Another text comes in. I gaze across the table at my younger daughter, then look at the clock. I’ve only been trying to get her to bring her dirty laundry down since last Tuesday.
“Can you hand me the salt?”
She slides it across like we’re playing a game of air hockey and it flies like a puck to the head. “Something funny over there?” But she doesn’t respond or even seem to notice my near salt shaker concussion.
“Make sure you bring down your dirty laundry after dinner,” I say to no one apparently because she’s still in the throes of a very private, albeit performatively entertaining joke with her iPhone.
“I’m thinking of joining a cult,” I say. Nothing.
“Shaving my head.” Not a flinch.
“Having lunch with my bestie, Arianna Grande. We’re gonna hit Naked Greens like chopped salads are on the endangered species list.”
“Sorry. What, Mom?”
Rain or shine, snow or sleet, come hell or high water and bring on the flood, Brother Noah, because I don’t think there’s been a conversation in recent history that hasn’t been interrupted by a text, meme, or “Oh, wait I just have to check some vitally important thing with my higher power, Tik Tok.” The novelty has yet to wear off. I’ve never seen anyone go for so long without blinking (except maybe my husband when he’s looking at that arugula).
Believe me and my buyer’s remorse, the addiction is about as real as my desire to take that phone, bury it in the backyard and sing an intoxicatingly inebriated, slightly off-key version of “Danny Boy.” The pipes, the pipes are calling along with some remote village in the highlands of Scotland, (we’ll call it Brigadoon) where there’s a pub on every corner and a close second to Gavin Rossdale (remember him?) just waiting to card me. I’ll take a one-way ticket please because if this was what I thought my summer would be — policing my almost 11-year-old on dirty laundry and phone usage and (oops he did it again, Brittney) cleaning poop up off the floor — I definitely would have made alternate arrangements.
She continues to stay plugged in all through breakfast the next morning, all through lunch and dinner, through her brother poop bombing, through many, many episodes of a show we’re supposed to be watching together a million miles apart on a couch built for two, just the three of us, me, her and her SE iPhone 2020. The laundry continues to sit. I research ‘ways to connect with your surly tween.’ I place a basket in the kitchen for “wayward devices that distract us from human interaction and meaningful connection.” I examine my own habits.
Am I modeling good behavior … microwaving my phone, placing orders for egg rolls to local law offices, cyberstalking Milo? I just really feel like he’s the only person who really gets me right now.
It’s a few days later and she’s at it again. We’re talking mid-sentence, mid-word and we’ve lost her to the great void of YouTube shorts by some gal with a lot of time on her hands and an unfortunate predilection for half-baked accents.
“Riveting,” I tell her.
If my daughter spontaneously starts dialoguing in an ambiguously Eastern European accent tinged with something vaguely vampiric, don’t be alarmed. It’s just my outstanding mommy skills at work again. I should have read the books, the parenting ones. You know, the ones that instruct you on how to set limits and have boundaries and talk like a kindergarten teacher after four margaritas. I missed the cruise on that one for sure.
To all you moms with those time-out features on your kids’ devices who read that bit about talking so your kids would listen, or listening so your kids would talk, or not having that fourth margarita — I applaud you. Truly.
Days turn into nights and we battle over screen time. I go back to the whole setting limits thing but I’m sprouting so many white hairs, it’s only a matter of time before someone mistakes me for the grandmother of my children. I order many parenting books (talk about a lot of things that sound good on paper). I consult every person I know with children roughly the same age or even just people who have been children before. There seems to be no shortage of advice but nothing seems to be working.
“Have you seen my phone?” Her tone is urgent, her eyes pleading like someone in serious need of a fix.
“Hello,” she says. “Um. The phone.”
“Sorry. No clue,” but between you and I, that dirty laundry sure has a nice ring to it.
Columnist Lesley Kirschner grew up quiet, in the woods, and devoid of siblings so her hobbies quickly became reading, writing, and talking to inanimate objects. She also spent a considerable amount of time doing voice-overs for her dolls and watching too much daytime television–channel 3, sometimes channel 8, if the weather was good and the antenna wasn’t acting up. She was in attendance at school, graduated from a very much not notable college not worth mentioning, and was transplanted to Wilton with her husband, Ambler Farm‘s Farmer Jonathan and their (baby makes) three children almost a decade ago. Although she never quite found her calling in life, other than perhaps the doll voice-overs, which in hindsight were eerily convincing, she’s happy to try her hand at writing and is thankful for the support and community she found on Facebook’s Buy Nothing Wilton. Lesley realizes while this is all very exciting, she’s not winning a Pulitzer so she’ll wrap it up and be quiet. She’s had a lot of practice.