On a typical weeknight at the Brown's, four people would converge on the PC in the home office: dad e-mailing, mom editing, Matthew researching his homework, Garrett angling to play Math Blaster. The nightly gridlock wore everyone down. It was time for a second computer.
''I was tired of sharing,'' says Katherine Brown, who does freelance editing in their Washington home. ''It was 'take a number' some nights.''
The logical place to install No. 2, they decided, was in their older son's attic bedroom, where they knew it would be needed more and more for schoolwork as the boys grew up. They chose a graphite iMac, a self-contained unit that looked cool and required no additional equipment except a printer.
Instead of buying the boys new computer furniture, Katherine and husband Richard, a lawyer, decided to upgrade their home office furniture and send the hand-me-downs upstairs: a long maple Scan desk with plenty of room to spread out textbooks and an adjustable leather chair that could fit 11-year-old Matthew or 8-year-old Garrett.
The arrangement fit neatly under the eaves in the attic bedroom. Nearby shelves hold CDs and books, as well as Matthew's dinosaur collection.
Moving the children's computer out of the mainstream of the house would require parental oversight. Before the first click of the mouse, strict rules were laid down to the boys: No use of the Internet without permission; regulated e-mail access and controlled AOL access.
''A lot of people think if you get a computer for your kid's room, they will live on it. That's not true,'' says Katherine Brown. ''It takes parental monitoring -- like anything your kid does.''
Fifth-grader Matthew uses his iMac for researching school assignments, e-mailing his grandparents and playing Bugdom. He also takes digital pictures of his dog Sparky to use as screen savers.
Second-grader Garrett clicks on to play math games like the Logical Journey of the Zoombinis.
Matthew knows he's lucky to have his own cyberspace set-up.
''When you have a family computer, you can't tell your parents to get off,'' says Matthew. ''Now I can just slide off my bed and use my own.''
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