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Ironically ubiquitous

A coupla smart alecs in their ubiquitous tie-dye, 1998.
Grace, my 15-year-old, has been working on a final project for science, a video about motion. "Is it okay if I leave the computer on overnight?" she asked.

I don't really understand the process of film production, only that this was better than the alternative, building a trebuchet, which I was told involved a lot of parental know-how, oversight, and possibly power tools. I liked Grace's project idea, although the process has not been without its setbacks. Setbacks--no slivers or gashes, so that's a plus. But now she's almost done. She explained that the next step was to compress or convert the video using something called Quick Time, and that might take a couple hours.

"It's kinda ironic," said Sam, her older brother.

Took me a second, but I got it. Three hours. Quick Time. Irony.

Anxious to keep up with the young people, I replied: "Yes, it is ironic, unlike rain on your wedding day, which is merely disappointing."

"Unless," Sam said, "it's rain on your wedding day to the Channel 7 weatherman."

Wait. What? I looked at Sam and then Grace. "Huh?"

Sam repeated, more slowly this time. "It's not ironic unless it's rain on your wedding day to the Channel 7 weatherman."

"Oh, I get it."

Grace shook her head at me. The tide has definitely turned.

Alanis Morissette's song "Isn't It Ironic" was popular when the kids were barely old enough to speak, but that didn't stop me from explaining to them the real definition of irony, which was not about green traffic lights or choosing not to take good advice or precipitation on one's wedding day.

When Sam was a toddler and Grace was a baby, we lived in a rural area, in a hobbit house in the middle of the woods. Despite our isolation, I was determined to help my kids build a good vocabulary and to pass along my love of language. I did this for my own sanity as well. As a freelance writer, I spent a lot of time at home alone with the kids. I use the phrase "at home alone with the kids" intentionally; anyone who has spent extended hours or days at home with small children understands it's not an oxymoron. Sure, I had email, but not much conversational contact with the outside world beyond the occasional lunch with a friend (usually with kids in tow) or an extended phone call with an editor who either wasn't on deadline or was too kind to say so.

My plan was to expand Sam and Grace's vocabulary word by word. For some reason, I started with "ubiquitous." I made up this song, actually just a chorus:

Ubiquitous means it's always with us.
Ubiquitous, it's there every day.
Ubiquitous, it's always with us.
Ubiquitous, it just won't go away.

It may not be surprising that my marriage to their father was not great; we divorced a couple years later. But really, that detail is neither here nor there. I wasn't referring to any particular person being ubiquitous, in an existential sense or as the elephant in the living room. Not at all. I may have been trying to offer an intellectual counter-balance to Alanis Morissette's misinterpretation of irony. That's all. But then one day I realized that if I kept singing this song and Sam incorporated the word into his vocabulary, he would get beaten up on the playground on a regular basis.

From then on, I contented myself with pointing out the un-ironic nature of the Morissette lyrics when the song came on the radio. And then quickly tuning into another station, preferably NPR, to minimize Sam and Grace's exposure. How was I to know that over the course of the next 15 years, references to that song would become so ubiquitous in our lives?
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