What would my life be without technology? It would be sad. A lot.
I’m not talking about all the conveniences, like having all my bills auto-paid by my bank’s online bill pay service, even though that saves me hours of time and trouble.
I’m not really talking about other conveniences, either; the service that allows me to take registrations for my Women At Woodstock event online; the app that looks up pricing and coupons and saves me money when I pick up my prescriptions, and so on. All good things, but not the really wonderful thing.
No, I’m talking about my relationship with and connection to my daughters. I live in Redondo Beach, on the ocean near Los Angeles. My older daughter Sarah lives in Cleveland, Ohio where she’s earning a Ph.D. My younger daughter Hannah lives in Cape Town, South Africa, where she’s earning a post-grad honors degree. My quasi-daughter, nicknamed SayFry, a good friend of both of my daughters who’s become very close to me, works in New York City. Three kids (so to speak), and they’re spaced around the globe just about as far away from me and from each other as you could get.
But I’m in touch with them, and they with each other all the time, thanks to an app that all four of us have on our phones. It’s called WhatsApp and it allows us to call one another at no charge, as long as we have wifi. More important than that, though, it allows us to send photos and messages, which wouldn’t be possible with my daughter in South Africa using standard text messaging because standard messaging doesn’t work between the US and African countries. With WhatsApp, like with regular text messaging, we can participate in both individual and group conversations. And, incredibly, it’s free.
Why is this so great? Why don’t I just get on the phone with these young women whom I love so dearly?
The answer is that, as much as I love each one of them, I’m not a phone person. And that personality flaw, if you want to call it that, does not exempt even my own children.
Calls are inconvenient. Calls interrupt whatever you’re doing. Calls can be disrupted by things going on in the background. Calls require a conversation; enough news and discussion to make all of that worthwhile.
Most of the time, I hate communicating that way. And I hate the idea of imposing upon my daughters the “duty” to sit down and get on the phone with me on some kind of schedule.
Don’t get me wrong, we do talk by phone sometimes. But day to day, no. We text:
Me to Sarah: Sitting inside the car wash now thinking of you in your car seat. I can still see you screaming and crying, your eyes rolling up in your head. I still feel terrible it scared you so bad.
Sarah to me: I enjoy the car wash now! Does that help?
Me: No, I cling to my guilt like a favorite stuffed animal. You can’t take it away from me. It’s mine.
Sarah: Well yes, of course.
And all of this while the water jets spray foam over my car and the big felt strips swish back and forth, while meanwhile my daughter sits in her office at the university working on a project for her supervising professor. An old memory we both share. She is close to me for a moment. And then we’re both back to our individual pursuits with hardly a blip.
Or Hannah to all three of us, a caption under several photos of giraffes, elephants, and gemsboks standing in African landscapes, bizarrely blanketed with snow: Surreal.
SayFry: Where are those animals?
Hannah: In Graaff-Reinet, in the middle of South Africa.
Sarah: That is just crazy. Can they survive?
Hannah: I don’t know.
And for a moment we communally share the dismay, contemplating the inexorable devastation of climate change.
You see, we’re in each other’s lives – our real, day-to-day lives. We’re available for a moment of anger, boredom, frustration, sadness, humor. Like a friend in the next cubicle at work. Like a roommate who’s already there when you get home and who gets out the wine as you bitch about coworkers or share the embarrassingly dumb thing that you said at the deli counter.
It takes only a moment. You can receive when you’re available to receive; like after you finish the email you were writing. You can send right when something happens; not later, when you’ve gathered all the “news” for delivery via phone call, from which this moment would be lost, not worthy of mention.
The other fantastic benefit is that I’ve persuaded my husband to use WhatsApp as well; we’ve created a chat group called “Odd Family” that includes all of us. He gets to be in on my daughters’ odd daily laughs and commiserations, to participate in the solace or the ribbing. These interactions would be few and far between if phone calls were the only mode of communication. He’s actually more of a phone person than I am, but time differences and, honestly, the residual hesitation borne of being “not their real dad” make phone calls infrequent.
I miss my daughters so very much. I think I’m in a constant state of grieving to have them so far away. But I am tremendously comforted when my Cape Town daughter sends me a photo of the clouds pouring off of Table Mountain, seen from her bedroom window; when my Cleveland daughter sends a short video of her little dog jumping into her boyfriend’s lap; when my New York daughter sends me a snarky complaint about a rude woman at Donut Plant in Brooklyn, which we visited together the last time I was in New York.
And when my husband adds his reassurances, his quips, or his declaration of disgust at yet another “stupid dog video,” I swear I almost feel like crying. He is a part of their lives and they of his. OK, I’ll say it; it warms the cockles of my heart.