November 23, 2014
Has the cell phone made life as a parent easier or harder? I’ve been pondering this question all week. As a parent there is a sense of relief that you can always contact your child at any given point with the touch of a button. They aren’t home on time? A quick text, “Where the hell are you?” can ease that nagging worry.
Never mind that sometimes you don’t really want to know where the hell they are. For example, a couple of years ago when my eldest Prodigal Son called three minutes before midnight and whispered, “Mom. I’m not going to make my curfew. We climbed up onto the roof of the high school and now there are a bunch of police walking around the building so we have to stay up here until they go away. I’ll be home as soon as they leave and we shimmy back down.”
Honestly? WTF? Did I need to know this?
I am not sure which circumstance would have been worse; laying wide-eyed in bed fretting about why he was not home on time or hearing the detailed facts and worrying that he was either going to #1 – fall off the roof and I would be spoon-feeding him applesauce the rest of his life or #2 – that my next phone call would be from the local precinct. The visuals were blood curdling.
Admittedly I absolutely love semi daily contact with my baby boy while he is at University. We have a running text stream from day-to-day involving his classes, our dog, his brother and daily events. Nothing makes my mommy heart happier than when my phone rings and it’s my sweet little six-foot child calling me from across the state because he’s walking home from class and just wants to hear my voice. I have definite memories from my own college days when I wanted nothing more than to just hear my mommy’s voice. Back in the Stone Age I had to wait until after 10:00 p.m. when the rates were cheaper and then stand in line to use the rotary dial hallway phone in the dorm for a quick two-minute conversation usually while someone stood in line behind and eavesdropped. Not exactly an intimate chat setting; particularly when I could practically hear my Dad timing the call and counting the pennies adding up on his phone bill in the background.
While I do cherish this constant contact with my son, I have found myself wondering if perhaps our kids would grow up a little wiser without a world of instant parenting. When my son texted that his fraternity brother had spilled a coke on his brand new white sweatshirt and “what should he do?” – I instantly googled stain removal techniques and sent him links and diatribes on how to take care of the problem. That is what a mom does right? Or should I have let him figure it out on his own and perhaps be wearing a brown tinged sweatshirt yet learn how to use OxyClean for future mishaps? Maybe our kids would learn more responsibility if they had to problem solve and google their own stain removal tactics.
Instant communication is supposed to be reassuring right? This week my wee bairn was travelling across the state to come home for Thanksgiving break – a six-hour drive involving mountain passes, long stretches of two-lane road and some distinctly awful areas of icy highway. It’s a hideous drive in the winter and was the only reason that I was secretly hoping my son did not pick this particular University for his secondary education. He had lost a friend two years ago on that drive and has another friend who was lucky to survive a rollover accident on it last year. My anxiety about this trip in the winter months is not unfounded.
Our original plan of having my Usually Lovely Husband pick up our college boy and drive him home had been waylaid by a fishing trip. Unfazed by this change of plans, Mr. University Man had found himself a ride with one of the 5 zillion students who were returning to the Seattle area for Thanksgiving Break. I had been fretting and sending probing questions via text all week. “What is the full name of the driver?” “What kind of car does he drive?” “How many times has he made this drive?” “Is he a careful driver?” “Do you feel safe in his car?” “How many people will be in the car?” “Does he have enough seatbelts?” “You guys aren’t going to be fooling around and being loud or anything while he is driving are you?” My questions became increasingly hysterical as the week wore on. The prodigal son dutifully reassured me, no doubt rolling his eyes and sighing, a look that may be just a teensy, tiny, little bit like his mother would have made in similar circumstances.
Friday morning arrived. I knew he had a presentation at 10:00 a.m. and a paper to turn in at noon. I was trying to be cool and engrossed myself in work to avoid dwelling on the upcoming journey. I texted him around 1:00 to ask “how things were going?” (Mom code for “Where the hell are you?”) No reply.
Meanwhile, my U.L.H. was leaving around 3:00 to drive the OTHER direction over the pass for a weekend of fly fishing. We exchanged a couple of messages as he was heading off for a weekend of guy stuff. Still no response from the eldest prodigal son.
I sent a more urgent text message to the boy. “Have you left? Where are you? Who’s in the car?”
He finally responded that they were leaving in half an hour. Sigh. I now knew it would be dark during the majority of the scary driving. I did a cleansing breath, squared my shoulders, admitted I had no control over the situation and fully immersed myself in work convinced they would be fine.
The phone rang. The U.L.H. was calling. He was at the top of the first mountain pass. Snow had moved in with a fury. Cars were piled up everywhere. Chains required. Shit.
The prodigal son and crew were still a good five hours from this portion of the daunting drive and the conditions were going from bad to worse in mere seconds.
Myself and the U.L.H. were now both calling and texting the Prodigal Son with urgency. He finally answered. Phone conversation was nearly impossible due to whooping and loud music in background. This was not reassuring to the parental set. As news of the snow storm grew four sets of parents were calling and texting boys in the car. The Animal House Quartet and the two other cars they were caravanning with suddenly realized the gravity of the situation – particularly after they passed the scene of large accident.
My Usually Lovely Husband checked in with me about every thirty minutes. Driving grew more hazardous as more snow fell and temperatures dropped. At this point the highway was closing in both directions due to multiple accidents and I was feeling positively sick to my stomach. I knew my U.L.H. would be okay – he grew up driving in snow and was driving a humongous four-wheel drive SUV – but these boys… God love them, but twenty year old boys are not the bastion of intelligent decision-making!
The pronouncement was ultimately made that the boys would drive to the medium-sized town that lies about an hour before the last mountain pass and stay in a hotel for the night. I talked to prodigal son yet again. Apparently this caravan of three cars/twelve fraternity boys all considered this hotel option to be not only an intelligent one but a fabulous diversionary celebration. I was no longer worried sick about their driving but wondering at what point the local police department would be phoning me. I then sent at least 25 text messages reminding him of rules, regulations, laws, damage deposits and that many people may not appreciate listening to the noise of twelve boys in one hotel room. I also texted and reminded him that I knew he was rolling his eyes and that they would get stuck in his head if he did it again.
Suffice it to say, they did make it home on Saturday. Apparently they were awakened by a parental phone call from another diligent mother at 7:45 a.m. the next morning and told to get their cute little asses moving as the pass had re-opened and more snow was expected in three hours. They arrived looking a little worse for wear and not smelling particularly pleasant – but I still hugged my young man for a good 90 seconds as soon as he got out of that car – even if I did have to discreetly hold my nose. (Sidebar: If you do not have boy children – a 90 second hug is like the world record amount of time they will allow you to fawn on them in front of friends.)
It was a long, grey – hair inducing day and I am relieved it all ended safely; however, I cannot help but wonder if I would have been saved the wrinkle lines and the same result would have occurred without the 4,007 communications between driving university boys and parents. Obviously the boys would have figured out that the pass was closed at some point and they would have managed to find a hotel room on their own at which point they would have used a land line and called their parents who would have been home oblivious to the dangers and minding their own business. Clearly we would still have been worrying about them making that vile drive, but we would not have been involved in an all-consuming minute by minute drama played out on tightly gripped cell phones. Moreover, the boys would have had to utilize the independent decision-making portions of their undeveloped brains and figure out how to cope without their parents advising them every step of the way.
Truthfully I am not going to change the regularity of my communication with my boys any more than I am not going to cook all of their favorite meals when they come home; but it does leave one to ponder if I would save money at the hairdressers covering up all the grey if I did not know so many details and if my guys will be better equipped to become men if I back off just a bit. Just a thought.