Thursday, August 16, 2007

Disturbing the kids?

I love the flexibility of this blog-writing -- in fact, I'm rediscovering that I love writing itself. Because I have this outlet, I tend to push little thoughts into coalescence. Random observations spin themselves into . . . I'm not sure what, yet, and perhaps it all seems a bit manic, a bit too diverse, but I'm trusting to process for now.

Here's an example. The following passage occurs in the first few pages of Anna Gavalda's Hunting and Gathering (trans. from the French by Alison Anderson) when an old woman is being taken by ambulance to the hospital after collapsing in her home, where she lives alone. She's fussing over her cat and Franck, who I think is her grandson, and her friend reassures her that all will be taken care of:

"We'll call Franck, we'll call him right away. I'll take care of it."
"I can't find his number. I've lost it."
"I'll find it."
"But you won't disturb him, will you? He works hard, you know."
"Yes, Paulette, I know. I'll leave him a message. You know what it's like nowadays. Kids all have cell phones. You can't disturb them anymore."

Somehow, this passage just struck me for the simple fact it presents. Although I hesitate to call my "kids" (who range in age from 22 to 31) much before 10:00 a.m., I don't worry as much as I used to about "disturbing" them, because I know they are as likely as not to look at their Caller Identification and shrug "It's just Mom" as they are to answer. Years, well, decades ago, when our phone rang before 8 in the morning, I'd groan and reach for it, saying to my husband that it was sure to be my dad calling -- and it almost always was. Not that we would often be sleeping that late, with small people in the house, but if babies had been nursed back to sleep and older kids were playing quietly in their rooms, we might be catching a few more winks (forty, of course, only a distant dream!). My dad didn't care -- anyone foolish enough to waste any daylight after 6 a.m. was fair game for a wake-up call. Then perhaps 8 or 10 years ago, before the ubiquity of answering machines and cellphones, I caught myself once or twice calling my daughter early enough (before 10) that I realized she and her partner (now husband) were saying the same thing about me as I'd said about my dad.

Now it's not even an issue. They answer when they want to, and otherwise call back later, depending on how important they deem the message. I resisted a cellphone for the longest while but got one in my stocking last Christmas and what I like best about it is the option of Texting. Whereas an email requires checking a computer and thus is location-specific (and there's no way, with my slightly addictive personality, that I'm getting into the IM'ing thing -- my blog habit is bad enough!), the texted message arrives where they are, generally, with a sound or vibration to alert them. They don't have to take the time they worry about losing to actually chat with me, but can nevertheless get an answer to me within minutes. When my daughter lived in Montreal last year, I'd sometimes get anxious if I hadn't heard from her for a week or so. A simple text would usually get me the reassuring response I needed quickly -- low commitment, high effectiveness at both ends.

I have a friend, an occasional reader of this blog, who, a few years ago at least, preferred to wait 'til her kids called, not wanting to intrude on their lives. Given the closeness and ease of their relationship, I suspect this approach works well, altho' it's not a good fit for my personality. Further, my own phone relationship with my mom is difficult because she almost never initiates any of the contact and is a somewhat awkward phone conversationalist, so that the calls I make are often impelled by a great big dose of "should" and a certain dread of how to keep the conversation going. I love her dearly but wish she'd do more of the phone/contact work (actually, she's a great letter writer and that's maybe another answer--find the medium that suits best and use that).

But this brings me 'round to the shifting generational/cultural shift that the Gavalda passage hints at: "Kids all have cell phones. You can't disturb them anymore." There's a hint there (or more than) of power lost in not being able to disturb the kids, even as it means that one doesn't have to tippy-toe any longer. And there's an edge to the comment that suggests "disturbing" the kids in other ways, not just with the annoyance of the phone interrupting their day. Something suggesting an insulation that goes beyond the cell phones. Not sure that it's true -- I suspect I "disturb" my kids regularly and I know my mom could still make me feel uncomfortable if she wanted.

What do you think? Can you be disturbed by the phone? Do you disturb? Do you miss being able to disturb? And let's not even think about those pesky telephone solicitors who make you foolishly say "Hello, hello, hello" into the phone because the computer's made the connection with you and they're not ready to speak yet! So Rude! But we're not going there -- I'm just curious about the kids/family phone thing from whichever generational perspective you occupy.

Anyway, I'm packing my cell phone and heading to Vanc'r for the weekend -- Derek Walcott is reading at UBC tomorrow evening, and I've got tickets. My husband gets to pick up Scout points (the male version of Brownie points, no? or would that technically be Cub points?) for coming with to a poetry reading. Saturday I'll have a good run on the seawall and then we'll have crepes with sausage, apples, and cheese (the number 5!) at our favourite weekend haunt. A movie or two. Some great coffee and the art gallery. Might check out a pair of boots -- see you back here soon. Have a good weekend!


  1. "Kids all have cell phones. You can't disturb them anymore." I think that is interesting. Even though I know that when I call my step-daughter she can see who I am before she picks up, I still somehow feel like I am talking too much or bothering her. I hate to talk on the phone. Maybe my medium should be letter writing as well...

  2. I tend to let the machine pick up on weeknights after I get home and before I get my son to bed. I feel I have so little time to myself as it is, and nine times out of ten those calls really are telemarketers. I'm not much of a phone talker either these days. It just feels like it requires too much energy and concentration on someone else's schedule. When I write I can focus in little dribs and drabs and on my own terms. I guess I've become very selfish with my time these days.

  3. I know! I used to love phone chats when I was younger, but the last five or ten years, I've got so much more protective of my time. I remember that when Answering machines first came out, they just seemed like one more thing to learn how to program, but oh, how I love my voicemailbox! The luxury of being able to ignore the phone, knowing you can call back anyone important. Amusingly, my kids know this about me, and if I get a persistent ring, pause, ring, pause, ring, etc. pattern, I'll know it's one of them refusing to give up. (Would they let me get away with the same? suspect not without complaint!)

  4. I love cell phones, I can phone the boys when ever I want. Sometimes I get in trouble because I call during class time. Mom, they say, please wait until after class to call. When are the breaks? Just tell the teacher its your mother! Miles always picks up and if not he calls back within 2 minutes.

  5. too funny, Karen! You're talking about younger kids than I am, but apparently you can still disturn them -- your days are numbered, I have to tell you. One of these days they'll pay extra for call display or learn to make you leave voicemail. Have you considered texting as less disruptive? I'm not very fast at it, but really find it handy!
    As a prof, I ask my students to shut their phones off in class and at some schools I guess they confiscate them -- wait 'til Leona weighs in here, she's probably got a few stories!


I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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