My daughter turned 18 last month. She graduated from high school and leaves for college (summer session) in eight days. Did I mention she’s my baby?
I had a rare chance to step back into full-court maternal shoes last Sunday. AT&T, it seems, doesn’t care if you’re 18, doesn’t care if you’ve got the credit card. They want the account holder of record to sign on the dotted line for replacement (#3) of Steve Jobs’ prank on parents everywhere, the gift that keeps on giving. Since when did iPhones become absolutely necessary for daily life? It’s hard for me to argue too much: I have one (a gift?!) that I’m quite attached to. I carry it around in an OTTER cover that is, my kids tell me, a bit out of fashion, a bit on the bulky side.
“But it protects it!” I say, meaning so much more.
Meaning all these things you take for granted, my lovely children of privilege, these weren’t things I grew up expecting or having. Meaning, the world has changed and I’m fearful for you, fearful I may have spoiled you with my tendency to err on the side of safety. (We bought our teenage drivers new cars with the latest in side-curtain air bags and 5 star crash ratings. The luxury they enjoyed was incidental to our need to know we’d done the best we could to protect them against the #1 cause of death in teens and the # 2 cause of anti-anxiety medication in parents.)
The iPhone sort of came along accidentally, it came as a celebration of being 16. It became the guest that would not leave. It insinuated itself into all of our lives with its charming features, the photos we treasure, the music we adore, the texts saying “I’m safe!” Mine has my yoga apps and my Audible books. I use the alarm. I’ve come to rely on it.
That said, I know it’s a luxury. So, what’s a mother to do when her otherwise perfect daughter doesn’t use the suggested protective cover and breaks (and soaks) said iPhone for the third time? I felt some sort of lesson was in order.
She drove, I lectured. Softly, but surely, I pressed my case: taking care of her things, consequences. If this happened again she was going to be on her own. I spoke about my own phone, how I’d had it for two years thanks to the OTTER and if she wanted to keep hers, it really would behoove her to put it into a protective case and watch it like a hawk.
We had other errands to run after the phone purchase. She dropped me at the grocery where I raced through the crowded aisles, efficient, driven toward getting everything on the list. I made it through Publix in record time. It was only when I was asked to pay that I peered into my purse to discover the deluge. Everything was sopping wet. My water bottle had exploded. My iPhone was telling me my daughter had called 3 times but when I pressed the screen nothing would work.
It just so happened I’d bought a bag of rice. Thank God and plans for risotto.
I perched on the step outside the store, hoping my daughter would soon drive by. I couldn’t release the catch on the damn hard plastic casing, the merits of which I’d oversold only minutes before. I opened the bag with my teeth, pressed my phone inside and hoped my girl would arrive soon. I had left the house wearing yoga pants and teeshirt. I looked like a New Age bag lady, a full shopping cart next to my crouched form, muttering and laughing to myself. I fiddled with the OTTER’s latch while simultaneously praying that reverse osmosis rice trick was working despite the plastic casing.
Time was of the essence. I knew my daughter couldn’t reach me. When I saw her drive into the lot, I rushed out, flagged her down. “Pull over!” I shouted, handing her the bag with rice and phone. “Can you get the cover off? You won’t believe what happened!”
On the way home, I was still giggling. She was too.
I said “Well, there’s this biblical saying. Pride goeth before a fall.”
I think that was the real wisdom I needed to impart. Not that stewardship and responsibility aren’t important, but that straight A student of mine pretty much already knew that. What she needed to hear was that no matter how mature you are, no matter how learned, there are times when life makes idiots of us all. (Apologies to the Bard.) Forget consequences, remember this. Just when you think you’ve got control, you realize you don’t. Better still, when the going gets tough, there’s nothing better than to laugh outright at your own silly self, knowing that in the end, there is only this, humor, frailty, human interdependence, and the joy of knowing there will always be something new that life has to teach you.