Happy New Year, everyone! Enjoy my latest post from the Baby Merlin Company blog.
A few weeks ago, my youngest child, aged thirteen, put together a plan to go to the movies with a friend. It would mark the first time Katie was going to a movie sans adult. She’s a smart and careful kid, and in the iPhone era, I feel as secure as any mom can about dropping her off somewhere. We always have a good rendezvous plan and a consistent rule that she must let me know if anything about her timing or situation changes.
Katie generally wants to know the step-by-step details of any process ahead of time, so when we bought the movie tickets online the night before the show, my husband sent them to Katie’s iPhone wallet and showed her how to find them. She verified with me several times that night and again the next afternoon what the process was for showing the ticket taker her electronic ticket and getting into the theater. (Is that person still a ticket taker even though there’s no a real ticket to take?)
Each time I walked Katie through the process I said some version of the following: I’ll park and wait a few minutes in case there are any hiccups, and once you’re through the ticket turnstile, text and confirm. I covered this with her for the last time as she and her friend got out of the car at movie theater entrance.
I swung around and pulled into a parking space, enjoying the first moment of quiet after the beloved chatter of two thirteen-year-olds on the way to the theater. I turned off the engine. I waited. Two more minutes of quiet. I found a new song on the radio. I waited. I dug out my lip balm and smeared some across my ever-dry lips. I waited. After I’d waited five minutes for what should have been a thirty second process, I texted Katie: “All okay?” Smiling kissy face. I didn’t want to seem annoyed – virtually impossible with a thirteen-year-old daughter, but still…I attempt. Another minute passed. I texted again: “Katie, I’m coming into the theater.” No smiling kissy face.
I was ninety-nine percent sure she’d just forgotten to text me, that she wasn’t paying attention to her phone in the rush of slight ticketing anxiety and her balancing relief when it was over. But why is it that teenagers seem physiologically unable to disconnect from their phones except when we need them to be device-attentive?
I was mostly not worried. I reminded myself to not be too miffed as I strode across the parking lot and through the main doors of the theater and up to the ticket taker.
“Can I help you ma’am,” he asked.
“Hi,” I said. “My daughter is here with a friend and was supposed to let me know once they were in the theater, but I think she forgot. Can I just check and see if they’re in there?”
“Of course,” he said, smiling. This couldn’t be the first time he’d had this exact conversation with a trying-to-remain-easy-going mom.
He continued, “Just go on into the theater and make sure you can find them. Which movie are they here to see?”
I told him, and he pointed me in the right direction. I walked into Theater Number 3, and saw Katie and her friend right away smack in the middle of the mostly empty theater and deep in whispered conversation. I marched up the steps, and Katie’s eyes widened as she detected movement coming toward her, and then widened further as she detected her mother coming toward her.
“Mom” she said. Preparations for defense unfurled quickly across her face.
“Katie,” I replied as I sat in the empty seat next to her. “You were supposed to text me once you were in the theater.”
“What?” she said, genuinely surprised. “Oh, sorry. I thought I was supposed to text you when the movie was finished.”
How many times had I repeated that I would wait in the parking lot for her to let me know they’d gotten in okay?
“Okay, well, I just had to make sure everything was okay since you didn’t answer when I texted you,” I replied a little tersely. I’m not typically a terse mom, but I had to make sure she got it that things hadn’t gone according to expectation.
“Sorry, I turned my phone off for during the movie.” She knew she hadn’t done quite what she was supposed to do, yet still wanted a little credit for doing something right – silencing her phone like a good movie-going citizen.
“I just wanted to make sure you were okay. Enjoy the movie, and I’ll be waiting for you in the parking lot when it’s over.”
With that I got up and marched back the way I’d come, breathing a little easier, letting go of worry and the annoyance that I’d felt the need to march in there at all.
This whole incident epitomizes what I’ve learned is the combo blessing and curse of instant, accessible communication between parents and kids. With three teenagers on the loose, and one even driving, it’s immensely reassuring to me that I can communicate with them and vice versa anytime from anywhere, but it also takes worry to a different level. When my texts or calls go unanswered, do I assume my kids fine and just forgot (usually the case) or do I assume the worst?
My strategy, ever-evolving as most parenting strategies are, is to not tell them to text or call me most of the time, because, then they don’t have a chance to forget. My rule is that they must answer my texts and calls, and they must inform me if the where or when of their plans change. This still isn’t a fully fleshed-out or fail-safe strategy. When they don’t answer is it just because their phone is not charged, they’re doing something and don’t have the phone on their person, or they’re dead in a ditch?
Yet would I go back to my own teenage days of having to find a pay phone and needing a quarter? NO. I’ll take on the stress caused by my kids’ forgetfulness or inattention because I’ve decided the flip side is well worth it. They always have a way to communicate in an emergency, to let someone know they’ve been in an accident or are lost or any of the other inconvenient to horrifying things that can happen to kids out in the world on their own. If I look at it from the perspective that the phone is for them, not for me, it makes me worry a little less.
As I got back into the car after my mad march into the movie theater, Katie texted me: “I’m sorry Mom, I forgot. I will try to remember and text you next time. Love you!”
I responded: Smiling kissy face.