“Mom.” It was a text from my 14-year-old son in the middle of the morning, and I’d missed it for about 30 minutes because I’d been working at my desk at home with my phone on silent. In those 30 minutes, he’d texted several more times: “Mom.” “MOM.” “MOMMMMM.” Each time more emphatic, as if, could he only texted relentlessly enough, I would be more likely to see it.
I wasn’t annoyed with my son though. In fact, I was happy he was texting me with such uninhibited persistence. He was at his dad’s, and he was having trouble finding something for his class on the new virtual learning platform we are still working on figuring out. I love that he’s texting me to ask for help. But more than that, I love that the technology exists to make this possible. Even though his father and I are divorced, my son is able to reach out and ask me a question anytime he wants, as if he were down the hallway in his bedroom here at my house. I’m infinitely grateful for this.
This texting scenario is a common occurrence. We use Google hangouts to text each other on and off all day long. Sometimes no more than to simply say I love you or even to leave no more than an emoji heart. My kids regularly check in and ask questions about little things going on in their lives.
Sometimes they’ll send a text to say hi or to send a picture of whatever they’re doing in the moment. Sometimes all I get is a goofy shot of someone’s flared nostril. And I respond in much the same way, with weird, unattractive close-ups I know will make them laugh. My son sends brief audio recordings of himself making indecipherable noises. We send each other interesting YouTube videos about science, or of an incredible music performance, or of goats screaming like humans. One of my kids’ favorite communications from me is when I send pictures of our little dog Gizmo, whom they always miss when they go to their dad’s.
We do plenty of video chats too. Sometimes my 10-year-old daughter will have me on the phone as she gets ready for bed, her phone resting at an awkward angle on her bathroom countertop, with her camera pointing at a patch of ceiling and the underside of her arm as she brushes her teeth. I love this. I love feeling like I can be there with them even when I’m not.
I frequently think of how different my situation would have been two decades ago, or even a decade ago. Some of this technology existed when my son was little, but not like it is now, where I can see my kids’ finely pixelated facial expressions and hear their clear voice emanating from a tiny rectangular device I can hold in the palm of my hand. Truly, it’s incredible.
I really feel for parents who divorced and shared custody years ago, who had to subsist on a single daily phone call, if they even got that. Being away from my kids for days at a time, not having them sleeping under the same roof as I am, sucks. I always struggle emotionally the day they leave, and fill with anticipation for the whole day when they’re coming back. I can only imagine how much harder that would be if communication weren’t made so much easier thanks to technology.
I do still hear the occasional story of jealous parents preventing their kids from communicating with their other parent, even with the limitless options we now have at our disposal. Thankfully, my ex and I are not in that kind of situation. We both really want our kids to maintain a close relationship with the other parent. One of the reasons we got our son a data plan at 13, a year before we’d originally planned, was for exactly this reason. My son had been using an old phone of ours to access nearby Wi-Fi in order to communicate with us, but when our family morphed from a single-home family to a two-home family, we added the data plan so that my son could have easy communication access to both of us at all times.
Our 10-year-old daughter still only has a Wi-Fi plan, but I suspect we will get her a data plan sooner rather than later as well, for the same reasons. They both love to send messages to their dad, too, and I sometimes find them talking with him via video chat.
I’m incredibly grateful for the technology that makes the constant communication with my kids so much easier. When they leave the house every week to go spend time at their dad’s, it always feels like a little piece of my heart has been scraped out of my chest. It eases the pain of missing them to know that they are only a text away.