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Recently, we decided that our little boy needs a tracking device, some kind of wearable GPS that would let us know where he is at all times. I was disheartened at the Orwellian implications of this (I am cynical enough to believe that within a generation, life insurance rates will be far, far higher for people who do not volunteer to let smartphones track their location 24/7), but I have to counter-balance this with the obligation to safeguard a five-year-old who wanders and often does not respond to his own name.

So, we went shopping online, as you do. After reading through a motherlode (and the NYTimes’ Motherlode) of comments/recommendations/reviews, we settled on AngelSense. If you go to their website (angelsense.com), a customer-care IM pops up like this:

Hello, my name is Lisa, I’m a mom of a child with special needs and a user of AngelSense myself. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have. (blinking cursor inviting your response)

We liked that. We had purchased a made-for-iPad “speech” program called Verbalize only to find out that the tech support is non-existent. This seemed better.

The device is about the size of a pager (remember pagers?) and fits smoothly into a supplementary black sleeve that is pre-sewn on one end. It also comes with two fairly large thumbtacks (the old school, all-metal kind, where the head is just about the size and shape of a dime) and two plastic knobs, each about the size of the part of your pinky-finger that’s behind the fingernail. The knobs and tacks are highly responsive to a cigarette-sized magnet.

You put the device in the sleeve, put the sleeve in the pocket of the child’s pants, and then stick the tack through the fabric of the pocket as well as the sleeve’s fabric (I start with the tack at the back, and poke through to the front). Pocket and sleeve now joined by a tack, I put the knob on the tack. Somehow the knob has a little tack-sized hole in its middle that perfectly fastens to the tack. If you don’t have the cigarette-sized magnet (or, presumably, some other magnet), you can’t get that knob to disattach from the tack – like NO WAY. It’s supposedly based on the same technology that department stores use with those plastic things that beep if you shoplift a shirt. So the knob stays on the tack, they both stay on the sleeve, and the device remains secure in the sleeve. (For those of you scoring at home, there’s a second knob-tack combo that you can use for the sleeve’s other end, in case you don’t want it rattling around in the pocket.)

We worried that Dar would find the device annoying and try as hard as he could to get rid of it. Turns out that so far, I don’t know that he’s noticed it. Whew! Big blessing, there.

Not sure how complicated all that sounded, but it was nothing compared to the app. One of the issues was that you can’t just download the app like you would anything else in the Apple store; for some security reason, AngelSense needs to send you a link to your email, and then you need to open that link on your phone, or the app won’t work. So we (wifey and me) did all that, but the app was still janky, and wasn’t “using cellular data” (connecting to the internet through my phone). I was told to fix it in settings, but when I went to that place, every single other app on my phone (Facebook, twitter, Instagram, yelp, Scrabble, Kindle) let me adjust that aspect, while the AngelSense app didn’t even turn up on the list at all. I believe that’s because it wasn’t properly purchased. They wound up sending me another invitation; I still don’t see the app in settings, but it’s right there on my phone, and now it seems to work fine.

I get a text or an email every time Dar changes locations. (I’m not allowed to choose neither, because then what’s the point?) The first time, it says he’s “in a new location. If this is somewhere he visits regularly, give it a name.” And so I’ve named our home, his school, the gym where he has some therapy sessions, Alta Bates where he has others, the park near our house, and some other parks and playgrounds. I don’t bother to name places that I know we’re only visiting rarely, as when he and I went to Santa Cruz last weekend. So opening the app turns into a record of his day, where he went at what time. It also tells me when he was “in transit,” and the maximum speed reached during said transit. (Did I drive as fast as 81mph on my way to Santa Cruz on Sunday? Looks like I did. Oops.) It needs to be charged every night – it plugs in much like your smartphone, through a small power cable that connects through a strategically situated hole in the sleeve. At this point, I’ve become good enough that I don’t even need to take it out of the pocket. I still make sure to put it on the day’s new pants before I put those pants on Dar, so as not to bother him too much.

It’s nice to be in places like a somewhat informal college reunion with Dar wearing the AngelSense, because I know that if I look away for a second, all won’t be lost. (Where we were, there were no cars.) So what would happen if Dar “pulled a runner”? I’d open the AngelSense app on my phone and press the top-right button, which looks a bit like the “walk” man at any traffic light, only a little more active. In real time, the device would tell me Dar’s exact location – to the intersection. I was frustrated at first that it wouldn’t give me an exact address, but in a crisis the intersection would almost certainly be enough. Let’s hope it never comes to that.

I know, I know, this is the opposite of “free-range parenting” – as Bill Maher said last week (I’m paraphrasing) “we used to call that just ‘parenting’ – wait, no we didn’t, ‘parent’ wasn’t some pretentious verb.” Truly, I genuinely feel the pangs of that loss. I never saw myself as a helicopter parent, and when it comes to our second child, I very honestly hope he can walk himself to school well before he’s, I don’t know, eight. I do NOT recommend AngelSense to anyone with a neurotypical kid. I’m not even sure I recommend it to anyone else. (So much for all the re-tweets from them.) But yeah…it seems to work well enough. We’re paying for a measure of peace of mind. And for us, when it comes to most things Dar-related, they only improve measure by measure.

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