Summer days here in Florida can get so hot and humid that going outside sounds about as fun as going for a swim in a big bowl of chowder. It feels like that too.
I try to justify all of my family's indoor time by telling myself that people in Alaska probably don't just sit outside all day in the middle January and bask in the coldness.
The other night, I was walking across a semi-sketchy, semi-lit parking lot with my children on that kind of night, a night so hot that only the promise of frozen yogurt could tempt us away from air conditioning.
That's when a man -- 30ish, very sweaty and stinky even by Florida standards -- abruptly stepped right in front of us, violating all of our personal space. I grabbed my kids.
And then he said, "Did y'all see the Charizard?! I just set out some lures. Hang around for about 30 minutes and we're all going to be catching Pokemon in this parking lot!"
He smiled and motioned around us. At every table and on every bench near the ice cream shop were people. Children, adults, teens, even senior citizens. Black, white, brown. Male. Female. All peering into smart phones, all looking for Pokemon to catch, all united in a belief that we've "gotta catch them all."
Yes, I'm writing about Pokemon Go -- because it is the greatest thing that's happened this summer, and it could not have come at a better time.
It's been a rough summer for America. Our spirits are wounded, and we're all worried about what's happening. Race relations, all the shootings, politics. We're grieving the deaths of the police officers who were murdered while serving us and the deaths of our fellow citizens, killed unnecessarily. Meanwhile, terrorists are still out there prowling. Our troops are still deploying. It's a scary, stressful time for everyone.
And it's summer, and that means that kids are out of school and bored. It's too hot for anyone to want to go outside and, with the news as awful as it's been lately, the urge to hunker down inside our homes is strong.
Until Pokemon Go.
Last night, my family spent the evening driving around town looking for Pokemon. Everywhere we went, we saw other people doing the same thing. Total strangers were helping others find extra Pokeballs and catch Squirtles. (Yes, saying "Pokeballs" makes me laugh too. Because I'm 12.)
In other words, we found an activity that all of us had a blast doing and that allowed positive interaction with our fellow humans. And it was free.
People: My kids are begging me to take them for a walk. Outside. In the summertime. In Florida.
Signed, Sealed, Delivered -- Pokemon Go, I'm yours.
But no sooner had the game really started catching on than news of predators using it to find victims to rob began surfacing. Even worse, experts began warning that sexual predators might use it to find young victims.
And even without predators, I saw from the start how it could be dangerous. In the first minute of playing it, my kids chased a Pidgeotto off the curb and into a parking lot without even looking to see if any cars were coming.
There's even a sub-reddit about injuries that have occurred while people were playing Pokemon Go -- and the game has only been out for a week.
So here's the system that's working for us right now:
My kids (ages 11, 7 and 4) don't have their own phones yet so we have the Pokemon Go app only on my phone. Aside from that being the only practical solution for us (I'm definitely not about to get each of them a cell phone and a calling plan!), this allows me to control when and where they play the game.
The downside is that it means my kids are handling my phone. And that's a huge downside. I won't pretend otherwise. I cringe every time I pass my phone off into their greasy, sticky, slippery fingers.
But this system also means they have to work together and share, which is great (when it's not awful). When the bickering starts, game time ends. Because I. Am. Not. Going. To. Listen. To. That. (That's my "mom voice" in writing.)
While they run around with my phone, I stand guard and look out for whatever might be around us -- people, traffic and other injury-causing things -- and I control where we go looking.
That's how we're handling it. If your kids already have their own phones, you're going to have a harder time keeping them safe while playing. Also? It might be time to upgrade that data plan.