It was a normal Friday night at my house, meaning my wife and I were pretending our three kids wanted to watch a movie with us.
In reality, the 5-year-old was too busy trying to ride the dog like a horse. The two 11-year-olds were playing “Minecraft” on their iKindlePadPodTouchPhone thingies. All of that was fine. At least we were all in the same room, and no one was out robbing liquor stores (sometimes I set the bar a bit low, for everyone's sake).
Suddenly, drama erupted like Mount Vesuvius, covering my living-room Pompeii in bubbling preteen emotion.
My daughter, who goes to school in Sacramento, was trying to fend off text messages from a friend 80 miles away while playing the game with her sister. Before I knew it, a half-dozen kids were digitally piling on my kid. My daughter was responding to a query by offering many of them honest yet probably insulting, point-by-point analyses of what's wrong with them (that's my girl). I was texting some little boy to address him calling my daughter a female dog. And another parent (not the boy's) entered the thread, insulting my kid for being “mouthy” (which, if you think about it, is kind of ironic). I responded by defending my daughter, who was hysterically calling her mother because another kid threatened to have her mother (not the one who insulted my kid) call and tell on her.
All of this was done via iKindlePadPodTouchPhone thingies. From many, many miles away.
If someone was going to screw up my make-believe family night on a Friday, they should've at least had the courtesy to do it to my face.
Back in the '70s and '80s, when men had mustaches because some woman somewhere once said she liked them, we used to have our confrontations face-to-face. Or at least verbally via telephone. Neighborhood kids fought it out when they had a problem. People argued over the phone. Mothers yelled at me ... I mean, er ... other kids from three feet away. At least it felt real.
This massive drama felt like a sixth-grade version of “Ender's Game.” All the fighting was being done by proxy in another galaxy.
That's not to say there weren't real emotional consequences. My daughter was crushed. Somehow, during this exchange, someone asked her opinion of them — and she made the incredibly naive decision to tell them the truth (she's too young to have seen Don Corleone instruct Santino never to tell anyone outside the family what he was really thinking in “The Godfather”). Suddenly, all these kids who were on this text thread were jumping down her throat, saying what they thought of her.
Even though she was very, very upset, I managed to stay out of it — until two little boys started calling her names.
I know what you're thinking, and I didn't threaten anyone. I just informed them that I knew what language they were using and, if it continued, I'd be talking to some parents. We all know girls can be absolutely ruthless to each other (and, let's face it, to pretty much everybody). But at 11 or 12 years old, I won't allow any little boy to get the idea he can push my daughter around, if I can help it. That can just lead to bad things later.
I don't want any little girl to push her around, either, but even though that mother deserved to go to federal prison for calling my kid “mouthy,” she had a point: My kid can defend herself from other girls. Just not a pack of them at once.
But the whole debacle brought up a good point: Even when your kids are seemingly ensconced in a safe place for the night, they're still connected to the rest of their world in ways some of us who remember rotary telephones don't entirely comprehend. Sometimes, that's not a bad thing. But on what was supposed to be a quiet night at home, none of us needed the extra drama. I have three girls, and I have all the drama I need.
Next time, I'll unplug them when we need real peace and quiet.