This Side Up

Trumping the iPad


I’m here to report that the alligator hasn’t killed reading…yet.

I was beginning to wonder, after a super dose of kids and digital games that bewilder the imagination. The kids, all five or six years old, were a joy and a handful.

Eddie was the catalyst. He’s six, a string bean, a head taller than his peers and with endless energy.

We get to see Eddie, our only grandson, once a year around July when my son Jack and his family make the 23-hour flight from Vietnam to visit a couple of weeks. That’s been the routine for at least the past three years. Then more than a month ago, Jack e-mailed that he was thinking of coming the weekend before Christmas. He had earned the airline miles and he would be bringing Eddie with him.

It all seemed crazy. They would be flying into New York Thursday at 7:30 p.m., staying with my father in Connecticut and turning around to go back on Sunday night. They would barely get over jet lag before reversing the body clock and jumping 12 hours ahead of themselves. It’s hard enough for me to adjust to Eastern Standard Time without having to make up for a full day. But even if they slept during the day and stayed up most of the night, that would be better than not seeing them at all.

Eddie is in the equivalent of first grade in a British school in Ho Chi Minh City. His first cousins, Alex and Sydney, live in North Kingstown, are a year younger and kindergarteners. A highlight of the trip would be getting the kids together. And then there was the bonus of Nina and Liam, more distant cousins who live in Ridgefield, Conn.

You get the picture; a weekend playing hide and seek, tying shoelaces, getting little bodies in and out of car seats, finding toys and, for the umpteenth time, saying you can’t watch a DVD or television. None of that happened except for the one lost Ugly Doll, which really does live up to its name. After a frantic search that I thought was going to leave Sydney in tears, the doll was retrieved from the recycling bin, where it had been tossed with a cardboard box

Ugly Dolls have been around for some time and are making a comeback, if the attention my granddaughters give them is any measure. Why they deserve such affection is beyond my comprehension.

The latest rage is equally bazaar and my introduction to that came on our way to Ridgefield:

No sooner than we got into the car did Eddie ask, “Are we almost there?” Jack was patient the first time, explaining it would be about a half hour and then suggested, “Why don’t you look around?”

Five minutes later Eddie wanted to know, “Are we almost there, now?”

Eddie really wasn’t all that much in a rush. He was just bored and quite obviously annoyed by the lack of attention he was getting from the front seat. Jack handed his iPad over the seat. Eddie seemed happy to get it. Soon carnival-style music came from the device and Jack demanded he turn off the sound. It went silent, totally silent. It was as if Eddie had gone to sleep.

I had to know what had captured his attention.

“’Water,’” said Jack, offering no clue.

We weren’t passing a pond or a lake and I couldn’t imagine what Jack was talking about.

“Did you say water?”

“It’s [a game] all about an alligator trying to get clean,” said Jack.

The explanation didn’t help, although accompanied by a “Yeah, Peppy” from the back seat.

“Water” kept Eddie busy to Ridgefield and on the way home. And when I finally got to play the game – the full name being “Where’s My Water?” – I understood the fascination of opening and closing gates, digging tunnels and turning valves to deliver water to an alligator sitting in a tub with a brush. Once the water reached the tub, the computer-generated figure scrubbed vigorously and looked genuinely happy.

With each game, the level of play became progressively more complicated, frequently leaving a saddened alligator in an empty tub. Like the game “Angry Birds,” I saw that this could be addictive.

The iPad and the game was the envy of the twins. Eddie introduced them to the game and the girls couldn’t hold back their enthusiasm, with all three of them fixed to the screen and reaching over each other to play. They literally couldn’t wait to take turns. Suggestions that we go outside, play hide and seek, do anything other than play “Where’s My Water?” were totally ignored.

Jack was determined to break the digital fixation.

“Eddie, what about your trump cards? Did you show them to Sydney and Alex?”

There was a pause in the action.

Could there be anything better than an alligator in a bathtub?

The twins were definitely interested. What could it be?

Eddie deserted the iPad and returned with a pack of cards with pictures of animals that are endangered. Each card gave details on the animal, with ratings on the urgency of protective action. Eddie showed the girls pictures of whales, sharks and other sea creatures. The ratings on each determined whether one trumped the other. The objective was to amass all the cards. Eddie has Top Trump cards on a variety of subjects from airplanes and cars to Star Wars critters and spaceships.

He dealt the cards. What to do with them mystified the girls, but they were starting to catch on. From the outset, it was clear he could read better than they. He read their cards, helping them play the game.

“I can sound out,” Sydney asserted, not wanting to be left behind.

The iPad screen went black and, for a moment at least, their discovery of reading was opening new worlds for the girls to “sound out.”


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