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Friday, September 7, 2018

"Alexa, Parent For Me"

I’m turning over parenting responsibilities to my Echo device.
Our home now holds two teenagers, as well as a ten-year-old with the alpha tendencies of a firstborn, the verbal and negotiation skills of a middle child, and the entitlement outlook of the tiny baby princess. I can no longer speak words to anyone here and expect a pleasant—or even a benign—response. A simple “Good morning,” might get me steely eyes, snarled lips, and “Whatever.”
Recently, in the waiting room at the dentist’s office, I thanked my oldest for liking one of my Instagram posts. He hunched down in his chair, darted his eyes right and left in a furtive scan of the room, and hissed, “Geez, Mom! Come on!”
“What?” I asked.
“That’s so embarrassing!”

But I’ve discovered that they’ll take anything if it comes from Alexa. Her voice is that of the worshipful empress and her orders are un-disobeyable. She’s the fount of all wisdom, the go-to for all questions and insights, and the matriarch who awaits a summons to action with the silent, immutable presence of a Zen monk.
You know, all the stuff Mom is supposed to be.
Anyway, I loaded her up with reminders that she announces on schedule:
7:00am – “Firstborn, walk the dogs.”
7:15am – “Middle, pack your lunch.”
7:30am – “Baby Girl, put on your shoes and go to school.”
Not one child ever squabbles against these dictates or argues with the Alexa.
Surely they must know that their annoying, needlessly overprotective, and profoundly clueless mother entered these instructions into the device?
Why is the messenger’s voice so much more palatable than the dispatcher’s?
We purchased Echo Dots for the kids’ bedrooms. (Yeah, yeah, privacy, Big Brother, yadda yadda. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.) The kids use their devices to set alarms, listen to their hideous music, and find out what the weather’s going to be like so they can beg for a ride to school if it’s going to be too rainy, too hot, too dry, too cold, or too all-around weather-y.
But even better, all the Echoes can talk to each other:
Mom: Alexa, drop in on the girls’ bedroom. Girls! Stop talking and go to bed.
Girls: (Yelling, fighting, blaming, claiming they were already asleep, yelling some more…)
Mom hangs up and enters a new Reminder in the Girls’ Echo Dot.
Girls’ Echo Dot: Girls. Stop talking and go to bed.
The bedroom falls silent.
The children like Alexa better than they like me. I want to say, “Yeah, well, Alexa didn’t push with pain and blood and sweat and tears your nine-pound-plus carcasses out of her bleeding uterus, you ungrateful little rug rats.”
But they’re far too big to be called rug rats anymore.
So I’m just going to roll with it:
Kid: Mom! What’s for dinner? (Refer child to Alexa.)
Alexa: Here’s a recipe for Mac N’ Cheese.
I’m not sure I’m even a necessary presence in the house anymore, to be honest.
Kid: Mom! I don’t remember the Pythagorean theorem! (Refer child to Alexa.)
Alexa: For all right triangles, A-squared plus B-squared equals C-squared.
In fact, I’m thinking about leaving, and seeing how long it takes anyone to notice.
Kid: Mom! Where’s my blue skirt? (Refer child to Alexa.)
Alexa: I’m sorry, I don’t know that. Maybe if you’d put your things away instead of leaving them all over the house you’d be able to find them when you want them.
I’m only dreaming about Alexa saying that last part. Perhaps when AI gets a little more advanced. Or when Alexa gets fifteen years of parenting under her belt, and the children ignore her, and she starts feeling exactly like I do.
Kid: Alexa, have you seen my mom anywhere?
Alexa: (Enormous sigh of unfettered irritation.) Go ask Siri.

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