Like most American children, my teenage daughter has a cell phone. She got her first cellular phone at the tender age of nine years. It seemed unnecessary in many ways, a frivolous expense. But when you live in the Bay Area, it rapidly becomes a necessity. It wasn’t fancy by any means, just a pay-as-you-go, plain-Jane, for-emergency-purposes-only model. That meant it was only to be used to phone the numbers that were programmed into the phone – mom, dad, and a couple of emergency numbers. It seemed to me to be asking a lot to give a child something like that and then so seriously curtail its use.
But, she complied, and treated her phone with great care and respect. It was not used to call friends, there were no long distance charges, it was never lost or stolen. It was a safety net that made everyone feel better – with both of her parents going in opposite directions throughout the day, living in an area where you feel like you are a hundred miles away, when, in reality you are only ten miles away, it was a reassurance to be able to chat for a few minutes when I was held up in traffic.
She had carefully cared for her phone for almost three years when her father asked to borrow it for a business trip. His was in need of replacement and there wasn’t time to do so before he left. Being an obedient, helpful child, she agreed to go without her phone for a few days.
Unfortunately, as things would turn out, when passing thru airport security on the return trip, he tossed the phone into a bag that also contained a bottle of water. By the time he realized what had happened, the phone was thoroughly drowned. It was a huge disappointment, but presented the opportunity for a new phone. ‘One that texts, please!! With a camera, please!’ As it turned out, a new phone was not in the budget. But, there existed a hand-me-down possibility. My sister had recently replaced her phone and there was a little flip phone with a camera and texting capability available. It seemed a perfect answer at the time. Although the camera worked, she wouldn’t be able to send photos out. But texting!!! That added a whole new dimension to her communication abilities!
So, we embarked on a new era . . . Learning the joys of texting. Having an unlimited texting plan was a blessing, as our life-line became a social tool. One that took on a life of its own. Occasional late night texts received raised eyebrows, the random review of texts accepted, and expected, as a part of the privilege. Then the day when the canned, pre-programmed voicemail was miraculously replaced with my growing daughter’s own saucy little message. I had to phone several times before I got used to the sound of her voice, morphed into a unique representation of her.
Now, as a freshman in high school, newly won privileges and freedoms in hand, it seems time to replace the hand-me-down phone with one appropriate to the confident, self-assured young woman she is becoming. ‘QWERTY keyboard please mom! Camera and music please mom!’ As the promised date approaches however, the little phone has suddenly become a thing of interest. Something that she will miss. After all, the many photos she has on it are stuck in limbo in the phone unless we can find some way to transfer them. And then there are all the custom ring tones she’s added for each of her friends. Little snippets of recordings that remind her of them, and herald their calls.
This morning, as I dropped her at school, having discussed our plans for the rest of the week, including the purchase of a new phone, complete with all the desired features, appropriate to her maturing interests, she turned to me and held out her little phone, saying, ‘Mom, this is what plays every time you phone me.’ It was Josh Groban’s ‘You Raise Me Up’. I was speechless. A quick ‘Goodbye, I love you mom,’ and she was gone, off to the business of being a successful freshman. As I pulled out of the parking lot and headed out to work in the morning traffic, I marveled at this amazing creature that is my daughter.
This little phone has a legacy. It has seen her thru major changes in her life -adapting to the communication needs of living between two separate households, the joys and stresses of middle school, and now, less than three months ago, the move to live with me full time, while her father works two thousand miles away. Starting high school, phoning me sometimes a dozen times a day, often just to say ‘I love you,’ connecting with new friends, staying in touch with the old, daily texts with her father. For so many things it has been all that she has needed.
She is entering a new phase in her life, becoming more of an individual every day, facing new challenges and decisions. The anticipated phone seems so appropriate, and yet, I wonder, when the little flip phone, with all its history, gets tucked into a drawer, or responsibly recycled, will something leave with it? Will I still get ‘You Raise Me Up’ as a ringtone? When will that change too? How many other things do I not know about my daughter? When will I learn them?
Today, for the first time in a long time, I saw myself thru my daughter’s eyes, and it made me want to capture the moment forever . . . But it was only a ringtone.