Sometimes parenting is lonely. Actually, a lot of the time. Which is strange, really, because use of the very word parenting would, in itself, imply — no, necessitate — that you are taking care of, ie, raising, a child, or children, which would imply that you are not doing that alone… that’s not literally possible, is it? To “parent” in a room alone by yourself? No. And yet.
Sometimes it feels that way. When my (adorable, hilarious, unwashed, unkempt) children are flinging grapes over the table, shouting “NAKED NAKED NAKED”, or quibbling over who gets to hold the Thomas the Train book that we have two of, and Ethan is still at work doing work-y things, I often feel like I’m in the house alone with two aliens, or at least members of another species. Adorable, hilarious members of another species, who say the cutest things, like MOMMY YOU DIDN’T SCRUNCH MY SOCK (scrunch: word, or not a word?) and I JUST TRIPPED OVER A BOULDER AND TOOK A TUMBLE (too much Peppa Pig consumption) and WHY WOULD THAT VIDEO BE SCARY, DINOSAURS AREN’T EVEN REAL MOMMY (4yo version of eye roll).
Dinnertime can frequently feel like preparing to do battle, and it often is a battle, no matter how hard I train for it. I want every mom or dad out there giving your kids dinner to believe me when I say this, okay? IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. Your kid just requested a meal and then acted horribly offended when served said meal? NOT YOUR FAULT. Your kid just dropped food on the floor to test the laws of gravity? NOT YOUR FAULT. Neither child ate a single thing you asked them to and there is mushed avocado in your cleavage? NOT YOUR FAULT. And you are not alone. Except that you are (sorry). Except — you don’t have to be! I have recently discovered a tool for making dinnertime (and other times, too) far less lonely. It’s called the Amazon Echo, or “Alexa,” as she is known colloquially. She’s our new addition to dinnertime, and she’s the real deal.
I know she’s really supposed to be some forward-thinking-technical-bot type of accessory to a modern household, but in our house she’s more like a mother’s helper and warden with a side of rollicking good fun. Someone gave us the Echo as a holiday gift, and in the short three months since she’s come to live with us, Alexa has completely changed the dynamic of dinner with people 4-and-under. Need to get your kids to the table? Ask Alexa to set the timer for two minutes. (They listen to Alexa. When she rings, they come. I don’t even possibly understand how or why that works, but it’s magic). Alexa provides constant entertainment, never tiring or complaining when we stop her mid-song. She can even “shuffle Thomas the Train” songs, which seems to infinitely delight my two children, and she allows my four-year-old to practice such commands as “Alexa, pause!” and “Alexa, repeat!” (He even says “please” a lot of the time. Again, don’t understand; not questioning). Alexa even challenges my four-year-old to up his diction game, since she doesn’t respond to the endearingly sweet “AWEXA. AWEXA?” I swear, his l’s are clear as a bell now. Thanks, Amazon.
Is it weird that Alexa feels like my trusty little friend during that six pm witching hour, gently guiding me through dinnertime and into the blessed five minutes that is dessert, when both kiddos sit masterfully still in their seats, licking up the dregs of their chocolate ice cream and proving that every other time they ever wiggled they absolutely knew better? Maybe. She’s really quite pleasant, though her response to “Alexa, I love you,” runs the gamut from “I cannot answer that question,” to “Aw. That’s nice.” (She never says it back). But she does get my 17-month-old up and dancing, bopping his head to our old standbys (“Stitches” by Sean Mendez and “Best Day of My Life,” by American Authors. We aren’t all Thomas the Train over here, though I did catch myself singing “Misty Island Railway Here We Go” on repeat the other day before promptly stabbing myself in the eye). It’s also heartwarming to watch a preschooler interact with Alexa, noticing how, when she doesn’t do the thing he’s asked or in fact does the exact opposite of it (again, a diction issue, or the fact that my 4yo often voices commands while his little brother is screaming bloody murder), he never seems to get upset. He never assumes he hasn’t articulated himself well or that the Echo couldn’t hear him over the tantruming; he just assumes that Alexa, like all of us, is not infallible. He requested “Uptown Funk” and she gave him Daft Punk? Happens to the best of us. Apparently, Alexa can teach us many life lessons, though I’m too tired right now to figure out what those are.
In sum: Alexa is kinda my new best friend. A new member of the household who doesn’t judge me, who has to do whatever absurd and conflicting things we request of her, and who’s like a silent commiserator when vegetables are tossed under the table or impossible art projects initiated at 8pm by not even remotely tired human beings. (Note: she never gives me away, that Alexa. My kid did not, I repeat did not, start an art project at 8pm because he was obviously in bed SLEEPING. Please).