Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Held Hostage By A Little Old Lady With An iPad

First published in the January 23, 2013 issue of The Oxford Journal by Sara Mattinson. 

What started out as a simple walk in the snow down to my in-laws for a quick visit turned into a diabolical abduction. As soon as I sat down in a chair in their living room, I asked a question that would alter the entire fate of my afternoon. 
“Did you ever get your Internet satellite set up?”
 “Oh, yes,” Mary told me. “Here, I’ll just put the kettle on while you show us how this works.”
Into my hands she thrust the iPad she and her husband received for Christmas from one of the grandsons who lives two hours away. My in-laws are in their mid-80s; they won’t even leave messages on answering machines so what on earth will they do with a computer as new age as an iPad? 
The trick is to dangle the right carrot. Promise them greater face time with their newest great-grandchildren (both under the age of two) and they’ll try anything. 
Since the other out-of-town grandson had set up an email account for them, the first step to using the aptly-named program, Facetime, it seemed my in-laws were itchy to learn how it worked.
“You have an email from Beverley,” I said to Mary. I wrote her daughter back to tell her that yes, the email was working, that I had been commandeered to get Facetime running properly, and that although Mary had said she was going to boil water, she continued to look over my shoulder so a cup of tea seemed unlikely.
“Oh, you,” Mary laughed but my broad hint was lost because at that moment, the iPad rang! On the screen popped two buttons so I tapped Accept and there was grandson Peter on the screen with Mary’s face in a small corner box.
It works. Nanny and Grampy can now Facetime. I needed a moment to process that but I was so thirsty, it was hard to think. 
Here’s what I could process: Mary in particular seemed rather excited by the idea of using the iPad. She disappeared for a few minutes to put the kettle on finally (one must keep the hostage hydrated so she can continuing labouring) but soon she was back at my shoulder, asking questions, listening to my instructions, eager to get a handle on all of it. She wasn’t joking around or dismissing it as hard to understand. 
This is not surprising. My mother-in-law is a woman who likes to be connected, especially to family, and who values information. In 65 years, she has watched her rural community shrink to a few long-time residents and church attendance dwindle to a few dedicated members. There are names in the newspaper she doesn’t recognize and the children of children she once knew are moving away. From her family she hears words like “email” and “the web” and “Facebook”, our tools for gathering and sharing information, so she wants to understand, even use these tools – if this is the way to stay connected and in the loop. 
The finger that reaches out to tap the mail icon may be gnarled with arthritis but her mind is in very good shape. 
Everything was set up so thinking I might get some tea and be allowed to leave, I toured Mary around the main display. 
“Tap that icon for email.”
Nanny and Grampy have an email account!
“Tap that icon for Facetime.”
Nanny and  Grampy are going chat with people using a computer!
I didn’t mention the icon on the far right. Good heavens, what if Mary discovers the Internet? The next thing we’ll know, she will be friending us on Facebook or sending us updates from her blog. 
As I snuck one of Donn’s gumdrops for energy, I heard Mary dial the phone.
“I just want to let you know Sara’s fine,” she told my husband. “She’s helping us with the iPad.”
“Help! Help!” I hollered but Mary chuckled and hung up the phone. Who knew a chuckle could sound so ominous?
It was ticking on to four o’clock. If I stayed any longer, I was going to need to eat a meal here. The time to escape was now. 
Luckily, Donn had just had a cataract operation and Mary isn’t as swift on her feet as she used to be (although I wouldn’t put it past her to trip me with her cane) so in a moment when the two of them were distracted, I broke out of my chair, dashed through the kitchen, grabbed my coat and ran out the door, slipping and sliding on the ice and snow but oh so grateful to be free.
Spending several hours helping my in-laws learn to use a computer is one thing but a meal creates a whole new kind of hostage situation.
You know what people in their eighties are like when it comes to feeding people. 

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