Changing views

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Yesterday, I was having coffee with my boyfriend, and we were planning a future day-trip to Boston. Because of my daughter’s art and her interest in art supplies, I suggested to my parents that they give her a gift card to Blick Art, a place where she has never been but I have (and love!). The main point of our trip will be to visit this amazing artists’ supply store, an awesome excursion for both my daughter and myself. And my boyfriend—he’s a trouper for coming along with us!

We looked at dates and other possible activities, and I pulled up the bus schedule. Sometimes, we take the train into the city, and other times, we drive part way and take the T in. However, because it’s winter, we decided this time, we will take the bus. That way, we won’t have to worry about navigating the narrow, snow-clogged streets. Or parking. And we can relax on the journey.

We chatted and planned, and I began to reminisce about the times I traveled into Boston with my sister when I was a teenager. My parents would take us to the “bus station” in our small town (really, it was just a glorified bus stop) early in the morning, so we could catch the first bus. From my hometown, it is a 2½ hour bus ride into Boston. My sister and I—and sometimes a friend or two—would spend the better part of the day in the city, sightseeing, shopping, and grabbing a bite to eat. Then, we would catch the last bus home, arriving close to 11:00 pm.

In those days, there were no cell phones, and no way to keep in touch or check in. It is possible that we made a quick collect call home from a payphone just to say we had made it to the city, but the specific memories are foggy. I just remember I was in high school, and this was a great adventure.

As I reminisced, I thought about putting my own children on a bus for such a day trip. Would I be content to let them go? Were we more “worldly” than the children of today? My children have cell phones and would be able to check in with me on such a trip.

I looked up from the bus schedule and said, “Is the world really that different—,” and my boyfriend opened his mouth to answer. But I continued….

“—or are we?”

He paused and closed his mouth. He looked at me, and didn’t say anything for a moment. “You know,” he said, “I really don’t know. That last part… I don’t know.”

Perhaps we have been jaded by what the world has become. The constant deluge of media focuses on what is wrong with the world. It plays and replays and replays the same stories of violence, death, and destruction with graphic images and videos until we believe that we are doomed. At the same time, we have become accustomed to constant contact, not only with our children, but with our spouses and partners, our families, our friends, and even our acquaintances.

Maybe the world really hasn’t changed as much as we like to think. Maybe… just maybe… we—along with our views and expectations—are the things that have changed the most.

Watch

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My son and I were shopping, checking items off his packing list for camp. So many things he needed this year, it seemed, perhaps because he was going to a different camp for a more intensive week of training.

I had brought a short shopping list that included a couple of items, but I knew there was one more. What was it? I couldn’t remember. Then we walked past the display of watches. “Oh! You’re supposed to have a watch,” I told him.

He looked at me and then at the watch display. “I hate watches. They’re so annoying,” he reported.

It’s kind of funny how some people wear watches every day and others do not. I started wearing a watch when I was in elementary school, but none of my own children have felt the need to wear one. I wonder sometimes if it has to do with the prevalence of cell phones—if kids have their cell phones, they always have the time.

And we had tried this before—buying a watch. Each of my children has had a watch at one point or another. But it was back when they were quite young, and time wasn’t an issue because I was the keeper of their schedules.

“It’s up to you,” I said. “Your packing list says you need one, but I’m sure some of the other boys won’t have one.”

He walked around the watch display, checking out his options. “This one’s kinda cool,” he said, picking one up and examining it. It had a couple of features beyond the basics. The coolest feature was the time zone feature. Plus, it was water resistant and had an alarm, both of which would be handy at camp.

“If you want it, you can get it,” I told him, knowing the coupon in my pocket would reduce the price. “I’m sure it will be handy to have at camp.” Especially since cell phones wouldn’t be prevalent because electronics were discouraged.

At home, he spent a little time learning the features of the new watch, so he would know how it worked before we left for camp in the morning. (Yes friends, it was a last-minute shopping trip…). The next day, he walked out the door actually wearing his new watch.

A week later, when I picked him up at camp, he was still wearing it. As we walked to the car with his gear, he talked about the experiences he’d had over the past week: the hiking, the cooking, the activities.

Then he smiled that crooked smile he gets when he’s about to say something funny. “You know,” he said. “It’s really convenient to have a watch. You never have to wonder what time it is.”

“Yes,” I replied, looking at my own watch. “It is convenient, isn’t it?”

Few Words

My son is on his school’s annual 8th grade class trip. He is my youngest. He is the third child to go on this class trip. And he is the child of the fewest words.

My first child FaceTimed with me from the long bus ride from our town to the 8th grade destination. It was the day after his birthday, and I had sent cookies on the bus. Likely, there were not enough cookies for everyone on the bus, but he had a lot of cookies. And he wanted to show me all of the fun they were having on the bus.

My second child texted me at various times throughout the day as she endured the long bus ride. Endured is exactly the word I would use. She hates traveling, and she hates sitting in confined spaces for long periods of time. She texted me any time she felt she needed support or distraction.

My third child would likely not have any contact with me whatsoever from the moment I dropped him off until the moment he had to climb back in my car for the drive home. When he left, I reminded him that he had his cell phone and charger, and one quick text at night would let me know that he was still alive and with his school group.

So tonight, I texted him: “Did you have a good day?”

His reply: “yes.” Did I mention that he is a kid of few words?

“Anything exciting happen?” I tried again.

“No.”

Okay then.

Tomorrow, I will ask him about food. That subject should get the attention of any teenage boy, shouldn’t it?

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*Image is a photo of word art at the Culinary Institute of America

eXpectations #atozchallenge

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Sometimes—more frequently than not, nowadays—my children say things that are completely unexpected, and I have a very difficult time maintaining my composure. Sometimes, I just can’t.

We were driving to my parents’ house recently. The drive had been a slow one, and it was getting on toward dinnertime. I asked J to call Grandma from her cell phone to let her know where we were. At that point, we were about 20 minutes away, and had just gotten close enough to civilization to have cell service.

She dialed, held the phone to her ear, and waited. The first thing I didn’t expect was her decision to masquerade as her younger brother, feigning a deeper voice. (Interestingly, despite the deep voice that made her seem more like her brother, she chatted with Grandma as herself.)

When she and Grandma finished their conversation and got ready to hang up, J said, as her parting words, “Stay pretty, Grandma!”

I burst out laughing. And I couldn’t stop. I had tears streaming down my face by the time I was able to pull myself together. And I was driving. Luckily, we arrived at our destination safely.

Driving or not, always expect the unexpected.

Talk-to-Text

Writing 101, Day 7: Let social media inspire you. In this case, texting rather than tweeting.

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On Friday night, my boyfriend discovered the talk-to-text feature on my phone. He was texting my daughter who had just finished her evening performance of “Our Town,” and I needed to let her know we were on our way to pick her up. “Oh look, I can say something!” he announced as he pushed the microphone button and recorded his message. Because he had been privy to J’s iMessage voice recordings to her step-sister on her iPad, he thought he was familiar with this feature. I believe he thought it would send a recorded message that J could listen to.

Instead, it translated his recording into a text message, one that made little sense. He read the first to me. “Hello just seen we are on our way the by.” I glanced over just as he hit “send.”

“Did you just send that message?” I asked, watching his reaction while trying to keep my eye on the road ahead. He looked at me sheepishly and nodded.

“It’s fine,” he said. “It’ll be fine.”

I turned back to the road, shaking my head. “She doesn’t know you’re with me, so she won’t know why I am texting,” I said. The thought was meant for him, but it was pretty clear I was speaking to myself. In my peripheral vision, I could see him playing with the microphone button, holding the phone near his mouth again.

He was like a kid with a new toy. He recorded a long message, then read it back. “Is a new place not called our house call to you or town whilst turn it I am actually talking English probably my accent I’m not sure goodbye a deal spot lab what’s in.” And as soon as he finished reading, he hit send again.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING??” I laughed. I wanted to take my phone back, but I was actually somewhat amused. By this point, I knew that J would realize it wasn’t me texting, so I was exonerated of all responsibility. He recorded another message and sent it, then another. “Are those messages even making any sense?” I asked. He had stopped reading them to me before he sent them.

“Not much. She’ll figure it out.” Yeah… I doubt anyone would figure out those messages!

When we pulled up in front of the high school, the last few drama students were out in front waiting for their rides. It was a beautiful night, unseasonably warm. I rolled down my window. J was holding her phone. “Guess who discovered talk-to text?” I asked, and we all burst out laughing.

Snow Days

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When I was a child, snow days (days off from school because of a ‘snow event’) were announced in the early morning hours. If we happened to awaken by 6 am, we could lie in bed listening to the muffled silence that only comes when the world outside is blanketed with a thick, smothering layer of fresh snow. We would strain our ears, listening with all our might for the sound that would be distant, but audible nonetheless. If Mom came in to wake us, our deep listening would prove to be in vain.

The sound we listened for was the blaring of the horn on the firehouse, half a mile away. This was the same horn that would blow to alert us when there was a fire in town (and probably would have sounded for other emergencies, as well); the number of whistles let us know the location of the fire. For an announcement of no school, the signal was 22—two horn blasts with a brief pause before two more horn blasts. A longer pause then followed before the signal was repeated. If we heard that signal—one that seemed so far away, but so close and exciting—we would silently cheer, turn off our alarms, and go back to sleep.

These days, snow days have fallen victim to our constantly advancing technology. No more lying in wait; we are alerted of snow days via recorded cell phone call: “The following is an important message from the local school district…” the voice begins. Often, the calls come in at 5:30 in the morning. But for the big storms, the “sure thing” snow days, we are alerted the evening before, or sometimes even the previous afternoon. Since weather forecasting has become more accurate over the years (well, it often doesn’t seem so, but it has…), there seems to be more advanced warning that a storm really is going to be “epic.” Hence, more warning that it might be wise to cancel school.

Now, the announcement is closer than ever—an in your home and “in your face” type of close. No more wondering if you are going to hear the notice… or if you might merely be imagining the sound in the far off distance. It is clear your phone is ringing, and the message it carries is unmistakable. Now, the children can sleep in, and the morning doesn’t carry the same air of mystery and excitement.

I vividly remember those cold, dark mornings of waiting and listening as an integral part of my childhood winters. I wonder sometimes, if my children are missing out on an important rite of passage. But then I realize that there will be other things they will remember (and miss) when they grow up and have their own children.

Family business

I was in the grocery store the other day, and I wandered into the bread aisle where a mother was arguing with her teenager. She was telling him how disrespectful he had been of late. She was disappointed that he wasn’t taking more responsibility around the house. She wanted him to be more involved with the family and their activities. He never went anywhere with the family anymore, she whined. Why did he have to act this way? His counselor said he was making progress, but he was supposed to be more involved…. Why wasn’t he doing what his counselor said??

This conversation went on at great length as mom carried on about all the things that were wrong with her child and his behavior. She palmed the loaves of bread, weighing one against the other, as she told the boy how much of a disappointment he was to her. Her voice became louder, whinier, and though she didn’t actually yell at him, it might have been better if she had. But she was in the grocery store, after all.

I was embarrassed for this woman. I thought about quietly suggesting that she take her conversation elsewhere. The boy probably would have appreciated it. No doubt, he would have been mortified if he had known how many people now knew about his business—his family situation, his counseling, and his inability to live up to his mother’s expectations. The store was quite crowded, after all, and the bread aisle is always popular.

But the boy wasn’t actually there. In fact, I don’t know that she was talking to a boy at all. I don’t know that she was talking to a teenager, though her tone and demeanor gave me my biggest clues. The entire conversation took place on her cell phone.

For whatever reason, cell phones allow people to believe that their private conversations should be held in public. They haul out their cell phones when they feel the need to say something, and they don’t bother to look around to see who might overhear. Or who might be offended. And they don’t consider that not all conversations are appropriate for all forums.

In this case, Mom was complaining that her son was disrespectful, and I’m pretty sure I know where he learned that trait. I would guess I’m not the only one who figured that out.

So the next time you’re tempted to haul your private business into the grocery store in a loud and unfiltered cell phone conversation, look around to see who might overhear what you have to say… and blog about it later.