So I'm sitting on my balcony, enjoying the circus being performed in the courtyard below. Never mind that we don't have a balcony, much less a courtyard. And we almost never have a circus in the yard (at least, not since the last time Anita's brother brought his grandkids over).
This was MY dream. I can have a balcony, a courtyard and the entire Ringling family in the yard if I want to.
For some reason, my 10-year-old granddaughter, Samantha, wasn't sitting on the balcony with the rest of us. She was down in the courtyard, along with the crocodiles. (No, we don't generally have crocodiles around, either — but then, it is an election year.) I don't know why I wasn't too upset about seeing her frolicking with crocodiles. She seemed to be having fun, and besides, there were only a couple of them. Everything appeared to be under control, so I went back to watching the circus.
The next time I looked down there, however, the courtyard was crawling with crocodiles. Huge ones, swarming all over the place. And I couldn't see Sam. So of course, I freaked. I started running all over the place, screaming out her name, asking everyone if they had seen her. No one had. And they were all surprised that I had allowed her to play with the crocs.
"They seemed harmless!" I explained.
"They're crocodiles," they said. "What did you expect?"
Needless to say, I was relieved to awaken from the dream. Since Samantha and her parents were visiting from out of state, I hustled upstairs to where she was sleeping to make sure she was safe — without a crocodile in sight. I chuckled as I padded back down the stairs.
"Crocodiles!" I laughed as I crawled back into bed. "Like I'm really going to turn away from Sam while she's playing with. … "
Suddenly I remembered a conversation with my granddaughter that had taken place just a few hours earlier. I was supposed to be watching Sam while her parents were out for the evening, but the truth is I was actually concentrating on a basketball game. Which is why the details of the conversation are a little fuzzy. But I think it went something like this:
Samantha: "Grandpa, can I play on the Internet for a while?"
Yes, I'm aware of how scary the Internet can be. That's why I looked in on her to see how she was doing. She seemed to be having fun, and besides, she was on a pretty safe website. Everything appeared to be under control, so I went back to watching the game.
It did to me, too. I shuddered as I considered the number of seemingly harmless "crocodiles" I've allowed my children and grandchildren to play with through the years: video games, TV, even their respective radios and MP3 players. Thankfully, they have usually made good choices. But the odds are pretty good that a few bad choices were made along the way as well, and some of my offspring have stumbled onto things they were not prepared to handle.
Who was there to help them interpret that inappropriate message or avoid that disturbing image while I was up on the balcony watching the circus — or the ball game, as the case may be?
Unfortunately, no one. That was my job, and I blew it.
But no more. From now on, we're going to try to keep those crocodiles at bay. I know I can't control everything that's going on in the world, but I can control what's happening within the walls of my own home. We can limit access, monitor viewing and occasionally say "no." Hopefully, this will allow us to take advantage of modern technology's positive possibilities while avoiding its long, sharp teeth.
Which, it turns out, can be a real nightmare.