I became a parent in the prehistoric age when it seemed that only people who received a paycheck for their jobs had that nifty little item called a cell phone (in other words, not stay-at-home-moms like me at the time).
I did have the very high-tech call waiting feature on my home phone and eventually, caller ID, but if I was out at the library or the grocery store, or even the backyard pushing someone on the swing, you weren’t going to get in touch with me.
Before I finally got a phone, probably around 2000, there were a few instances that I’d return home to find messages from the school nurse or my husband on the answering machine trying to hunt me down to fetch a sick child or attend to some other mini-emergency. But it never made me panic.
And even now, with all the texts and e-mails and iPhone and Facebook, I don’t feel compelled to check in every time I get back from a trip to the bathroom (although I do like to keep an eye on my Patch and fix its hair fairly often).
So when my daughter went away to Italy over spring break with her high school during her junior year and decided to leave her cell phone at home, I was surprised by the anxiety I felt by not being able to check in with her while she was so far away from home.
I assumed, though, that she would either use one of the chaperones’ phones or get herself to a pay phone at some point over the course of the nine-day trip to let me know she was okay. By Friday, the day before her return, it became very clear that she wasn’t of the same mindset: I never heard from her.
On the one hand, I was proud of her independence and knew that no news truly was good news; she was probably having the time of her life seeing the Vatican and eating gelato and had nothing to complain about.
But there was another part of me that was sorry she didn’t need me to share all the details of her adventure: she had her friends for that.
When I told my neighbor Susan that I hadn’t heard from my daughter in over a week, she seemed fairly incredulous.
But Susan, who’s about six years younger than me and whose oldest child was seven at the time, seems to be part of a younger generation of parents that are used to being connected all the time. She recently was reprimanded by a fellow yogi for keeping her phone next to her mat during class.
I don’t have a problem with unplugging; in fact, I went away for a few days by myself and easily detached from the day-to-day communicating associated with work and home. (I bragged about that to my boss who said, “Great, that’s called a vacation.”)
But not knowing where my daughter was and what she was doing was difficult and a precursor to what life will look like ten years from now when all the kids are out of the house, and while it’s freeing, it also makes me nostalgic for the days when we even traveled en masse to the bathroom.
But when I went to the high school to pick up my European traveler from the trip, I easily spotted her towering over her peers and when she saw me, she broke out into a big smile and said, “There’s my mommy!” She made her way over to where I was standing and folded me in a big hug and I knew that not calling me was nothing personal. She was just growing up.