All parents observe their children for it constantly, but we don’t tell others when we’re looking and we never tell anyone when we think we’ve found it. When our friends say that our spawns show even the slightest glimpse of it, we dismiss the notion. However, recently, I had begun to allow myself to think the unthinkable – to entertain the possibility that my daughter, my genetic code, was displaying real signs of the parental Holy Grail. As I type I find my teeth grinding and my body coiling up tensely, afraid that the very speaking of the thought might jinx things. Intelligence; there you go, I’ve said it. I was beginning to think that Ariana was clever!
There had been signs. Ariana loved to read, antisocially barricading herself in her room so that she wouldn’t be disturbed by her younger sister. She was also developing the habit of thinking of questions to ask the physics teacher at school on the rudimentary workings of the universe. At the same age, I recall competing with my brother to see who could run into the living room wall fastest with a bucket on their head. Her penmanship of Chinese characters was becoming increasingly balanced. Perhaps I would be able to retire at 45 after all – my daughter having already found the cure for cancer and written a novel dissecting the nature of the modern application of Confucian ideals by her late teens.
My vision of vicarious success disappeared at the speed at which it takes a 7-year-old to open the wrapping paper of a birthday present containing a Nintendo DS. The dream of a life for Ariana spent studying Mencius was replaced by the numbing reality of Mario. For the next week, instead of entering Ariana’s room to see her engrossed in a book, I was to find her sitting cross legged, veering her torso left and right as she tired to make it round the next bend or smashing furiously at buttons as (for the seventeenth time that day) Kung Fu Panda attempted to find the Panda within by beating the living daylights out of ghastly assailants.
When it became difficult to get Ariana to come to the dinner table, and even harder to get her to stay there, Xiao Qing and I decided that something had to be done. Early negotiations with our 7-year-old addict failed, however, as did withholding rations (sweets) and bouts of solitary confinement (“Get to your room young lady!”). In fact, all seemed lost until it occurred to me that the only way to fight fire is with fire – or in this case, technology with technology. I dashed to the local market, returning with a device that might put Operation Cambridge back on course: a digital stopwatch.
I got within earshot of the grunting beast that had that little black box seemingly stapled to its thumbs and – fearing for my life – peeped that DS time was to be kept to five minutes a day. It was to be Ariana’s job to keep track of the time using the stopwatch. To my astonishment, the beast put the IQ destroyer down, straightened its spine and turning back into my daughter, began to examine the stopwatch.
The results have been far reaching. Not only has DS time been dramatically reduced but teeth cleaning time has gone up as has the amount of time spent in the bath – Ariana’s eyes always fixed on the descending digits of our 20 kuai redeemer. Perhaps the NASA Chief Scientist position may still await – she has already partaken in more count downs than the average rocket launch controller. Once again it seems, technology is the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s