This year we decided that instead of our usual summer activities i.e. cutting grass, repairing roofs, carting rubbish down the tip - really interesting things that we look forward so much - we would instead spend some time elsewhere with our rapidly developing grandchildren, who happen to live in exotic places like an Auckland suburb and a suburb in Australia. We felt we had a duty to do this, as last year being the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's book on evolution The Origin of the Species (creationists don't read on, go and create something), things might be happening to them. And things were happening. They are growing long thumbs and strong neck muscles and in one case, need to wear bikinis around the house and grow very tall and elegant and have lots of newly acquired bra straps that need constant attention but more later.
As with what I thought was a very courageous decision, I volunteered to stay at my son's house in Auckland and babysit for a week, babysit our grandson, whom I like and who I thought liked me. He is a boy racer. And now that the trainer wheels are off, he is a biker. A Raleigh biker. A street kid. He is five years old.
I entered a whole new world, I didn't dream existed.
My grandson lives in an Auckland complex of newly built residences. The usual mix of owner-occupied and rented and with no fear of any leaky homes, as they have all been inspected and signed off by proper New Zealand building inspectors. It comes complete with its own swimming pool and gymnasium.
My grandson has extra-sensory perception. There are five other children in his boy racer group and they all have extra-sensory perception as well and know exactly where each other is at all given times.
Their day begins with the switching on of their support systems, the television in the lounge and the play station in the family room. Communication with adults is minimal and I think considered unnecessary except in extreme emergencies, such as a TV remote needing new batteries. Inquiries as to whether they would like breakfast are answered with the merest twitch of a fingernail. The children's carers soon learn to recognise which fingers are affirmative or negative. If affirmative, food is to be placed within reach so the child does not, repeat, does not have to take their eyes off whatever screen they are locked onto at that particular time. If negative, the subject is closed and not under any circumstance to be broached again.
As the morning progresses the carer will become aware something new is happening. All the children in the complex are receiving the same message at the same time and the day's pecking order is about to be established. This pecking order is very important and once in place, who is going to play with whom at whoever's house can't in normal circumstances, be changed. This is arranged by all the children opening their front doors at exactly the same time and just looking at each other, not speaking, then a strange balletic dance takes place as they warily circle and the decision is finally made and the street rules applied, who will play with whom. On who's game machine. Each child is hoping their PS3 game is the game that everyone must have and no more than three kids in one house at any given time is the rule and the rejects go away to be consoled with ice blocks and quietly plan their revenge, which is usually their parents haring it up to the nearest Warehouse to purchase something the others haven't got and then dynamics of the day can be easily altered.
It all works very well. The children know they must leave their racer bikes on the front lawn of the particular house they are playing, which tells the other kids (and more importantly the carer) in which house they are. Whatever has happened during the day usually ends happily enough, as the complex has a swimming pool to go with the signed off new houses and all the kids in the water come out with the wash.
As Darwin expounded, children are developing long thumbs. Essential for games machines and computers, long thumbs are a must and at the present rate of growth, their children's children will have long, powerful and flexible thumbs, thumbs bigger than their bums.
My other grandchildren have missed out on the thumb thing, but since I last saw them a couple of years ago, they have developed in other ways. Very powerful necks. Nodding necks. Necks that nod along to an ipod. Necks that nod in rhythm with other ipod nodders on buses, even when they are not wearing their own ipod. They have also grown. The oldest grandson is 17 and 6'5" and a champion beach surf life saver; as is his very willowy sister, who although just recently qualified, I expect will be given plenty of opportunity to haul Australian teenage boys from the surf one after another next summer. The last grandchild in this story is also developing very nicely in the hospitality industry, McDonalds to be exact. The three of them can multi-task, but that does not include washing up. They have their own space with a computer and video player and play station and each has their own personal mobile phone and a portable DVD player as a back up.
Their Mother has found that the best way to get them downstairs to the meal table at the same time is to text them individually.
They have hundreds of videos, most of them noisy. They play them all day over and over loudly. Each of the three has its own favourite best bit which the others respect and will momentarily halt any other activity they may be engaged in (but not ipod nodding). The more violent the video, the funnier they find it and roars of laughter are regularly heard from upstairs, as yet another city goes up in flames. The children, which I sometimes have to remind myself they still are, know everything. They can re-program computers and fix mobile phones, text in a dazzling flash of fingernails and have seen every movie ever made in the last ten years and what's more, name everyone that's in it.
They are really a race apart. When I got back to New Zealand, I found a photograph of the three of them together with a little pudgy white haired old bloke, didn't know who he was but they were all smiling.