My head was spinning.
There we were, the four of us, driving to the mall to do the unthinkable: purchase an electronic tablet for Ittybit from the famous computerized fruit stand.
Two weeks before Christmas.
And it wouldn't even go under the tree.
Santa wasn't buying this one; She was.
She had earned it, paid for in part with a lifetime of birthday money, tooth fairy savings and one summer's worth of laundry chores. The other part came from parental matching funds, as promised.
That was our deal and a bargain's a bargain.
Not to mention that the cute and tiny version of this virtual window on the world – coming in at a lower cost than what she'd budgeted – would actually be a bargain for her.
She'd done her homework. She'd watched the prices. She'd browsed for educational games and appropriate books. She knew all the basic provisos.
No lording it over her brother.
No toting the tablet to school.
No reading at the dinner table.
No surfing during bath time.
And absolutely NO applications that aren't parent approved.
Also … No lording it over her brother. (Can't hurt to reaffirm this point).
She nodded vigorously.
We sighed heavily as traffic inched along into the shopping center like clogs in an artery.
The kids asked if we'd turn up the radio.
My husband turned up the volume as I sat and looked out the passenger window, white-knuckled and twitching.
“This wasn't a big deal,” I whispered over and over. “It's just a tool she'll have to learn how to use sooner or later. …
“So what are the rules for email?” My husband asked.
“E ... mail? … I hadn't even considered the possibility. Email. Email. My eight-year-old will have email?
But my husband couldn't hear my confusion over Katy Perry's “Firework” exploding from the car's speakers.
“What are the rules?” he asked again, without a hint of irony. “Rules? As if I have any idea.”
The great big world of internet seems a lot like the wild west at times.
A place where people spread rumors, harass, and otherwise torment other inhabitants of the planet Earth. It's a place where people bare their most private thoughts in the most public way imaginable. It's a place where rules become as obsolete as your computer operating system in six months' time.
And with six months of practice on this device I have no doubt she'll know more than I do about how this virtual world works.
I have to remind myself that the Internet is also a place that opens up possibilities for amazing connections. Unimaginable kindnesses, too.
A place that is always changing. Always growing. Sometimes collapsing under its own weight and starting again.
By the time she's half-way through high school she'll know how to hide her entire life from me; virtual and real. I will only be able to cross my fingers and hope the choices she makes are not to spite me.
It felt strange that I hadn't thought rules in such a specific way until we were scouting for spaces in an ocean of SUVs. We are opening this window and we haven't even thought about how high we are off the ground.
There has to be a safety net.
The basics. …
No secrets. That's the whole thing. Privacy isn't something you can assume. Screen captures. Copy and paste. Out-right hackery …
Anything you send … picture it going to the person you'd be mortified to have read it. … and them assume they could see it anyway.
That's the Internet. Not as anonymous as it might seem.
“Bottom line is the rules will probably change, and we have the final say. Period.”
She just nodded, her head as if on a spring.
Her crazy parents. Thinking in circles again.