In the house I grew up in, the phone in my dad's basement office was an ancient Western Electric 302 rotary desktop model. It was a leftover from the good ol' days when Ma Bell owned all the phones, and you paid a monthly rental fee to use them. I'm not sure what the Western Electric weighed, but if a bushy-haired intruder (a Cleveland-area villain of the same vintage as the phone) had crept into our Lake Avenue home, any of the O'Briens could have taken him out with one clop of the old phone upon his massive cranium.
When my daughter was about four years old, my mom dug out my old Fisher-Price Chatter Phone, which was shaped more or less like the Western Electric. She said, "Your mommy loved playing with this when she was a little girl." Jessica looked at the plastic toy like it was an alien. "It's a toy phone, honey," said my mom, talking into the handset by way of demonstration. Then Jessie looked at her like she was an alien.
"Mom, that isn't a phone to her," I said, pulling my cell from my purse. "This is." Mom nodded in defeat as revelation dawned.
I hate my cell phone.
I apologize, but there it is. I know I am alone, but I do not understand my cell phone and its myriad features, nor does my cell phone understand me and my myriad features. No one ever calls me on my cell. When I get a wrong number or an automated reminder from some mysterious service company notifying me that the warranty on my washer is about to expire, I am barely able to answer my cell phone. I fluster and fumble, rushing to retrieve it before the automated answering service ensues, because getting a message from there is all but impossible. I'll never get used to the damn thing vibrating in my front pocket, which always results in a high-pitched yelp, along with a little leap. After all, that's not a sensation I'm used to feeling in public. I don't know why I have to have a cell phone, but I do. It's a law or something.
While I was obeying the unspoken cell-phone laws and upgrading every few years (the Western Electric was nearly 40 when TouchTone retired it for good), my kid graduated from Polly Pockets to Nintendo DS. With my upgrades came cameras and Internet and text. And much to my disbelief, in our Wonder Bread Brecksville/Broadview Heights neighborhood, kids were getting cell phones right around age 10. Age 10!
"I feel safer now that Junior has an anytime safety line," said the Good Moms. It was infuriating, overfed suburban entitlement at its worst.
"How come I don't have a cell phone?" my kid asked.
"You can borrow Junior's," I responded.
She was pretty good about it. She hammered the request, but never whined. She found creative ways to lament being a cell-phone orphan. She'd stare forlornly out the window. "Hmmm," she'd muse over her soggy bowl of Chex, "wonder if that squirrel has a cell phone," without adding like everyone else.
Then one day, all the neighborhood tweens converged at our place. They were draped over our living room furniture like overcooked noodles in their Aéropostale hoodies, tittering over their cell phones. Even I felt for my kid as she sat in the middle of it all, sighing and poking at her two-year-old DS. By the time Christmas rolled around, "cell phone" was the only item on her list. My husband and I crumbled and upgraded to a family plan with unlimited text.
To me, texting is dumb. I've decided that LOL is short for "I am a moron." And don't even get me started on "k." But now my kid sits silently next to me, her thumbs flying over the miniature keyboard. She adores this secret language I cannot see or understand. I blow my nose, my kid sends a text.
"What are you texting?" I'll ask.
"Nothing," she'll say.
I flop a 10-pound pork loin on the counter, she flips open her phone, snaps a pic and starts with the thumbs.
"Who are you texting?"
"No one," she says and snaps the phone closed.
My kid has a right to privacy, and if she wants to send a pic of the giant pork to all her friends, fine. Nonetheless, it's like being in a Mexican restaurant and seeing all the waiters gathered in the back, stealing glances at you, then huddling together and discussing your hilarious gringo antics in Spanish.
Sometimes I text her: "booger." It takes me five minutes to send the meaningless word. I imagine I'm being funny and cool, purposely not capitalizing (but then finding myself unable to forego the period).
"k" she responds, thereby enriching our relationship.
Although the kid averages 4,000 text messages a month, she never answers her cell phone when I call her. So much for the heralded safety aspect of the device. And we all know that a phone cam is actually dangerous when combined with adolescent hormones. But my kid's been warned.
"One wrong move, kid," I told her, "and meet your next phone." I pointed to the image on my computer screen: an old Western Electric.