The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 16, 2007


Around Home
I'll check my calendar (but it will be wrong)

Last month, it seemed that my personal productivity level had somehow gone off the charts. Whereas I usually begin the day with about two dozen unchecked items left on my To Do list from the day before, late in January it began to seem that I was somehow getting everything on my list done, day after day. Acquaintances who assume that writers are technophobes are always surprised to see how dependent I am on my PDA — the pocket-sized electronic date book that holds not only my task list but also all my appointments, my entire address book, and computerized lists of everything from groceries we need to future essay topics — but the truth is that I reach for it dozens of times every day to look up a phone number, to check the time of a dentist appointment and to see what tasks are waiting to be accomplished.

So when the task list started regularly coming up with no more than two or three items remaining, I felt delighted with my surge in productivity. The only problem was that I couldn't actually remember having accomplished all that much the day before. Then I realized what was happening. I was living out a strange virtual version of The Shoemaker's Elves. Except unlike in that fairy tale, magical elves weren't finishing my work for me in the middle of the night — they were merely checking tasks off, whether the items had been executed or not. And it wasn't exactly magical elves, it was my four-year-old daughter Holly.

Children's comfort objects take many forms. My son, at the age of eight, still cannot fall asleep without his green terrycloth frog clutched in the crook of his elbow. My niece always gets tucked in to bed with her floppy pink doll, Dodi. According to family legend, my father as a small child liked to cradle an egg in his palm as he was drifting off to sleep. (The logistics of this have never been clear to me, but I assume that at the very least, the egg was hardboiled.) For four-year-old Holly, bedtime requires only one object close at hand — my PDA. She asks for it every night before I turn off her light, and because I'm heartily in favor of children who can drift off to sleep with a minimum of parental intervention, I've long since caved on this issue.

Understand that my PDA is one of the very basic models. It's simply an electronic date book and calendar, plus a memo function with a tiny touchpad keyboard. It doesn't have wireless access or internet capability, so Holly is not spending the late-night hours calling Portugal or ordering clothes from the Kids Gap web site. She just finds something irresistible about the greenish glow of the 3x2 inch screen in the dark, and she loves to use the stylus to tap out letters.

So most of the time I don't even think about her unusual bedtime habit. Then a few days ago, I booted up my calendar and was surprised to see a blinking candle icon and the words "Happy birthday, Chris Carlsson!" pulsing intermittently across the screen. I puzzled for a moment over why I had apparently put in a reminder to myself about my estate lawyer's birthday. He's a fine attorney, but I've never particularly felt the need to celebrate his big day. Then I realized that Holly had discovered a new function — one that I didn't even know about. She was filling in the date field next to contacts' names in the address book with randomly invented birth dates.

I know it might seem overly permissive that I allow her this electronic indulgence, but as a writer, I find it quite gratifying to see how much comfort she gets from a keyboard. She can't read or spell yet; she doesn't even reliably recognize all the letters of the alphabet. She just likes to tap, tap, tap on the miniature keyboard as she falls asleep.

And a few days ago, I was richly rewarded for my generosity toward her when I turned on my date book to see what the afternoon held in store. As I said, Holly doesn't read or spell, but there is a small number of words she has learned to type by heart, and she had apparently been busy the night before. Next to every line marking the hours of the day, she had typed the few words she knows: HOLLY LOVE MOM.

The syntax was imperfect but the intent was clear. True, her fascination with my electronic task list caused me to neglect to order a turkey the Monday before Thanksgiving. And true, my friend Julie's street address is probably not really 27 numbers long, as it now appears in my address book. But Holly has redeemed herself entirely by making up a whole afternoon's worth of reminders for me, all labeled HOLLY LOVE MOM.

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito