I entered a new stage of aunting this Christmas. I moved from face-to-face to screen-to-screen interaction.
Before this Christmas I could count on unfettered play time with my youngest nephews, ages 9 and 11. As of December 25, 2011, I compete with the digital devices connected to their little heads by little white ear buds.
Before this Christmas Jack and Andy met me at the door with hugs and an invitation to play a board game.
Andy: “Want to play Monopoly?”
Jack: “Or Life?”
Then, after properties were bought or families and careers were made one of the boys would ask: “Can I play with your phone?”
“Sure,” I would reply, knowing that part of my coolness, if I had any at all, was tied to my willingness to hand over my phone. Access to Angry Birds for continued hugs at the door always sounded like a good deal to me.
The apps on my iPhone look like I have a split personality. The Boomer aged woman is evidenced by the Flashlight app used in dimly lit restaurants, the Evernote app for digital reminders and the Tip and Split app for easy dinner bill reconciliation when out with friends. The Crash4Cash, Fast & Furious, Talking Carl, Crazy Candle, Zippo Lighter, Smack Talk and Doodle Jump apps strongly suggest I have a little boy hidden inside. But I don’t have a split personality. I just have nephews.
Things started to change in 2010 when the nephews’ mother received an iPad for Christmas. Mom’s gift quickly became family property and access to my iPhone lost some of its novelty and most of its cache. When one of the boys was flinging angry birds at helmeted pigs it meant the other was crashing cars on my phone and both boys were lost to me for as long as they could borrow someone’s device.
Then this year, Christmas 2011, both Jack and Andy received anytime access to the world of games and music on individual iPod touches. Quicker than one could say, “Can I buy this song?” they downloaded apps and retreated into earphone isolation only returning to the family fold when tapped on the shoulder by an older relative.
Dad: “Jack, turn down the volume. If I can hear it it’s too loud.”
Mom: “Andy. Andy. Andy. Come to the table and eat now.
Aunt Julie: “Want to put together your LEGO set?” They had received a LEGO Architecture kit of the Frank Lloyd Wright Fallingwater house. Both my husband and I really wanted to start building it.
Jack: “Not now, I just want to listen to some music.”
Andy: “Maybe in a minute.”
They didn’t need an aunt to help them enjoy their favorite Christmas gifts this year. They didn’t need me to insert batteries, assemble racetracks or conduct science projects. Building blocks? They could wait.
I taught them how to play Angry Birds on their mom’s iPad so I shouldn’t have been upset that they had moved on to being a Fruit Ninja on their own devices. But I was – a bit – because a bit of innocence and togetherness had been put aside for the next shiny object.
And then a new connection developed. A text connect.
December 25, 2011, 10:20 – 10:30 PM. Andy was at his house and my husband and I were at another brother’s home, where we were spending the night.
Andy: “Did you go to Dick and Deans”
Julie: “Yes, you were opening presents with your grandparents and cousins. See you tomorrow for more fun playing with your gifts.”
Andy: “We can build the falling water”
Julie: “Yes, and maybe a movie.”
Julie: “So we should all go to sleep now! Super body crusher hug goodnight!”
December 26, 2011, 10:41AM. I text Andy before coming over to his house.
Julie: “We’ll be over soon.
Andy: “Got it”
Julie: “Still want to build Lego/go to movie?”
Andy: “Yeah!” (Self-taken photo attached to text)
Julie: “Great picture!”
Andy: “When are u guys coming over, watch time”
Julie: “Be there by noon.”
Andy: “Hi Julie how is the trip going”
Julie: “Great. Almost home. How was family movie night?”
Andy: “It was really good but sadly we didn’t use the new popcorn maker”
Julie: “Next time. Is the Lego house still together?”
December 27, 2011, 10:23 AM. The following day I’m in Chicago and Andy in Ohio.
Andy: “Yes, the Lego house is still together but not for long.”
Julie: “Well it has to go sometime. Paul sure had fun with your gift!”
Andy: “Did he?”
Julie: “Yes. Hope it was okay he put the house together.”
Andy: “It was fine”
Julie: “How do you feel today?”
Andy: “Better I’m going to a movie with my friend Mason”
Julie: “Which movie?”
Andy: “Sherlock Holmes 2”
Julie: “Was it good?”
Andy and I don’t talk much between visits. He doesn’t really like the phone. When his Mom makes him say hi when I call our conversations are short. His text messages were short too but he initiated them. And kept them going.
I’m not sure how long our text relationship will last but if this new screen in his life brings him a little bit closer to me when we are apart I think I can handle it taking him away from me a bit when we are together.