Don’t Call Us

Take my cell phone. Please

A slow, snowy Saturday, the sort of day on which one supposes a freshman newly returned to college after winter break might be feeling lonely. So I text my boy, up there in the frozen wilds of New England: hi snowing there?

No response. I’m not alarmed; maybe he’s at the gym, or watching a movie. But an hour later, he still hasn’t gotten back to me. That’s a little weird; he’s rarely untethered for that long. I dust the living room, vacuum, then check back in. Nothing. I do a couple loads of laundry and fold them, watching college hoops. I want to rub it in to Jake that Duke’s won. Yet I’m reluctant to text again, to tug on that string. He’s supposed to be learning self-reliance, right? Maybe he figures part of that is not being at your mom’s text-and-call.

But by nightfall, I’m alarmed. I should have heard from him by now. What if something’s happened? What if he was out driving with his football buddies on those frozen roads? What if …

My husband clomps in from work, stomping snow from his boots. I don’t mention my anxiety to him; he thinks I’m loony enough. He unwinds from a scarf-hat-jacket cocoon, grabs a beer, and logs on to his computer while I fuss with supper. “If you’ve been trying to text Jake,” he yells from his desk, “don’t bother. He just e-mailed me he lost his phone.”

Well, that explains the silence. And it’s not exactly unprecedented; we pay a special lost-my-phone monthly fee just to cover Jake’s penchant for this. Still, I’m unhappy. I feel like a spacewalking astronaut who’s accidentally sliced through the lines to the mother-ship. I keep thinking of things I want to text my son, questions I need to ask him: Did he manage to switch out of that archaeology course with the scary professor? Have the blankets he left at home and I shipped to him arrived? I settle for an e-mail, but there’s no expectation he’ll get right back to me on that the way there is with texting. And who knows how long it will take for us to get him another phone?

Flash-forward to midnight. My phone rings. It’s my daughter, Marcy, calling from her room at college. She’s sobbing. “Honey, what’s wrong?” I ask in dismay. A whole litany of stuff: The Internet’s out, so she can’t Skype with her boyfriend in Mexico. It’s cold. Amazon wants to charge her $232 for a paperback she needs for a course. She e-mailed a question to her Spanish prof and the prof sent a mean e-mail back. She has so much work to do. Wasn’t college supposed to be fun? She’s not having fun.

This, also, is not unprecedented. I spend the next hour talking her down: The Internet will be fixed tomorrow. Spring will come sometime. The prof thing must be a misunderstanding. The Amazon price has to be a mistake. As for the fun, I’m not sure what to tell her. It’s possible college is only fun in retrospect, compared to the rest of life.

I don’t really believe that. Marcy doesn’t, either. I know by now—she’s a senior—that tomorrow she’ll be sunny again. I do wonder, though: If she didn’t have a cell phone, if she couldn’t call at midnight and dump all her angst onto me, would she build up more self-reliance? I know I’d get more sleep.

When did my cell phone become so indispensable? About the same time it became such a pain in the butt.