816 North Opinion

My mother had her clothesline; I have a keyboard

“I was hanging out the wash ….” I’ve heard women of my mom’s generation begin “way-back” stories set at the clothesline. In the days before every home had a dryer, the clothesline not only dried the laundry, it engaged the network.

Mom networks have been around, well, since there were moms. Heard about a teacher with a curious education method? Want to share how you caught your kid taking bubble gum to school?

The clothesline was the perfect place to connect with the mom next door who, just by sheer coincidence, was at her clothesline on the other side of the fence.

My own network began with Child No. 1. Parents further into the game shared vital intel about early childhood development (Keep your hands on that immunization card; you’re going to need it later) and illnesses that were spreading across the area (Whoa, Nelly! This stomach bug is a doozy!). Later I was passing my knowledge on to newer parents while learning the steps necessary to navigate post high-school life (FAFSA can kiss my heiney) and what the empty nest will be like (I rarely run the dishwasher.)

The village that used to be connected by clotheslines, then telephone lines, is now tied together with Internet lines.

I engaged part of mine the other day when I read an article about the perils of kids on Instagram. My older kids have Instagram accounts, I have an Instagram account, our podcast has an Instagram account: I know the appeal, but like anything on the Internet, there is a seedy side. A friend’s daughter recently came of Instagram terms-of-service age (13), and my friend was having a hard time keeping track of her activity because she didn’t fully understand how the site worked.

I cyber-met with her and another mom and shared the article. We talked about the main point: Harmless hashtags that can easily and innocently lead to porn.

We talked about protective measures to keep our kids safe when a sunny Internet street quickly turns shady. We talked horror stories and missteps of our own kids (Whaaat? I don’t know how I got 800 Twitter followers on my private account, Mom!)

We talked about the good choices they have made, too: How our kids play video games with friends via Google Hangouts or Skype, how a teen son met his current girlfriend via Instagram.

We talked about the different personalities of our children and how we were attempting to work with those traits to help them learn to navigate online.

And we talked about the irony of talking about Internet safety while on the Internet; the added irony about our kids safely meeting people when the three of us met online.

And we’re old! Not too old to shun technology out of fear of the unknown or too old to think that banning all electronic devices would be a good idea.

But old enough to know that there is mostly good online; old enough to accept that this is where kids hang out: it’s the mall, the roller rink and the arcade all rolled into a hand-held device. We want them to be Internet savvy, but to do that they need to get on there.

The three of us we talked about our day ahead and ongoing situations, then we figuratively went inside our houses.

Faster than choosing a Netflix movie or buying a handcrafted table runner on Etsy, the entire conversation was started and finished in less time than it would take to pin a load of laundry to a clothesline.

Susan Vollenweider lives in Smithville. To hear the women’s history podcast that she co-hosts or to read more of her writing, visit www.thehistorychicks.com or www.susanvollenweider.com