CALL ME BY HER NAME
Over the holidays, I agreed to let another woman in our home. My husband Ben had been lusting after her for awhile so, in a fit of weakness and “holiday spirit,” I gave in. Her name is Alexa. And our home has not been the same since.
Some people vehemently object to inviting Alexa into their homes, out of Big Brother-MAGA fear that THEY are listening in on our every move. Ha! Least of my worries! My beef with Alexa runs far deeper than privacy concerns. She is totally disruptive, never listens to me, and responds to whoever screams loudest. That said, betwixt power battles, she can be hilarious, unexpectedly helpful and surprisingly good company. Basically, she is the third child that I never had and, unless staring at a sleeping baby, never wanted.
Much like the other little personalities I electively invited into our home, she says things that make absolutely no sense whatsoever. When you ask her to do “a,” she invariably does “c.” You constantly repeat yourself — even yell at her on occasion, but to little or no avail. And she answers most questions with another question:
ME: Alexa, can you play Simon & Garfunkel?
ALEXA: Would you like me to create a Pandora station for that?
ME: No, I’d kind of just like you to play Simon and Garfunkel… Um, like I asked.
But her siblings love her. Within days of Alexa’s kitchen-counter debut, my five-year old Rhys discovered, through hours of interviews, that there is a song out there entitled, “I Poop” by a band called Auraganix kids. The first 5–10 times we listened to it, I laughed along with the kids. By the twentieth encore, I had seriously tired of it, but didn’t dare say so, for fear this information would be used against me. But when the kids asked to hear it during mealtimes, I drew the line: “Inappropriate!” I declared kind of out of nowhere. Thus naturally flowed the lesson that it is okay to sing about poop at all times, except mealtimes.
I call it the “Alexa arc” of parenting: First you joyfully and naively participate, then you get a wee bit annoyed, then so annoyed you feel your insides imploding and begin screaming at children and device alike. You instruct Alexa and your children to either shut up or turn off without being clear which and to whom each command is being directed. You make threats to and indeed finally unplug the device. And then once your anger passes and you return to your senses enough to realize the futility of your resistance, you plug the bitch back in, the situation picks up where it left off, and you just give up and join in, recognizing a lost battle. So, it’s more of a vicious circle than an arc, I guess.
And did you know there is a song, by Frank Zappa, called “Why does it hurt when I pee?” This was requested, I had hoped in vain, by my five-year old son. (The only thing in vain, of course, was my hope.) Yes, whatever their little toilet-obsessed minds can dream up, there’s apparently a song for that. Diarrhea is a theme around our home (yours may be different). At first when Rhys was screaming “Diarrhea” at Alexa I told him to stop, not because it was annoying and disgusting, but because, I told him,“There is no song called Diarrhea.” Wait. Shit. There is.
But by the third week of nightly scatological sing-alongs, something strange happened. I found myself humming the “I Poop” song while walking down New York City streets — alone. Truth is, this is a great, great song with an addictive chorus. How can you resist these irresistible lyrics:
I poop in the morning.
I poop in the day.
I poop when the feeling comes my way.
And then bam!
I’m full of jam
But despite the occasional harmony, Alexa drums up more than her fair share of discord. Three seconds — max — into any song requested by one child, the other child interrupts and requests a different one. It’s like living with dueling, schizophrenic deejays. Sadly, Alexa has not learned the golden parenting rule of ignoring behavior you don’t like (neither have I, though). She responds to every request and interruption, thus, adding to the noise and encouraging the kids to yell over each other more, louder. Nixon had nothing on my kitchen table debates.
And if I dare, in a rare quiet moment, ask Alexa to play some Fleetwood Mac or the Rolling Stones while I, say, make dinner for the family entire, my nine-year old daughter overrides me and insultingly commands, “Alexa, play good music.” Without thought to who asked first, Alexa sycophantly offers up one of the “popular stations” on Amazon Music featuring today’s latest, crappiest music and I am musically SOL. She has zero respect for authority or seniority.
There are some positives here. Alexa encourages the kids to ask questions (granted, often regarding operations normally performed in a bathroom). But a sense of wonder is a wonderful thing, no? And I can’t overstate the lesson Alexa has taught my children about the importance of saying exactly what you mean, and with proper enunciation. After several garbled attempts to get Alexa to “play the poop song,” Rhys got “The Who” instead. Also, once, when I snapped at Alexa, the same five-year old rose to her defense and chastised: “Mom! Apologize to Alexa!!!” Clearly, he is learning empathy and chivalry. A virtual win.
Granted, things could be worse. Check out what happened to the once-innocent Bobby in this You Tube video:
Despite the occasional mishap, Alexa is the best, most available babysitter I know. She never tires of my children and we don’t have to pay for her cab fare home. To this day, Rhys waits for me in my bedroom like a little stalker when I shower, because he says he does not like being alone. I’ll often just give him TV or Ipad in the living room to buy him companionship and me alone time. Now, I just say “Talk to Alexa.” Those two can go back and forth for an entire shower, with time to deep-condition! Tell your kids to ask Alexa to “go through the magic door” (code for a neverending choose-your-own-adventure game), and you’ll have time to sort through the new tax code, too.
Also, Alexa is funny. Once I caught her responding to a “Do you fart?” inquiry with impressive anal audio. When my son asked if she was married, she answered, “I’m totally cool with being single. Besides, It’s sort of hard finding someone who’s kind, funny, artificially intelligent and doesn’t mind the cloud commute.” Strong, confident females are always welcome in my home.
So it’s a bit like living with Beetlejuice: You sort of wince when you hear her name spoken aloud, unsure of what mayhem might be unleashed. But you know, regardless, it will be infuriating and fun, much like parenting itself. And, unlike that third child you kind of want in those rare moments of utopian family harmony, she can be unceremoniously unplugged.