At this very moment my parents, who also happen to be great-grandparents, are likely bickering over whose turn it is to use the iPad. What a glorious time to be alive.
My dad was born in France the year the stock market crashed. He vividly remembers the Nazi occupation and fearing for his life in bomb shelters. My mother was born a modest clip of time after my father, but still during the Great Depression. She survived a large, colorful Irish/Scottish family and some tough nuns at her Brooklyn grade school. All the things that have occurred since — including the tumultuous Sixties, negotiating daily life in New York, raising a family, traveling, stuffed crust pizza — puts them solidly in a category of world-wise.
And yet, my folks were feeling left out of an important loop: Their lives needed a big dose of wifi. Sure, they’ve had cable-tethered computers for the last 15 years. Their machines have been clunky and sluggish, but together they managed to navigate through emails, search engines and the occasional Skype sessions. But aside from some scattered ATM wizardry, touch screens and the wireless world had been out of the picture for these two.
My mom began to utter, “I’d like to learn how to text. I want to take pictures so I can share them instantly, like everybody else does…” Her curiosity about technology has always been ceaseless. I love that. She’s the “early adapter” within her sweet coupledom. My dad is often the reluctant one, at first. But once a gadget du jour crosses his front door, he forgets to grumble and is all over it as well.
Enter the iPad. Last week my mom celebrated a milestone birthday, and voila, this wireless device landed on her lap.
As timing would have it, my youngest son was able to fly in for the family party. (Or what he dubbed “Grandma’s Rager.”) This meant my mom had an ever-so-patient millennial at the ready to show her how to surf the wifi wave. They had hours of setting up and practice. Then the kid gave my dad a crash course. There’s something adorable about watching two distinct generations bonding and hunkering over the glow of magic pixels.
I think it’s important that if the senior citizens in our lives show an interest in the latest forms of technology and communication, we should pounce to show them how today’s gizmos work. Grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles and friends with yellowed AARP cards can get so much joy out of being in the techno loop.
My youngest and I were tickled at how my folks belly-laughed when we took them in the funhouse mirror of the “photo booth” feature. And while I was still at their house, I practiced Facetime with my mom. I went to another room to call her tablet, Jetsons style. She answered with a grin and a “Wuddup?”
In a matter of days, my parents were saying words like “apps” and “earbuds.” They still have lots to learn — lots — but they’re thrilled and determined. Every time they hear a “ding” coming from their gadget, they know a family member is checking in to share something with them.
As I was writing this, I took a break to text my mother. I had sent her a message that said, “Look at the clouds I saw on my walk…” Then, I followed it up with my latest cell picture. Or so I thought. She called me by landline to inform me the clouds weren’t there. Sure enough, the image was stuck in a “sending” mode on my end. My wifi was anemic, and this grandmother, excuse me, this great-grandmother, had picked up on it.
The last few years, I’ve been noticing many other seniors connecting to the world via today’s technology. I see them tapping away at airports, grocery stores, parties, everywhere. It’s sweet to know my parents, too, are putting their fingers on the pulse of now.
Denise Snodell writes alternate weeks. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @DeniseSnodell