Abbey’s Road: Parenting without Siri

Every weekday at noon, church bells at the end of our street play a few stanzas of a hymn I don’t usually recognize.

This a new thing. In the nearly nine years we’ve lived here, the bells have been silent. The pastor told me this spring they were being fixed, then one day over ham and cheese sandwiches at the dining room table, a tune rang out across the yards and through our windows.

Tiny stopped eating and listened.

“Song!” she said, and it made us all smile.

I didn’t really grow up with hymns. The notes sounded vaguely familiar, but not enough for me to Google even a few words — a conundrum I found exceedingly frustrating. (File under: #Millennialprobs.)

Know what you do if you want to know the words to a 150-year-old song — of which you can remember eight notes — but have no octogenarians handy to help you out?

First, you Google “App to identify songs” and then download five different ones.

Then you attempt to recall enough of the song to awkwardly hum into your iPad (preferably while the kids are napping). If you are tone-deaf, I’m sorry, but this is the end of the road for you.

Even if you aren’t, odds are that your “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” will be construed as a Ke$ha song or something in Japanese.

But there’s a chance you’ll hit the jackpot and solve the mystery, and on my seventeenth attempt that fateful day, it happened.

I was so proud at first that I sent an email to the pastor telling him I’d cracked the case. But the more I thought about it, the sadder I got, because I would have liked to have learned it from a bespectacled, curly-haired grandmother in a button-up blouse and calf-length skirt wearing her Sunday shoes and maybe a dab of lipstick.

But I guess SoundHound will do.

It made me think about parenting in 2018 and all the things we can accomplish without the aid of a single human being. I learned to knit by watching YouTube and perfected pie crusts to the tune of Chef John on allrecipes.com; how many of us have Food Network to thank for our cooking skills?

If we have a question, we can ask Alexa.

If we need directions, well, Bless you, Mr. British Man inside the GPS app.

And where, truly, would we be without Siri?

Conversely, I remember sitting on my grandmother’s back porch during long childhood summertimes, listening to the birds sing and waiting for her to identify each one.

There are apps that do that now.

…Only not really. Because even if your iPhone can recite to you the scientific name of every songbird from Columbus to the Galapagos Islands, it won’t supply the sweet moments that pass as two real, live human beings exchange information.

Those do not come from an app; they come from people.

Inspired by this, I’ve begun instructing my children in things I should have taught them long ago so that someday they won’t have to learn from Alexa instead.

Rather than making the dinner salad myself, which is faster, I taught Bookworm and The Architect how to prep the veggies.

I oversaw as The Architect mixed together her favorite brownies — even (gasp!) cracking the eggs.

I’m sure there’s a YouTube video for that, and it probably doesn’t get frustrated when half the brownie mix spills on the floor.

But my hope is that my kids will remember Mom more than a voice drifting from an iPhone.

Here’s what you need to know:

Grandparents and great-grandparents: Your words have value. Your knowledge has value. Your history has value. Make the recipes; tell the stories; sing the songs, or Alexa will.

Parents: Let’s learn from Alexa, but not let her do our job. Let’s discover alongside our kids, then teach them to go further. Make the recipes again and again. Tell the stories over and over. Sing the songs until you know them by heart.

Kids: I know it can be hard to be patient. I know it takes extra time and attention to listen. But I promise someday you’ll remember and be glad for what you learned.

Then, it will be your turn to pass it on.

Abbey Roy is a mom of three girls who make every day an adventure. She writes to maintain her sanity. You can probably reach her at [email protected], but responses are structured around bedtimes and weekends.

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