Over the summer, we signed Jude and Wyatt up for a basketball camp at the public school, which had them riding a bus a few towns over.
When I arrived at the high school to drop the boys off, I introduced myself to the varsity coach and asked him what time I should return to pick them up.
“Oh, I’ll have them text you when we are headed home, and you can meet them back up here.”
“Oh, so you’ll text me?” I asked.
“No, they’ll be the ones to text you.” He explained.
“Oh, like, from your phone?” I asked.
And then we just stared at each other until we both understood that my kids are middle school unicorns: they have no cellphone.
No one in their class does (there are only 10 people in their whole grade), so it’s not like they’re weirdos in their school. It’s only out of school, around other kids, where they’re the weirdos.
I’ve been firmly on Team Weirdo, with the general belief that next year, when Jude goes off to high school, I’d get him a cell phone, and Andy has largely agreed with me. But, obviously, they have been begging for phones, and I’ve taken a two prong approach to rebuffing their requests.
- Who are you even going to call? You know, like, 12 people, and all of them play Fortnite with you and talk to you through your computer, so really, who ya gonna call?
- I love you, but you just aren’t interesting enough to need to be connected to a cell phone all day, yet. That doesn’t happen until you’re in college, been fired from a job, or at least have made out with a few people. Right now you’re just cat memes and emojis, and that’s not worth a whole giant cell phone bill.
Sooo… this is where I tell you that last month, we gave both the boys cell phones and they have them now, and this whole thing just got super anti-climactic, right?
I was going to be artistic in the telling of this, but honestly, my boys are on lots of sports teams, Gigi is now neck deep in theater, Andy works a lot, and I can’t be everywhere at once, so it turns out, being able to reach them is actually amazing and helpful.
We have strict rules: they can’t have social media apps, they get plugged in on the cords in our room every night, and we have free rein to read every text and search history.
It’s like we’re the millennial Mr. and Mrs. Brady. Just sitting in bed together reading our kids’ phones like weird little books about video games, dad jokes, and Taco Bell food.
The point of this post isn’t to admit we got them phones, or to even jump in on the debate about what age that should even happen, because honestly, we don’t care. You’re the parent.
But, I did want to share with you the conversation I had with all of my kids, as they grow and enter into a more connected and social tween and teen life, because it’s a lesson that took me over thirty years to learn, and I think I would have been a much better person had I realized it sooner.
You don’t always have to be available.
Guys, I cringe thinking about the time I was having sex with Andy, I heard my phone beep, and without thinking, I grabbed my phone to read the text… while bent over the end of my bed. I am ashamed of the times I was with my kids and stopped interacting with them to answer a Facebook message, or respond to someone. I was so afraid people would be mad or upset with me for not instantly giving myself to them in that moment, and I cared more about that than the people I happen to like way more, right in my own house.
When I was growing up, my family missed calls all the time. Sometimes on purpose, if we knew it was a bill collector, but mostly because we weren’t home or didn’t hear the phone, so they left a message on our answering machine, and life just… went on.
It was weird, but we all lived through it, and I don’t remember an ounce of FOMO because of it.
“Nobody owns your time or space in your head, okay? It’s yours, and yours alone.” I explained to them, holding the phones in my hands.
I need Jude, Wyatt and Gigi to know that it is okay* to read a text or message, and then set the phone back down and walk away.
Being busy is okay.
It’s perfectly fine to finish whatever you were doing, and answer it when you have a moment. Or not. Not everything needs a response.
It doesn’t matter that it alerts the sender it was read, they aren’t obligated to an immediate visual three dot response bubble from you.
It doesn’t mean you are rude, or mean, or that you don’t like them. It means that you were doing something, and you can’t be reached at this exact second.
You set the precedent for how you interact with people, and people will learn that and respect that from you and the unhurried, measured responses you offer them, when you can.
It is so immensely okay to not be directly available to every person who reaches out to you, because eventually, if you spend your day instantly responding to both important and unimportant things, you stop being able to tell the difference. And it’s really hard to come back from that, to relearn how to prioritize your attention, and to apologize to the people and things in your life you weren’t present enough for.
That was me, kids, don’t be me.
It was not fun learning how to take control of my personal space and time in my thirties, because at this point, it just felt selfish and unnatural, and I either had to embrace that uncomfortable feeling, or realize that I couldn’t. So my choice became to either live my life anxious and stressed under a pile of expectations and demands I’d never, ever meet, or smash all my technology and go live off the grid, and let me tell you, you can’t Instagram on a walkie talkie. There is literally no camera.
I feel like that’s the story line for the prequel of The Village. Sigourney Weaver got tired of all the Facebook messages, so she was like, fuck it, we’re moving to a forest and living like old timey villagers haunted by a monster that eats iphones.
*Obviously unless that text is from me or dad, because that requires a response, always. We’re the parents. WE’RE THE PARENTS.