For as long as I could remember I was that mom. The no cell phones for kids, when I got a phone it was essentially a brick with a snake game on it, back when the earth was flat and dirt was new and T9 was your only text option kind of mom. And then, my oldest went to STEM camp.
Sending my then eight-year-old to camp for a week in Atlanta with strangers made me feel ill. Even worse, he’d be there with no way to contact his dad or me…I thought about it and weighed the pros and cons and immediately bought a cheap Android phone that could only call and text. “Use this in an emergency,” I told him. He texted me back a dancing hamburger emoji. As I laughed, I thought to myself this phone thing could be pretty great.
Later that fall, the same kid told me he wanted rid of his “burner phone,” a phrase he parroted from re-run SVU episodes on my mom’s DVR, and that he wanted an iPhone like mine. I laughed and asked him who he thought was going to buy it. A year later, he had saved up nearly $900 from working the to-go window at his dad’s restaurant. Apparently, he was going to buy his iPhone.
His iPhone begat an older iPhone for his little brother last Christmas when the theme of all our arguments became “But Maddox got a phone when he was nine and I’m nine now!” Looking at my kitchen counter with their phones, my phone, an iPad, and a MacBook, you’d think I was trying to open up an Apple store. I found myself defending their phones to some friends and acquaintances.
And then, I found myself basking in the usefulness of them.
When I got divorced, I thought about a lot of things; splitting holidays, every other weekend schedules, little bags and shoes lined up by the door or in the back of my SUV. I never thought about phones though. When they’re away from me, it’s nice to be able to check in without using their dads as a go between — to send funny inside jokes or memes to each other. As a child of divorce myself, I promised my kids when they got old enough to have a say they could have a say in their schedules at one parent’s house or the other. I don’t mind getting a text from them asking to stay one place or the other. It gives them some autonomy over their own lives in a situation that isn’t entirely ideal.
I can text them that I’m running late to school pick up or if plans change so they aren’t blindsided. We text if I’m already in bed and need them to do something without me having to get up. (Lazy yes, but I’m tired, okay?) They can ask me to bring home specific things from the store. I could list out a million other convenience perks I’m sure, but cell phones, for the most part, have improved our lives.
Then came COVID.
Life was weird and uncertain. My kids and their friends were all in various states of lockdown or isolation, confined to their houses and quarantine bubbles, but they could all keep in contact via FaceTime. Being able to see their friends, albeit via screen, provided them with some normalcy and control in a world where everything seemed to be spinning on its axis and changing every day. The boys would set alarms to have virtual hang outs, something they looked forward to every day. They’d make group chats and message threads, laughter erupting from their rooms in a time where often there was little to laugh about.
This past June, we went to DC for another camp my oldest was attending with kids from all over the US. A few days after we were home he mentioned that someone’s dog had died, but I had never heard the name before. “Who?” I asked. “One of my friends from camp. He lives in Mississippi. We all made a group text so we could stay in touch when we went back home.”