IT’S LATE AT night. Everyone else in the house is asleep. I’m alone in my office, sitting at my computer, doing something secret and shameful, something I don’t want anybody in my family to know about.
I’m Googling my kids.
I type in my son’s first and last names, then the name of our hometown. I scan the half-dozen hits that come up — newspaper listings of his school’s honor roll, some mentions in the sports pages, a Reading Olympics or two. Nothing I haven’t seen before. I type in his nickname and last name, and am reminded by the long list of hits that Jake has a doppelgänger in Maine and also that his name comes up a lot in regard to a band known as “Less Than Jake.” I scroll down, go to the next page of hits, scroll down, go to the next page, and — bingo! Here’s something new and intriguing: a MySpace page.
In the glow of the screen, I click and see that my son has photoshopped his sunglasses-wearing head onto someone else’s body, someone in a spiffy sharkskin suit and skinny black tie. The result looks a little like John Belushi in The Blues Brothers. I start poking around his page. It looks pretty much like any other 16-year-old boy’s: babe jokes, dick jokes, marijuana jokes. Lots of marijuana jokes.
I don’t think he’s really smoking pot, and some of them are pretty funny. I laugh, alone in the dark. How much can it matter? MySpace is old hat, I remind myself. This page hasn’t been updated in more than six months. No doubt he’s moved on to Facebook.
I’m still working on how to get to him there.
THE LINE BETWEEN those who cyber-spy on their kids and those who don’t is one of the clearest divisions in parentdom. The latter are appalled by the former. “I don’t do that,” my friend Barb says. “Trust between a parent and child has to be a sacred bond.” Laurie agrees: “I’ve never done it. Never would.” Carol has a computer-whiz husband who must know ways of cyber-spying I could never dream of. “We did it,” she confesses. Another friend admits to reading her son’s e-mail whenever he leaves the window up on his computer. “What else can I do?” she demands in frustration. “He never tells me anything about where he is, who he’s with, what he does with his life.”
I like to think my motives are a little purer. Jake will be applying to college next year, and I’ve read about admissions officers checking out Facebook, the same way some employers do. I’m not sure how directors of admissions feel about marijuana jokes, even really funny ones.
But herein lies the trouble with cyber-spying. Jake and I are driving to the mall to do some Christmas shopping. He’s been taking ceramics because a hole in his class schedule couldn’t be filled by anything else, and he’s actually made some of his gifts, he tells me: “But Mrs. Y. wouldn’t let me make a bong.”