Last night, my 4-year-old son lifted his head off the pillow and told me he was scared. I asked him why, and he said, in a shaky voice, that he was afraid of something coming out of his closet.
"What do you think will come out?" I asked.
"Tiny robots," he said.
I stifled a laugh and assured him that tiny robots would not be coming out of his closet. "They don't live there," I told him.
"Because they live in outer space, right?" he asked.
Without thinking too hard about it, I nodded. We had taken books out of the library about the real robots in factories and homes, but I didn't think this was the moment to remind him that, even though robots might not be living in his closet, he was practically surrounded by them.
As he lay back down, he added, "I don't like real robots. I only like them in books or on TV."
Obviously, he has never seen "Dr. Who," whose Cybermen presage a horrible future of unstoppable human-robot hybrids. Likewise "Battlestar Gallactica," which predicts our future -- both doom and possible salvation -- will be linked to our compulsive need to reproduce ourselves in metal and wire. And don't even mention the "Terminator" franchise and Skynet.
We like to think we are smarter than our creations, that we would anticipate any inklings of robot rebellion in time to stamp it out. How can we be certain, though, when we have such trouble predicting our own futures?
If you had asked me 30 years ago what my life would be like now, I would have gotten only a fraction of it right. I envisioned a future of being a true supermom: a career go-getter in either broadcasting, journalism or academia; raising two children and perhaps a dog and a cat in a charming suburban home. By now, I predicted I would have had at least one book published by a traditional publisher; perhaps more.
While I do balance work and family, I'm a work-at-home mom whose primary income comes from transcribing cable news shows, not exactly a career with much potential for advancement. I screen all the phone calls on our land line, avoiding the creditors who call constantly about late payments. Instead of a suburban Cape Cod, we rent a cramped rowhouse just outside West Philadelphia, a place no bigger than the brick abode that Edgar Allan Poe once occupied in the Spring Garden district of this city.
How could I have guessed, daydreaming while staring over cornfields from my childhood bedroom's window, listening to the swelling chords of U-2's "Joshua Tree," that such a future would not only be my destiny but that I would be content with it?
It may not be easy living this crowded, frantic life, but I would not trade that dream world for moments like last night: stroking my boy's hair as he fell back asleep, fulling my true destiny of keeping imaginary robots at bay.