My wife and I had our first kid this summer. In an unrelated development, we also bought our first Nest thermostat. It came with a free Google Mini, which we set up in the living room and promptly forgot—until my wife went back to work at the end of her maternity leave, and I took over, watching our daughter for a week until her daycare officially started.
An entire week. I was proud of me too.
I never wanted a Google Home. Or an Echo or a HomePod. The few seconds you might save asking something to read you the weather report, play a song, or tell you the time, instead of just pulling your phone out of your pocket, didn’t seem worth the expense—or the silliness of talking into the air on the couch. The closest I’ve gotten to enjoying the Internet of Things was making fun of Alex, our technology editor, for telling his light bulbs to change color before he goes to sleep at night.
But this was wonderful.
Google Home became my childrearing assistant. When the baby wouldn’t stop crying after 10 minutes of my speed skating around the living room (something she’d always liked in the past, before apparently deciding to change the rules in a one-sided vote), I asked Google if it could play a lullaby. Some sweet instrumental song came on two seconds later. It didn’t work on our daughter, but I felt a little better.
When I gave her a bottle on the couch, one hand supporting the baby and the other holding the bottle, I was basically trapped under a sweet cooing furnace. No problem. I asked Google to turn up the air conditioning to cool the room.
A few minutes in, I got bored. That may not be what a loving parent is supposed to say, but it happened. Kids are adorable and all, but whoever said watching a baby is more fun than watching a TV never had a TV that actually turned on.
Since I couldn’t turn on our TV (Alexa can actually do that with the new Fire TV Cube, but those don’t come free with thermostats), I asked Google to play a podcast. Commercials were no problem. I’d just ask Google to fast forward 15 or 30 seconds. When my daughter would let out a burp that kept me from hearing part of the podcast—these things are big enough to shake lasting waves in her fat little cheeks—Google was there to help. “Rewind 20 seconds.” “Turn up the volume 10 percent.”
We’d dance to the Temptations station on Pandora, played by our live-In DJ, or find out how soon it might start raining before deciding whether or not to go out for a walk. At one point, when I couldn’t stop the crying and hoped my wife’s voice might help soothe both of us, I asked Google to call my wife at work. I don’t know how that one happened, whatever black magic had allowed Google into my contacts and let it make phone calls over WiFi or my phone’s cellular service. But it did, and I appreciated it.
The only time Google really let me down was when I would repeatedly ask what time it was, always hoping that it had somehow been more than five minutes since the last time I’d asked, and that my wife would be home soon. Not that that was Google’s fault. After a couple of requests, apparently sensing my desperation, Google had a suggestion: “Are you waiting for something? I can also set a timer.”
Since that week, I’ve gotten a little less desperate and a little more confident as a parent. The mini has gone back to its old role, kind of like Mary Poppins flying away with her umbrella after she knows the family can now take care of itself. We still ask Google to tell us the time every once in a while, or to play Christmas music, because apparently having a child makes you embrace holidays with unexpected zeal, like you have to enjoy it for her until she knows how to enjoy it herself. But it’s no longer the everyday helper that I needed this fall.
When we do talk to Google, no matter what she’s in the middle of, our daughter turns her head, expectantly staring off into the room. Maybe she actually has fond memories of her electronic nanny. I don’t know how kids’ brains work. She could be appreciating the idea that her parents were and are so desperate to find ways to make her happy, through whatever trick or device they had available. But sometimes she’s just pooping.
Originally posted on Popular Mechanics