With One Child At College, Here’s Why I Love Texting

by Susie b Cross
Tim Robberts/Getty

When old people (ie. my contemporaries) complain about texting, I hear, “Blah-dee blah blah blah.” They say the problem is that you can’t gauge tone in a text, that they’re too easy to misunderstand, that they’re too transactional. The “transactional” part is the exact opposite of a problem for me; it is precisely why I love texting so dang much.

If I have to ask another mother if she can do pick-up, I can communicate that in 4 words: Can+you+do+pick-up? (Or 5 words if I add a “please.”) In olden times when I had to make a call, I would have to commit to 310 words of chit-chatty foreplay before I’d get around to asking for the favor. I guess some people like that. I, on the other hand, will always prefer texting’s lickety-split-ness. And, lately I’ve found another reason I enjoy it: the fine art of texting keeps me connected to my recently-flown-the-coop college freshman.

I have always, and without apology, hated the phone. If you ask me, the world abuses it and uses it as a means to soliloquize about a whole bunch of nothingness. At the same time, I have a wandering brain (which is enjoyable sometimes, but doesn’t make for good no-visual-cues conversation). There are lots of empty pauses while I’m focusing on scraping a smidge of epoxied cheese off the kitchen counter, when I should be saying something along the lines of “I’m so sorry. She was a lovely woman.”

I will take, however, a phone call from a distracted, stream-of-consciousness 18-year-old boy. I really fight to concentrate while we talk–but, honestly, he messes the whole thing up. I’m working my hardest to understand something about a calculus quiz, and he’s skateboarding on the quad and pretty much all I can hear is the da-duh, dah duh of the wheels hitting the cracks in the sidewalk. He complains that I only listen to 30% of what he says–but the truth is that I can only grasp a good 18%. But, no matter, I like to hear the cadence and timbre of his voice and his signature laugh, even if I can’t make out his words.

What keeps me from sniveling and shriveling in his absence, though, are our texts. I have to admit that they are, a lot of times, repetitive pleas for extra cash or a car. He blabs X, Y, and Z and I say no—and it’s just like the old days.

At times our exchanges aren’t negotiations; once in a while, he closes a text with an emoji, a single heart. This is especially meaningful. I have not heard him toss a phrase in my direction with the word “love” in it since he was in second grade. (He stopped at about the same time he told me I could no longer touch him in public.) As long as I can remember, he has responded to my “I love you” with a non-sequitur “uh huh,” if he can’t speed walk out of the room before I get the words out.

I never expected more than a thumbs up or a cryptic owl/cha-cha dancer/snowman combo, but out of all the possibilities, he clicks on a big red heart. And he has to access a totally different keyboard to do it. And it’s screen-shot-able, in case I ever need evidence.

But, like I said, that comforting heart isn’t an everyday thing. What is an everyday thing are our abbreviated conversations like the ones we used to have in the kitchen before school. They are short and sweet—

—and that’s that.

Our yo-yo-ing is sloppy, facile, and unvarnished, and that right there is the beauty in it. No meandering mind, no rehearsal, no pressure, no demands on time (a precious and not easily ceded commodity for a kid new to freedom and the rigors of Econ 101).

These simple back-and-forths soothe me in a way that talking via phone can’t quite. I think, besides my historical hatred of the phone and my inability to decipher whatever the hell my son’s trying to say, I just don’t trust that our conversations will last forever–or even with regularity. This is a kid who has inherited my distaste for anything but texting. I have tried to pay him $5 just to answer the phone for me (he won’t bite); he’s tried to pay me to make calls for him (I will bite). I get the jimmies whenever the phone rings, and he goes rigor mortis. We’re like xeroxed copies when it comes to the damn thing; we’re just not built for that kind of communication for the long haul.

Everyone faults texting for what it lacks; I praise it for what it adds. And if it can give me a teensy—but consistent—connection with a kid who’s at long last high-tailed it away from home? I’ll take what I can get—and I’ll like it.