The Monster at the End of This Blog

Just before Christmas we went away for our annual weekend family gathering.

Nine kids, ranging in age from one to ten, along with eight adults, is a test for any holiday house, even those purpose built to cater for a dozen or more under the one roof. Being our second year in a row on the same weekend, it has now become enshrined as an immovable family feast.

During the weekend the younger kids became fixated with a certain book and DVD.

I had bought the much loved Sesame Street children’s book, The Monster At The End Of This Book a couple of years earlier. The well-worn and page-torn, scribbled on and spilt upon, dog-eared copy our children had grown up with had long since disappeared and I wanted the next generation of Mansfield children to love the likable monster, Grover, as much as the previous generation(s) had.

I can remember reading it endlessly back in the late seventies. It didn’t matter that we knew how the book ended; that we knew who the monster at the end of the book was; that it was no longer a surprise from the second reading to the seven hundredth reading . . . ‘again, again, read it again,’ was the perennial cry from the children on both knees.

So here we were, nearly forty years later, reading it again, and again, and again, almost.

But there was one difference. This new generation edition came with a DVD. 

No longer did we need to read it. We could watch it. 

No longer were the children sitting on parents’ or grandparents’ knees. They were sitting on a carpet square looking at a screen. 

No longer was Grandpa making a wonderful fool of himself acting out the words and scenes of the story. They were listening to a stranger’s voice. 

No longer did the Grandies rough and tumble, read and rumble with their young. 

And that, of course, may be monster at the end of this blog. 

Not furry, lovable old Grover, the monster nobody need be afraid of, but the book-snatching, time-robbing, affection-thieving, remote-relating monster of the cyber world, celebrity worship and electronic media.

Of this monster, and the many little monsters it is spawning, we should be afraid, very afraid. Well documented is the problem of cyber-bullying, inappropriate texting, chat-room grooming; not to mention the incalculable loss of not investing in real-time relationship building in this bold new world of virtual relationships.

This is neither a rant against the remarkable benefits of Information Technology (what a blessing Skype is in connecting loved ones across the world), nor the romanticised promotion of one generation’s virtues over another’s. The fact is not lost on me that I an spending precious minutes in front of a screen right this very second!

Last weekend Helen and I took two of our grandchildren, Silas and Oisin, to the beach. We spent most of the time on the waters edge, jumping the small, spent waves as they washed across the hard sand, flicking and splashing each other with water as we chased each other around in meaningless circles and building sandcastles, as quickly destroyed by the incoming tide.

On the way home Silas, all of four years old, announced that, ‘Today has been the bestest day of my whole life!’ I suspect a strawberry milkshake at McDonald’s also had a hand in that summation of his short life. I also suspect he may have several ‘bestest’ days every week.

Why don’t I get it? Why do I think I’m too busy, too tired or too important to spend unhurried face to face time with the little people in my life?

And who are the ‘little’ people of the world that I have become too important or too precious or too pompous to share my life with? 

How can I spend hours preoccupied by a pixilated electronic screen but so precious few minutes engaging with little people - both literal and figurative? 

What is it about me that would jump at a chance to have a lamb roast with Rodger or Rafa, bowl an over or two at a digitalized image of Ricky or Clarkey but avoid the thought of taking the time to visit an elderly widow in an across-town hospital or pause, crouch and listen to the story of a homeless beggar on my way from the bus-stop to the office?

Perhaps the monster at the end of this blog is not really a stage, a stadium, a scoreboard or a screen, spoon-feeding endless entertainment to me and my grandkids.

Could I be the monster at the end of this blog?

Oh, I am so embarrassed!