I am beginning to rue the day that I allowed Tadpole to sit on my white chair, adjusted to its highest setting, and taught her how to use a mouse. Within minutes, with the help of the CBeebies website and, in particular, the Teletubbies section, Tadpole had grasped not only how to move the location of the arrow around on the screen, but also how to click. Mastery of click and drag was not far behind.
Suddenly a whole new virtual world was open to her, where she was able to colour in pictures without getting felt tip pen on her fingers and sleeves, play simple interactive games and navigate freely around children’s websites, only coming unstuck if she accidentally executed a right click and was suddenly faced with an incomprehensible grey menu (she can’t read yet) or if she had the misfortune to select a game which required use of the arrow keys (a leap too far, at the moment).
On that first day, I sat patiently by her side, showing her what to do, where to click, and generally giving her encouragement. We built an adventure playground with Bob the Builder, watched a Dora The Explorer adventure and sang with the Tweenies. On the second day, I opened a book and had a sneaky read while she clicked away by my side, looking up once in a while to check that she hadn’t strayed from her CBeebies playground, to, say, buy a car on ebay, or delete a string of comments from my blog. On the third day I let her loose on the internet whilst I made her dinner next door, popping back in whenever her yelp of frustration indicated that she had got herself stuck somewhere and couldn’t work out how to navigate back to the main menu.
But on the fourth day, parental pride and the novelty of having something new to bribe her with (“you can have a go on the computer, but only if you are a good girl”) gave way frustration, jealousy and a whole host of jittery withdrawal symptoms.
“Ping,” goes the sound of an incoming message on gmail chat, in another firefox tab, tantalisingly invisible.
“Sweetie, can mummy look at her message? That noise means there’s a message…”
“NO! I clicking! I not finished yet,” says Tadpole in a voice which leaves little room for debate.
I pace around the apartment, trying hard to contain my curiosity, wondering whether the message was from a friend or an admirer. What have I missed?
“How about mummy puts the Mr Men on the television?” I suggest, finally convinced I have hit on a viable alternative to clicking.
“No. I want to play Mr Men on the comPUter! Not the television. I want to CLICK!” replies Tadpole, remembering the official website where she had watched Mr Greedy and guests having a birthday food fight.
I retire, crestfallen, to the kitchen to make a calming cup of tea and plot my next move. I don’t think I had realised until now just how often I sneak a couple of minutes to check my email, my comments, or have a quick chat, but now, suddenly, my daughter has the power to cut me off from the outside world for half an hour at a time. Now, every time my fingers so much as stretch towards the keyboard, a little person drops whatever she is doing, a leg is flung over mine, and she tries to clamber onto my knee, comandeers the mouse with her small fingers and refuses to relinquish it.
Finally, Tadpole has found my achilles heel. God help me.