Loco Parentis: Spy Mom

You think you can hide from me out there in cyberspace, kids? I may be technologically inept, but I’m driven

At the wheel, I roll my eyes. “Jesus! All the jokes about pot!”
He looks at me. “All what jokes about pot?”
You see? You can’t admit what you’ve done. I don’t have any problem violating my sacred bond of trust with my kid; I just don’t want him finding out that I did.
“It just … it seems like you’ve been making a lot of jokes about marijuana lately,” I say.
“You’re out of your mind,” my son says.

OVER CHRISTMAS BREAK, my daughter Marcy’s in the living room, transfixed by an episode of something called The Hills. It’s one of those “reality shows” in which people talk about each other behind their backs. It’s a lot like being at a family reunion where everyone is blitzed. All I can think of when I watch these two-faced young folk is: How do their moms feel about this?
“Their moms are on the show sometimes,” Marcy says. “Their grandmas, even.”
I don’t understand anymore what’s public and what’s considered out of bounds, not for the whole world’s consumption. When I was a teenager, there was a cedar closet next to the phone. If someone called and you didn’t want anybody to hear you talking, you took the receiver into the cedar closet and closed the door.
Last week, while I was walking the dog, I passed a young man standing on the sidewalk in broad daylight and snarling into his cell phone: “You never made me want to come home to you.” These days, when you want to discuss the most intimate details of your life, you do it out on the street, or in the grocery store, or at a Phillies game. That place where everyone can hear you has somehow become the most private place of all. A friend recently confided that she’s in a quandary because the son of a close business associate came out as gay on his Facebook page — a fact unknown to his parents, but one my friend’s aware of because her kids are Facebook friends with the son. What, exactly, is one supposed to do with knowledge like that?

WHEN MARCY FIRST went away to college, she was assigned an address and password for her Dicklenburg e-mail account. Because she’d used my AOL account to correspond with the school, I was privy to that password. She still used her own AOL account to e-mail friends, but I could learn about her college life through the Dicklenburg account: when choir tryouts and basketball sign-ups were, what speakers were coming to campus, that sort of thing. I never discussed this with her, though I’d occasionally ask, “Are you going to play intramural basketball this year?”
Along about that first December, though, she got an e-mail notice that she had to change her password. That meant no more access for me, unless I was willing to confess that I’d been spying her whole first ­semester — and beg to be allowed to go on doing so. I was being weaned, the same way I’d weaned Marcy 16 years before.