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My Jetsons moment: Three iPads and a sick daughter

We were in a classic bind with no one to watch our kid. Then the iPad came to the rescue.

A childcare crunch saved by iPads and Wi-Fi.

Please don't call the authorities.

I don't even know at what point parents can get in trouble for leaving their kids at home alone. My older daughter, Eve, is 8, not 2, but that's still young in my view--especially since she was coming off a 104.7 fever the night before.

But we were in a bind, and not an uncommon one. My wife had to pick up our younger daughter from school and take her to a theater class she was eager to attend. I was a good 45 minutes away at work in downtown San Francisco and couldn't escape in time to watch Eve. Our nearest family is across the country. And we don't have a regular roster of babysitters, especially who can come over in the middle of the afternoon.

What we do have is two iPads. Three, actually, and each proved helpful in this babysitting challenge.

My wife stood one iPad up beside Eve's bed. I stood the other up on my desk. When my wife had to leave, she called via FaceTime and, poof, there was Eve. Eve and I chatted a bit--I plugged a headset into mine so as to be coy about the whole thing in our open newsroom environment at CNET--and then I unplugged and did my thing, with Eve ever-present on my desk.

Eve's entertainment included watching videos on iPad No. 3 (first generation; we're not that free spending). So in an extra odd meta moment, I suddenly realized that I was watching my daughter through one iPad that was monitoring her through another iPad while she watched yet another iPad.


We've used iChat for years, letting the girls see and talk to their relatives across the country. And, sure, Skype and now Google Video has made video chatting commonplace. But this was different. This was more intimate.

When I noticed Eve wasn't there, I plugged my headset back in and quietly called for her.

"I'm in the bathroom," she hollered back.

At one point, I walked across the office, carrying Eve with me, or at least her online vestige.

"Wasn't that where you used to sit?" she asked.

Eve met some colleagues, waving hello through the Internet, then I sat her back on my desk.

Cloud-based home-monitoring systems such as those made by Dropcam are impressive, but that's not what we needed in this bind. Those are better for spying, really. I needed closer contact. Had there been a real emergency, at least I would have been able to call someone.

FaceTime isn't new, of course. It came out in June 2010 as a built-in feature on the iPhone 4, although it only worked with other iPhone 4s, before making its way to the iPod Touch, iPad 2 and as a built-in app in Apple's Mac OS X. Even so, the whole thing seemed like a sea change.

"This is the future," my colleague Josh remarked as he watched Daddy and daughter in action. "Totally Jetsons."

The only problem is the next day Eve wanted to do it again.