A lot of things are different for our kids than they were for us. We didn’t have home theaters, decent video games, or twenty-four-seven episodes of iCarly and the Regular Show. But what has changed everything are cell phones and the privacy they offer our children. Before my son started middle school I had made up my mind that I would not cave to the pressure.
“You’ll change your tune,” a friend told me. “What if he misses the bus?”
Cut to my son tearing open a box containing a new cell phone while his little sister calculates the number of months she has to wait for hers under the “big-brother-broke-them-in” algorithm. I wasn’t convinced he needed a phone, but he wanted one and I was weak. Or maybe noble, triumphing over my jealousy. Having a personal phone — not to mention a modest texting allowance — in the 6th grade? The luxury.
Back in the olden days we didn’t even have cordless phones. Telephones were all attached to a wall, either in your home or in public. You carried a quarter for a payphone and everyone could see you cry when your mom forgot to pick you up from soccer practice. If you missed the bus you didn’t call anyone; you walked home. When you got sick at school you had to use the office phone with its rotary dial and plastic cubes across the bottom. To have a private conversation at home you stretched the phone cord down the hall, pinching it in your bedroom door. Those deliriously fortunate enough to have a phone in their rooms knew their parents were listening in from the kitchen.
Today’s kids don’t have to worry about parents overhearing conversations, partly because phones are rarely used for speaking to one another anymore. The important information is all relayed via text. Now kids speak in an ever-evolving code of letters and symbols, incessantly tapping at tiny keyboards and screens their parents never had. It’s a miracle our olden days thumbs didn’t fall off like the vestigial tail from lack of use.
Popular as texting has become, I still figured my son only used the phone as a status symbol and to call me on the [many] days I forgot it was my turn at carpool. I didn’t realize he was texting at all until I started. When my texts racked up I worried about the potential overage costs so I logged into my account. While I was slightly under my plan limit of two hundred texts, my son was up to eight hundred twenty—two weeks into the billing cycle. I immediately called my provider to request unlimited texting.
I sensed a golden opportunity. His excess was just what I needed to institute the partial pay policy I should have started when we gave him the phone. I confronted him.
“But, Mom, it’s not like you can just end a conversation.”
Proof that my son is not yet a man.
I told him that instead of making him pay for the overage, he was going to chip in ten dollars a month toward his phone bill.
“But then I’ll have less money.”
I didn’t laugh. I did however take my platinum opportunity to ask for his phone, and read his texts.
If I were a terrible person I would transcribe them here, because they would make you laugh and reminisce over everything that was good and true and hasn’t changed about the summer before 7th grade. But I won’t. Because I am a good mother and because I’m beyond grateful for what I read there, in his private conversations with friends, both boys and girls.
For now, for today—though he doesn’t realize it—my baby is as innocent as the day I brought him home wrapped in flannel and smelling like spit-up. If only there were an unlimited plan for that.