Keeping Up With The Kids

Shutterstock © Older lady at laptop Illustration: Shutterstock

So many ways to stay in touch – and so much potential for awful misunderstandings…

“Excuse me! I’ve got a text.”

Penny put down her coffee to retrieve her phone. It wasn’t good manners, but Jean wouldn’t mind. Her friend was generally glued to her own mobile.

Penny preferred chatting face-to-face, but that wasn’t often possible with her daughter’s family, sixty miles away.

And texting was a godsend where her fourteen-year-old grandson was concerned. Luke would much rather text than talk.

This message said: Won 4-0 killer match!! More ch dr tonight? XX LGL

“Luke won his football match,” she laughed, showing Jean.

“Goodness! That’s even worse than my Emily’s texts. They speak their own language, don’t they?” commented Jean.

“They certainly do.” Yet translating was easy. LGL was Loving Grandson Luke and ch dr only took a moment to deduce.

“Bless! He wants more of the cheese dragon story,” said Penny fondly.

“He wants what?”

“When I used to babysit for Luke, I made up stories about a family of dragons. After they moved away, I emailed him a new instalment of the story every week.”

“You’ve kept it going all these years?” said Jean incredulously.

Penny laughed. “I know – and Luke’s a teenager now! But he still asks for the stories. They’re just a bit of fun. The latest is about a dragon that rampages around the country in its search for cheese.”

In her last instalment, the dragon had found a giant Wensleydale, only to drop it into a lake. She had no idea as yet how to get it out.

“It’s silly, I know, but a nice way to keep in touch. It’s not easy finding common ground with a teenager, is it?”

“I keep in touch with Emily through FriendPlace,” said Jean smugly. “Haven’t you heard of it? It’s a networking site.”

“Of course I’ve heard of it! I’ve just never seen the point of joining.”

“It’s a perfect way to keep up with the kids. Just sign in and ask Luke to accept you as a friend. I’ve seen him on Emily’s list of friends. You must try it, Penny!”

That evening, puzzling over her dragon story, Penny idly keyed FriendPlace into the computer.

Then she had misgivings…

This site was for teenagers. What if Luke didn’t like her joining?

Well, he could always reject her as a friend – she wouldn’t mind. So she filled in her name, left her date of birth blank, and put down her hobbies as reading, music and swimming. Then she ticked a box to ask Luke to accept her friendship.

She needn’t have worried. Soon his acceptance popped up. Penny smiled with pleasure, and searched for his page.

As she scanned it, her smile faded.

Goodness! What was all this about Arbiters of Terror? Why was a fourteen-year-old writing about a hot party? And had Luke and his friends really been drinking in the park?

Penny’s head began to spin…

“I shouldn’t be reading this!” she exclaimed. But Luke had invited her to. She didn’t know what to think.

However, as she read on, her fears receded. The highlight of the hot party had been a cushion fight. Arbiters of Terror was a computer game.

Luke had only drunk one can of lager in the park – though she wasn’t happy about that.

And she was even more disconcerted by the next sentence that caught her eye.

The dragon peered into the lake and watched the giant cheese sink slowly to the bottom. “Rats!” he said.

“What?” she cried. “That’s my dragon!”

The latest instalment of her story was on screen. Luke had added a comment: Here’s the new one from the DON. Laugh and enjoy!

It wasn’t just that instalment. Her whole dragon story was online, right from the very first episode she had emailed him. Underneath it, Luke had written:

My Dear Old Nan has forgotten my age and sent me a bedtime story. So if you can’t sleep, just imagine my DON reading it in her soft, quavery voice and you’ll soon drop off…

So this was how Luke saw her. An old lady who couldn’t remember her grandson’s age, and whose childish stories sent him to sleep!

For a moment Penny wished she’d never seen the site

Then she pulled herself together. This was Luke, her grandson, who would never deliberately hurt her.

By letting her read this, Luke must be sending her a message that he found it too hard to say to her face. In his clumsy way, he was trying to drop a hint that it was time for her to stop the stories.

Well, the hint was taken. Penny switched off the computer. When she spoke to Luke again, it wouldn’t be through a website.

A couple of days later, he texted. Any more ch dr? So Penny rang him.

“Hi, Nan!” he said cheerfully, his croaky voice on the point of breaking. Almost an adult, thought Penny ruefully.

“Did you get my text?” he asked.

“Yes. But it’s time I stopped sending you stories, Luke, don’t you think?”

“What? You can’t stop now!” he protested. “How’s the poor old dragon going to get the cheese?”

Penny was confused.

“Luke, you don’t really want me to finish that story! You think it’s babyish.”

“What gives you that idea?”

“Your FriendPlace page.”

There was a horrified gasp and a moment’s silence

Then Luke said faintly, “Who showed you that?”

“You did, Luke – when you accepted me as a friend!”

Another silence, before he said in doom-laden tones, “Uh-oh. There’s a Penny Brown in 9D… I was a bit surprised, because I hardly know her…”

“Ah. I see. Well, Luke, I’m glad I saw your page, because it opened my eyes. The time for dragon stories is over.”

“But, Nan –”

“And I don’t think FriendPlace is a good way for us to keep in touch. It was my mistake, so I’ll unjoin. OK?”

“But Nan, what I wrote – I didn’t mean –” Luke sounded mortified.

“I know. You wanted to amuse your friends and didn’t mean any harm. Forget it, Luke,” said Penny firmly. “Now, tell me how that cup-tie match went.”

Next day, Luke texted her again. Pls check out my FriendPlace page.

Penny thought she might as well grant the request before logging off for good. Maybe he’d removed her story.

No – it was still there. Luke had added: Sorry, my DON is drawing a line. No more dragon stories, people.

A host of messages followed.

Noooo! I want to know what happens!

The dragon needs a fishing-rod! LOL

Can dragons swim??

It needs to meet a nice sea-monster!

Luke get your DON back on the case!!!

You are so lucky, Luke – I NEVER got bedtime stories made up for me.

I never got them at all and I just love reading your Nan’s…

Penny’s mouth fell open as she scrolled down through more and more messages

She seemed to hear a horde of eager teenage voices, all clamouring to know how the dragon could get its claws on the lost Wensleydale.

It occurred to her some of their suggestions were really rather good.

So how did you get on with FriendPlace?” Jean asked.

“I backed out,” confessed Penny. “I was worried about seeing things that Luke would rather keep private.”

Like the lager in the park; she’d had a word about that.

“I never worry with my Emily,” said Jean complacently. “We share everything! Although perhaps you can help me with something.”

“What’s that?”

“Would you believe she’s asked me to email her a bedtime story? Honestly! At her age! I can’t think how she got that into her head. And I wouldn’t know where to start! Then I remembered that you made up stories for Luke. Where do you get your ideas?”

Penny smiled. “Well, I have some help.”

With the aid of dozens of enthusiastic teenagers, the dragon had drained the lake and retrieved the cheese. Now he just had to roll it uphill to his mountain lair.

“You’re still sending him stories?” said Jean, incredulous.

“Oh yes. In fact, I don’t think I’ll be allowed to stop!”

We’re sharing a short story collection from our archives every Monday and Thursday during August. Look out for more heartwarming family fiction – and remember, there’s exciting new fiction every week in My Weekly magazine, too. Sign up for a money-saving subscription here.