childhood I wasted watching reruns of “Gilligan’s Island” or “I Dream of Jeannie.” At least the games they play are interactive and require some brainpower, more brainpower than wondering if the Professor was ever going to get them off that island.

In games like World of Warcraft, the boys are required to do some math. One of my sons has even been named head investment banker for his guild, which makes me simultaneously mortified (Bernie Madoff anyone?)and proud and leaves me wondering, since he nearly doubled his guild’s net worth in one day, if there’s anything he can do about our portfolio.

However, the fact their computers have access to the Internet does bug me, even though they’re in a public place in our house, the center of our basement rec room. And both boys have been well schooled on the dangers of Internet predators: Don’t give out personal information. Never say your age, etc. So, it was with some horror I listened to my son Ethan recount a story at dinner the other night.

“So,” Ethan said. “I signed on to World of Warcraft this morning and this guy starts chatting me. He said, “Hi! My name is Friends with Kids.”

“Really,” I said. Already I didn’t like where this was heading.

Ethan continued, “I don’t reply to this guy, and then he asks me, ‘How old are you?’ So I say, ‘236.’”

Okay, good, I thought. He didn’t give his age to this creep. And he was being funny, besides.

“Eleven to Seventeen would be perfect,” Friends with Kids replied. When Ethan didn’t answer him, he asked, “Where do you live?”

And I was ready to call the cops.

“The North Pole,” Ethan said.

“Oh, you live in Chicago. Great!” Friends with Kids replied.

And then I really started freaking out, because I was thinking of all the time the boys have spent playing this game with such lax security controls on personal information and all these weirdoes out there. How could this guy have known this information about my son? Ethan hadn’t given away any personal information. Friends with Kids, on top of being a pervert, must be some kind of account hacker or something. I was ready to call the police, and Blizzard Entertainment.

“What street do you live on?” Friends with Kids asked next.

And Ethan replied, “Candy Cane Lane.”

“Oh, I see. You live on [insert our street name here.]”

I wished Ethan had just signed-out at this point and come to get me. To say I was terrified is to say the least.

Yet Ethan, our preeminent family storyteller, was quite obviously relishing my horror.

“Then, Friends with Kids asks me what my name is,” Ethan continued, “and I say, ‘It’s Santa Claus.’ And then, Friends with Kids said, “Your name is Ethan [insert Ethan’s last name here] and…[insert dramatic pause here]…of course, I know all these things, because I’m your brother.”

At which point, Ethan says he did look over at his brother Kyle grinning wildly at the computer screen next to him, but that he did NOT sock him soundly in his left arm leaving a small bruise above the elbow.

I was so relieved this was all a practical joke, I practically started crying, not knowing whether I should congratulate Kyle for a brilliant prank, or sock him in the other arm.

Ethan’s anecdote resonates with me for so many reasons. I was proud he knew how to handle this guy and not to answer any of his questions. I was also proud of Kyle for knowing what kinds of questions an Internet predator might ask. I felt we had prepared them well. And I think it’s a cautionary tale, too. One that says, “Don’t play a joke on your brother unless you want a bruise on your upper arm,” or maybe, “Don’t tell a story about hitting your brother unless you want to clean out the garage.”