children · Family

Parental Controls Out of Control


Dear Susan,

I blame what happened over July 4 on the storm that swept through Houston. It was one of our typical rain events – an Armageddon-like downpour that threatened flash flooding in the bayous, cancellation of all Fourth of July activities, and general alligator displacement. By 4:30 the rain had stopped, the sun was out, and we were getting ready for a cookout and fireworks. Just another day in the Bayou City, but a little cooler. The rain event combined with a last-minute trip to Austin to pick up a friend, meant that we were out of our routine. My thumb spent a good deal of time approving the download of free games and a couple of videos. I had learned the hard way last winter, after I found myself with several monthly subscriptions through iTunes, that we needed the parental controls to be tightened. During the holiday, though, I wasn’t as vigilant as usual about what the kids were buying on their computers. Or about what account I had linked to for payment.


On Friday, I discovered $350 worth of overdraft charges I had incurred over a four-day period. These charges were penalties for approximately $27 worth of movies, games, and in-app purchases.  As a consultant who must invoice monthly, my pay day is a moving target, a suggestion of remuneration to come. It usually arrives several days late, if not a dollar short. I tend to rotate payment accounts and am never sure which one is available. I guessed wrong this time.


The people at Wells Fargo were nicer than usual when I called to assure them I would be moving cash into the account and see if any of the charges could be removed. Luckily, the bank is in the midst of a big PR push to overcome its tarnished reputation for bilking unsuspecting customers with unnecessary accounts and services. Maybe my children should work there. I pushed back on the initial offer of $87 and, little hold time later, was rewarded with a refund of $261.70. I have no idea of what complex calculus resulted in that particular figure, but I knew it was time to just say “thank you” and “goodbye.”

Order was restored until Mass on Sunday night. I let my daughter keep her phone in a moment of weakness and started receiving more approvals for free games – 7 of them. When my phone beeped with the approval messages, my daughter helpfully stage-whispered “Turn your ringer off!” We stopped that behavior, when my son started in his usual rant about St. Giuseppe Moscati, whose image hangs in the church. Liam is currently obsessed with WWII and post-WWII Russia/Soviet Union. He maintains that St. Giuseppe is really Joseph Stalin and likes to opine on this point during Mass. To be fair, both are named “Joseph.”  My daughter, done with the phone, decided she would participate in the service by singing new words to the hymns, replacing random words with “banana.” “Your grace is a banana.”  Then she re-did it as a letter to me: “Remember your car keys, your lunch is unhealthy. That’s enough. That’s enough. Remember your phone. “

Remember your glasses – they’re on your head, on your head” After communion, we had to have our usual commentary on the quality of the bread and wine: “Why can’t the host be dipped in chocolate?” “I liked the wine better at the church last week.” I think, perhaps we could do a Zagat’s or Robert Parker guide for area Masses. Thankfully, the service ended, we bid Stalin goodbye, and walked out. Think we were home free? Not a chance.

We have just switched parishes (it’s best for all concerned that our circus rotates every few years) and my children are very drawn to our pastor, Fr. Bob. We almost made it past him. but he has that welcoming smile and he seems to like children. ”It’s your funeral,” I think to myself as the kids U-turn back to him on the way to the parking lot.   A moment later, Fr. Bob is sporting my daughter’s furry ears and t-posing with my son (who, luckily, makes no mention of communism or Stalin). What a cool priest. God love him. This man is definitely skating past Purgatory.

Corralling the kids into a movie Sunday night (dark rooms with big screens and food calm them), I dozed off during The Incredibles 2, wondering if we sometimes appear to God as my children do to me. Do we exhaust Him with requests for approval that He knows will have disastrous results and cost Him dearly? We think our petitions are benign, but they may come at bad times and have unintended consequences. He is standing back and letting us exercise our free will and the consequences of that. As I have learned, there are real limits to what parental controls can do.  God is not a helicopter parent.

How much of what He is trying to tell us do we get wrong? We change His lyrics to suit our own purposes at times.  We may not recognize the examples set by the saints he sends us, mistaking them for criminal despots.  My experiences show us that God is a good parent, even if we don’t always understand His methods. People in the pews may give Him dirty looks at our behavior but He is more in control that they realize.  He bears with us, letting us make mistakes and helping us deal with the consequences. He puts on the furry ears. In this way, he keeps us with Him, together, a family.



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