I believe I’ve reached a new parental milestone.
My kids’ friends have started sending me text messages. The content of these messages so far is basically this: “I’m just wondering if we could play.” I replied: “I’m picking them up now. We’ll be home in 15.”
Now, this kid used his mom’s phone, not his own. Thankfully we haven’t reached that milestone yet.
The other way they communicate is to shout from across the backyard fence. Then my boys open a window and shout back. Or vice versa. I should probably have them make one of those old tin can contraptions just for fun, but it’d be a long string.
When I was a kid, the home phone was the king of communication — that thing on the wall with the long curly cord that tethered you to the kitchen. Ours was white, with the long cord looping below it and framed against grapevine wallpaper.
I remember my grandparents still had one of the rotary style phones for a while in which you had to stick your finger in the hole for each number, wheel it back and wait for it to wind back around. I believe you can find some YouTube videos of today’s kids trying to figure out how to make a call on one of those — they’re pretty funny.
Somewhere about middle school we graduated from the kitchen phone with the stretched-out cord to the cordless phone. That really gave you some freedom; you could walk around in the yard with it until your conversation started getting static, an invisible tether back toward the house.
And of course we had the family answering machine where we all took turns saying one part of the message: “You’ve reached the Rohrabaugh residence,” Dad says. “We can’t come to the phone,” mom says. You get the idea.
In any case, during that era your friends and others could call you and you could pick up the phone — “Rohrabaugh residence … Mom, it’s for you!” And you could punch in your friend’s number that you knew by heart and hope they were home — “Hey Ashley, want to go bike over in the park?”
Now, there’s no home phone at my house, just my cellphone and my husband’s cellphone. And if we hand a phone over, the kid could potentially take a dozen or more selfies or buy a new Lego set on Amazon.
Text message communication certainly has its advantages, though: the neighbor kids can reach us when we’re not home, and they’re not so loud the whole neighborhood hears.
Another advantage is they can work on their spelling and learning the keyboard. My oldest could use some practice at both.
Recently, when he was sequestered in the basement with COVID, I let him use our iPad to reach us — basically a safety net even though we were just up the stairs.
Later that week we had roofers at the house who showed up about 6:30 a.m.
“I’m so scared of the noses. I’m so scared to come out of my room. What are the noses?”
Like I said, we need to work on our spelling. But it was helpful to have him communicate what he was feeling. Sometimes it’s easier to write those things than it is to say them out loud.
Another message was so cute it made me look forward to the day we do give him his own phone.
I texted him to tell him good night after saying it and walking up the stairs.
“Love you back,” he texted, with that emoji with the kissy face and heart plus the sleeping emoji.
Both our boys still have to hunt around for the letters to tap and are kind of amazed I can type without looking at the keyboard. I’m sure one day they’ll be tapping much quicker and they’ll be less interested in sending me sweet messages and emojis. They’ll text their friends themselves and won’t involve us at all.
When I was in high school, our cordless phone hooked into a speaker system in the house. But the speaker upstairs where our bedrooms were was useless because, as my dad put it, all our doors were shut.
Communication methods may change, but communicating with teenagers is always a struggle. I think I can wait a while for those milestones. And I will put off giving those kids cellphones as long as I can.
Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a North Hall resident.