Computer Granny

Computer Granny

From Chicken Soup for the Grandparent's Soul

Computer Granny

Other things may change us, but we start and end with family.

Anthony Brandt

My eyes filled with tears as I kissed my family good-bye at the Sydney, Australia, airport. Because the trip from America is so expensive, I knew I wouldn’t be returning to be with my son, my Australian daughter-in-law or my precious grandchildren for at least two more years.

Tracy, nine years old, and Phillip, eleven, were born there. I’d seen them only five times in their short lives— one month every two years. I so wanted to be a good grandma to them, like my grandma was to me. I wanted to bake them homemade cookies, visit their schools, watch Tracy’s dance recitals and Phillip’s bowling tournaments. I wanted them to be able to come to me when they were hurting and let me wipe their tears and give them hugs. I wanted to be able to talk with them every day—to listen to their laughter, to know their dreams, to say “I love you.”

Each time we parted, my heart ached a little more. But on this visit Tracy and Phillip had given me exciting hope for the future. They had talked incessantly about their new computer and how, if I bought one, we would be able to communicate daily!

“Remember, Granny,” Tracy squealed as I waved goodbye, “get a computer! And write to us!”

“Every day!” Phillip shouted. “We’ll write to you, too.”

And so it was that I abandoned my outdated typewriter and made a frightening leap into this fast-paced, high-tech era of e-mail. Everything about my new computer scared me. I was afraid to touch the keyboard for fear I’d delete something important or do some sort of damage. I even had trouble getting started with the one-page, loose insert of quick tips:

Click on the Windows Icon.

(Wait! I wanted to scream. How do I turn on the computer?)

Click on the Start button, located on the Taskbar.

(What’s a taskbar?)

Point to Programs with the mouse cursor.

(What part of this silly-looking mouse thing is a cursor?)

Gramps started questioning my sanity when he heard me talking to my machine, aloud, on a regular basis:

WARNING! Invalid MAPI.DLL present. Cannot provide MAPI.DLL service.

(Did I ask to be serviced?)

WARNING! This program has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down.

(So shut down already. I don’t want to work with something illegal anyway.)

WARNING! A printer time-out has occurred.

(What?! My printer is taking a break? Who’s in charge here?)

My first few weeks of learning were not fun. I spent full days and nights reading tutorials. I bought Windows for Dummies. I waited on hold for hours, the phone glued to my ear, trying to connect to a live helper on the “helpline.” I harassed my friends with annoying calls—at 7:00 A.M., at meal time, at bedtime—pleading for a simple escape from some program jam that had me trapped in limbo.

The machine became my nemesis, and at the same time, the hero that could link me to my family. It was definitely a love/hate relationship. But no obstacle, technological or otherwise, could deter me from the possibility of hearing from my grandchildren every day!

I’ve missed out on so much of their lives. But with electronic mail, everything has changed. Now, one month and dozens of messages later, I’m up-to-the-minute with news from Tracy and Phillip!

By e-mail, Phillip tells Gramps and me about his role in the school play. He regales us with his account of getting caught in the rain on his bike. And he makes us proud as he announces his test scores in math.

On my last visit I taught him a goofy language called “Op.” He recently sent a complete e-mail message using our “secret code”—no easy task. The best part was OpI lopove yopou sopoopoopoopo mopuch! Translation: I love you soooo much!

Tracy turned ten last week. We were in on the birthday plans from day one—the porcelain doll she was hoping for, the anticipation of a slumber party with three of her friends and a Lion King cake.

On the night of her sleepover we smiled at the computer message from her dad complaining about the unbearable noise level. We quickly responded to Tracy by saying, “We had to close our windows because we could hear you and your friends all the way across the ocean!”

Her mom immediately replied, “I just went in and read your message to the girls. They started to apologize, then realized it was a joke. The look on their faces was priceless!”

Before long we received a short note from Tracy. It was almost as though we were right there enjoying her party in person.

The kids write to me when they’re happy. And they write when they are hurting. They share some secrets they don’t even tell Mom and Dad, and they ask me questions that only a grandma could answer.

I can’t wipe their tears or put my arms around them and hold them close. But I can “listen” and show how much I care with my empathy and advice. I can send them funny jokes and precious poems. I can tell them how much I love them—every day.

I still make lots of mistakes on my computer, and my heart still jumps when I get one of those obnoxious, threatening, WARNING! alerts. The most recent one said I had committed a “fatal error.” Fatal! I nearly threw in the mouse pad! But on the same day we received a message from Tracy saying, “I love you guise bigger than the entire world!”

For that I’ll take any abuse this whiz-bang wonder of chips and a motherboard dishes out.

Just call me Computer Granny!

Kay Conner Pliszka

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