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Oregon Family Magazine

The Phone is Devouring My Family

10/04/2011 14:13 ● By Anonymous
I was 3 years old and living life pretty close to the floor when I discovered a mysterious cord. It came out of the wall near the baseboard and extended way up out of my line of sight, onto a kitchen countertop. Sitting on the Linoleum, I reached up, grabbed the cord and gave it a few exploratory yanks. Yes, folks, it was a telephone cord.

Back then phones were built like anvils. So imagine my surprise when a big, black table-model phone came hurtling out of the heavens and hit me smack in the eye. Ding! They tell me it was a magnificent shiner.

The Telephone is still not my friend. Several decades after disfiguring me, it is now intent on devouring my children.

My wife and I have cell phones that seldom ring, and two of our daughters, ages 15 and 12, have cell phones that ring all the time. Every 10 minutes our house phone chirps, and it’s for the 8-year-old.

The most-disruptive calls come during supper. When the phone rings, our youngest daughter and I spring from the table as if someone has thrown a grenade under it. If I get to the phone first, I say, “She’s eating dinner right now. Call back in a half-hour if you must.”

When our oldest daughter Marie turned 12, we let her get her own cell phone to run her baby-sitting business more efficiently. What I didn’t realize is that at age 15 she would be spending most of her waking hours talking on the phone – hours that she used to spend reading books, doing homework or (believe it or not) hanging around with ME.

We’ll go to the library, pick out a movie to watch together, see a half-hour of it, then her phone will play a tinny snatch of music. Often it’s a pal who needs to be talked through a crisis. (Any teenager with four friends is sure to have at least one of them in crisis at any given time.) Or maybe it’s just another teenager with a couple hours to invest in sparkling conversation. In either case, our little date is over. It’s about the same with middle daughter Sally and her new cell phone.

So far I’ve denied requests from 8-year-old Wendy for her own cell phone.

“You let the big girls have their own phones, but not me. It’s not fair!” she says.

(Ever notice how one or two bad decisions calls for more just like it?)

“You’re too young and I’m too poor,” I reply, not even getting into the fairness aspect. (Fairness is just one of many factors to consider in this ugly business called parenting, and besides, 90 percent of life is unfair. That statistic was cited to me dozens of times by my dad, so I know it’s accurate.)

Wendy’s campaign has included a promise to limit herself to two hours of phone time on school nights. Acutely unpersuasive as that is, I tell her she can have her own phone when she’s 12.

But she might not have anything left to say by then. She seems to be always on our cordless house phone. She stays in touch with her best friend Justine as intently as the astronauts maintain contact with Mission Control in Houston. A couple of times I’ve caught her watching TV while sharing commentary over the phone with Justine who is watching the same show. Otherwise, Wendy likes to drift around the house blabbing into the phone that she holds to her ear with one hand, while with the other hand she conducts the normal business of childhood – feeding herself snacks, drawing pictures or fondling her hamster. Activities that would require two hands, such as making confetti, rowing a boat or rolling a cigarette, have to wait until she either hangs up or acquires a hands-free unit.

Family life and academics hang in tatters, shredded by the telephone – and not by the ominous black 3 pounder of my youth, but the jolly chirping toys of the 21st century.

Rick Epstein can be reached at [email protected] Please don’t call...