My iPhone ringer has been on 24-7 on its loudest setting for nearly two months and I have no intention of turning it down anytime soon. I thought as an empty-nester I would not need to have my phone near me at all times of day and night but I have since changed my mind. Adult children living in places near and far, or travelling to places near and far, feel secure knowing that the red roof inn is monitoring their whereabouts.
On August 11, my youngest left on a trip out west on a quest to find the best trout fishing in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and now, British Columbia. You can read about his adventures with his black lab Boh on his blog at thefishwhistler.com. My temporarily jobless, homeless son, who says he has never been happier writing and fishing, has been communicating more than normal – which I love – but it is always in the midnight to 2 a.m. time frame when his day out west is winding down and I am in bed. He told me he has been “finding out how much you really need, versus what you think you need.” An idealist and a realist all in one.
Last week my oldest, who believes in the power of experiences, used some vacation time from her job at UnderArmour to travel to Paris for sightseeing, Munich for Oktoberfest and Iceland for a day at the Blue Lagoon. Texts started at 4 a.m. Chestertown time as she began each day’s new adventure. Don’t get me wrong, I loved receiving the photos and messages, but coupled with a few 7:45 a.m. Kent School meetings, I have been especially exhausted for the past two weeks. Luckily, my middle daughter in Nashville is only an hour behind us and since she works at a school like me, she cannot travel in September, although she did get back on Eastern Standard Time this summer for a trip to Florida and two friends’ weddings. But, seriously, I can’t keep track of all the time zones my children are in!
Turn off your phone, you may say, but raising children post-9/11 required a different set of parenting skills than pre-9/11. Communication became the name of the game. We bought our oldest, whose birthday is 9/11 (and who was celebrating her “golden” birthday, turning 11 on 9/11), a cell phone immediately. As parents of a 6th grader in 2001, my husband and I would not have even thought about giving her a cell phone until the day the world stopped and that changed everything for us as parents. Suddenly, I had this intense need to be able to be in communication with my children at all times – especially as they traveled to other schools, towns, playing fields and ice rinks for athletics, or social events.
Parents in constant communication with their children got a bad rap as helicopter parents but truly I think it was purely about the communication – not the control. Parents need to hear their children’s voices especially when they are away from home, and especially in the world we live in which, all too often, it seems, experiences tragedies like terrorist attacks, the Las Vegas shootings, and natural disasters like Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and the earthquake in Mexico. My heart aches for all those affected by all of the worst in nature and humanity these past few months.
And, while I don’t think that we should stop living our lives for fear of an attack or natural disaster, I believe we need to be intentional about two things – vigilance and communication. Any of my children could have been at the Jason Aldean concert – and in fact we all just saw him in Nashville at CMAFest. A co-worker just told me she is going to tell her older children to wear comfortable shoes when travelling or gathering in large groups of people so “you can be ready to run.” I am going to say this to mine as well. How sad that this is the world we now live in.
It seems to me that communication, above all else, is critical to our mental state. We have a primal need to let our loved ones know we are safe and to learn that they, too, are safe. Now as our children live their lives in other parts of the country from home base, I greatly appreciate the cellphones we all carry. I know we constantly say that people are obsessed with their devices and social media, and we urge our friends to put their phone away. But I believe that being on our devices for connection to family and friends is important today for building and maintaining human relationships.
Yes, we still have a family plan with our cell provider and two of our three pay us monthly. (The fisherman has only a few more months with free cell service!) As well, the five of us have a family group text and at least once a day someone makes me smile and LOL across the miles. I will not turn off my phone and miss any of it!
Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown and a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s.