Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Cell Phone Powered Off

I guess there was a reason that I finally got a cell phone all those years ago. I was pregnant with my youngest and it seemed prudent to have a portable phone with me for emergencies. My son got a cell phone for his sixteenth birthday, again, more as a safety line while driving then a mobile computer. Of course, way back in those days (2003) cell phones were just that - simple phones that didn't even have texting capabilities. It was used when we were, well, mobile.

Technology changes and my youngest got a phone when she was about eleven. With both her siblings off at college, it felt - here's that word again - prudent to give her a way to contact me as needed. She was thirteen when I went back to work full-time and there was a thread of communication that went back and forth between us over that phone. We could text each other without it interfering with classes or meetings.

This is all probably pretty standard in most family homes these days. Kids have cell phones for all sorts of reasons - ease of communication, emergencies, juggling all those social networks and schedules. Heck, my daughter was more apt to tell me how she was feeling over text than face-to-face.

And yet...
And yet.

Okay, so the youngest child left for college over a week ago. For the last four years - all through high school - I have usually charged my cell phone next to my bed. It was silenced but on. Over these years, this daughter of mine, would often text me in the middle of the night when her own world felt overwhelming and distressful. Or she would ask me something, obviously awake at 3 am. There were nights where she was out with friends and missed checking in or curfew. There were nights that she wasn't where she had said she would be. There were nights that I got calls at 3am and there were nights that she was out with people that I did not trust. There were nights that I asked her to simply send me a 'good night' when I knew she had landed somewhere to sleep. So I knew she was safe.
It's not easy knowing about the kids who have been selling drugs, bringing guns to parties, doing meth in the girl's bathroom, going into the city for all-night raves and driving under the influence. That's the world of teenagers she kept rubbing shoulders with. I know how complicated that world is and I feel deep compassion for the struggle that so many teens have in this culture. I'd say that in some ways my daughter was drawn to suffering and her compassion put her in places that scared the crap out of me.

The thread of communication via our cell phones helped me sleep and sometimes kept me awake all night. I had too much information - and not enough. The instant communication that comes with the cell phone would be agonizing when she didn't answer at 2am. The illusion of safety when she texted me back that she was fine and at a particular agreed upon location helped me often roll back over and go to sleep. I knew it was an illusion. She could be anywhere doing all sorts of things and I really had no idea beyond the fact that she had answered in a coherent enough way to soothe my anxiety ridden brain.

One of the things I was looking forward to as she headed out to college was turning off my cell phone at night. For me, this would symbolize releasing this child of mine into her adult life. If there was an emergency she would call the house phone.

It was hard to turn my cell phone off.

I stood frozen over the power switch. How odd, I thought, watching myself. This way of worrying, this anxiety that I had to be accessible immediately to her, felt so deeply embedded.  I had been her 911 button. My fears and anxiety had helped create that dynamic in our relationship. I could taste the fear of What Might Happen if I stopped being so vigilant...


There it was.

And I gently turned off the phone.

Vigilance is scar tissue for me from my own past. I knew enough about my fears and their voices that whisper to me in the night to realize that the only way to change this feeling was to push through and let time give me a new experience. The cell phones had simply become a tool for the fear, feeding and assuaging it at the same time.

Time is needed and I can throw some compassion my own way.

I miss my youngest child - as I miss my other daughter who lives across the country. Love and care do that to us.
And that's the soul-centered place I want to be in when I do use this amazing technology to connect with them.

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