Could it be that I’m the only mom in the world who doesn’t carry a cell phone? I hate to even admit it: it’s such a pain to try to justify while people gaze upon you as such a Luddite. And so irresponsible. I hate to listen to people wax poetic about how they absolutely love their phones and how they could not live without them.
The reason I don’t carry a phone is because I can’t afford to be responsible for one more thing. It’s bad enough being hooked on email and dependent on an answering machine. I can’t bear to complicate my life one iota more.
But even more than that, I dread making myself any more accessible. Frankly, I need fewer ways to be contacted, not more. I want to return to the telepathy of early motherhood instead of these phone calls that constantly interrupt, digitizing our voices with weak, wavering signals.
New York paranoia runs in his genes, so my husband, Ed, insisted on equipping our teens with phones, against my protests. “The kids aren’t going to be calling us on their fancy phones,” I argued. And all we will know when we talk to them is that they are alive. A cell phone doesn’t tell you whom they’re with, if parents are anywhere in shouting distance, if drugs and alcohol are involved, or whether they’re in state or out of state.
It gives a false sense of security, I reasoned. But who says parenting is about reason?
When our kids started high school, we opened joint checking accounts, and they got debit cards. This meant they were taking on greater financial freedom and responsibility. Today, we provide winter coats, underwear and socks, basic shoes, and other necessities. But they get a monthly stipend to pay for everything else: iPods, Diesel jeans, meals out with friends, movies. This way we don’t have to argue about the $80 jeans or $50 concert tickets.
If they want to blow their allowance on a single item, I may purse my lips and grunt, Hmmph, but I let them experience the consequences of having only $20 left for the rest of the month. My daughters have discovered the joys of Value Village, especially Half-Off-Thursdays.
While Ed made the initial purchase of phones, the kids have to pay their monthly bills. Seventeen-year-old Katja is pretty disciplined in her spending after having paid off some big debts, but Malachi, fourteen, is another story, spending $60 or more each month on the phone, leaving little allowance for much else. Malachi’s phone spends so much time in his front pocket I wonder about the effect of radiation on his developing manhood.
Our overabundance of communication instruments is ridiculous and embarrassing, to tell you the truth. Our household of four contains five phone numbers. Six if you count Meiko’s phone she left behind when she went to college that we’re still paying $40 a month for. We have one landline for the family, one landline for my yoga school, and DSL, and all the rest are cell phones. Out of stubbornness, I haven’t even memorized all the numbers.
Now, think, how many of those recent cell-phone calls have been calls that were actually necessary? Admit it, haven’t you “Uh-huh”-ed your way through many of those rambling, “stuck-in-traffic-running-late” or “how-are-you-I’m-losing-my-signal” calls?
Ed interrupts my quiet evening to call me about an Onion headline: “Rescue Helicopters to Katrina Victims: Show Us Your Tits.”
“Ha-ha, honey, but do you have to use up your anytime minutes on this? Could this not wait until you see me in 20 minutes?”
“I knew this would annoy you,” he smirks.
Living without a cell phone means I have to run on time and build in time for delays. It means I can’t try to be two places at once. It means if an emergency arises and I’m away all day, the kids will have to call their dad, a neighbor, or a friend. It means if my car breaks down and I need help, I’ll have to wave down a Good Samaritan who can drop me off at a gas station or take me to a pay phone. It means I have to be more interdependent, talk to people, count on the kindness of strangers.
Before my kids had cell phones, I would be the uncool mom, calling their friend’s houses, saying, “Hi, I’m looking for Meiko. Is this Jennifer’s mom?” and answering calls for the kids so I could tell who was currently in and who was out. Is this so terrible, so inconvenient?
Living without a cell phone means my car rides are blessedly quiet, except for public radio or a good CD. It means I have a small oasis of aloneness and silence in my day. I have one fewer machine to check. I have an opportunity to not multitask, to take in my environment, and to be fully present. If you need me, try clairvoyance.