Watching My Kids from Far, Far Away
I was in a flurry of preparation for a trip to Europe. I had a million things to do. And I was worrying about leaving my 14-year-old daughter Ava home alone for a night while I was gone. (My husband and son had college-tour plans while I was away.) Ava assured me she was excited about getting some “alone time.” But she’s my baby. I was fretting.
In the midst of this, I took a call from some folks at Vivint, a home security company. They wanted me to try their home monitoring system because it was – they said -- like some of the “future” technologies I’d covered in “Your Future Home.” It would tell me when my kids got home and let me see who was with them.
If I hadn't been right in the middle of fretting, I might simply have said, “No thanks! I have to pack.” But as they explained how great it was for keeping an eye on a house when you aren't in it, I started to imagine my trip with the option to also be a fly on the wall back home.
So I agreed. A few days later, a bright orange truck pulled into my driveway and a team of friendly installers busied themselves setting up a control panel, door locks, cameras, window sensors, and smoke alarms. (Component prices vary; monitoring starts at $50 a month.)
When they left, the only thing that was really noticeable was a touch-screen panel on the wall in the kitchen and the fancy new locks. We threw out our now-obsolete door keys and learned our new access codes. Bonus: I don't have to worry (not that it had occurred to me yet) that one of my kids will lock themselves out when I’m too far away to help. We each get our own code to lock and unlock the doors. And I can issue a new code right from my phone if I want to let someone – repair person, house guest -- in.
I showed my daughter how she could simply push a panic button on the wall panel. “So if there’s a fire or Zombie Apocalypse," I told her. "Or you cut yourself and need medical attention, push that button and tell the person who comes on the intercom what's wrong.”
Next I grabbed my laptop and went to the system’s online dashboard. I can lock and unlock doors, arm the security system, and view the video feed from my computer, phone, or tablet no matter where I am – as long as I have an internet connection. I told it I want to be alerted whenever anyone unlocks the door and anytime the fire alarm is triggered. When someone unlocks the door, it also grabs a short video so I can see who it is and if they are alone.
“Hah! I told the dog. “No parties for these teens when I’m away.”
I experienced an odd mix of despotism and maternal affection. But my fretting was gone. Now all I had to do to check on the kids was pick up my phone. That quickly became reflexive. If I miss them, I have a quick look home.
A few days into my trip, I got an alert that the fire alarm had triggered and the alarm system -- unable to get a response -- had sent the fire department. I looked in on the family room and all seemed well. But I called anyway.
“I was cooking.” My husband admitted. “And I didn’t answered my phone because it was set to silent.” An embarrassing false alarm. Now the fire department knows how reckless a cook he is. But it got me thinking about how inadequate our old fire alarms had been. If there was a fire when no one was home, their annoying chirping wouldn’t have done any good.
On the night my daughter was home alone, I looked in on the house whenever I had a Wi-Fi connection. I mostly I saw empty rooms because the cameras are trained only on high-traffic areas and she was in her room. I frowned at the dog, though, who was making himself quite comfortable on the couch when he thought no one was looking. But at least if the dog was sleeping, all was well.
As I was about to board a plane, I took one last look. And there was Ava, eating pizza, cranking up the music, and -- could it be true? -- doing homework. She was clearly enjoying her alone time – even while getting some work done.
I decided I should do the same.
I noticed, though, that she had left the front door unlocked. So -- maternal fly on the wall that I now am -- I clicked a button on the Web portal and locked it. Then it was easy to turn off my phone and enjoy my flight.