With my first child, I would have been on the phone with Jim in seconds to inquire what exactly he was thinking. Now, the phone call would be pure posturing as there's something like a 97% likelihood that I put the odor bomb in the basket. I'm not sure though because my brain is so frequently engaged that there are no system backups. Maybe the phone rang, maybe something boiled over in the kitchen, or maybe Ranger said quietly "uh, mom- there's a problem" and walked in holding the front half of the DVD player. The distractions and interruptions are so common these days that I've started losing track of them.
Now when I find a diaper in the laundry, my lunch from yesterday unopened in the car, or two very different shoes on my feet, philosophical questions fill my mind. How did I get here? What am I doing? Is this chaos my fault?
Memories of my own mother and grandmothers don't offer much solace. They all seemed more present and capable than I feel and my actions suggest.
There have been some big changes in the world since I was a kid though, and they have changed the face of motherhood dramatically.
Let's start with the telephone. It's a handy device, but it demands attention around the clock. Friends, family, and strangers can interrupt kids' naps, family meals, and virtually every shower attempted by mothers in North America. With the advent of cell phones, calls can now also interrupt meaningful conversations, fun outings, and those rare moments when my internal dialog teeters on revelation. A tranquil moment in the afternoon sun with only the pleasant hum of the world around me dissolves into a cry for attention.
And, yes, there are management tools like caller id, forward to voicemail, and taking the phone off the hook, but whenever I employ these methods inevitably I forget to reengage the systems or the next human communication I have starts with "I've been trying to get a hold of you for hours, and [insert real emergency]."
Over a decade ago we canceled call waiting because it is stressful, and I don't know how to handle it gracefully. I consider our home a technological preserve for the busy signal. And isn't it sometimes true that we're busy? When did that become a bad message? I keep hearing about people who no longer use answering machines or voicemail because who wants to arrive home to an audio to-do list? On the other hand, the machine lets me know if I really need to disrupt the nursing baby or if it's just a reminder of the dentist appointment that's already on my calendar.
Beyond the interruptions and monetary costs telephones require maintenance. Cordless phones must be returned to the base but not overcharged. Home phones should be handy but not too easily accessible to tots with a yen to dial Denmark.
Like the cordless phone, my cell phone battery demands the careful nurturing like a Tamagotchi pet (food at exacting measure), but charging is the least of my cell phone headaches. My phone may someday evolve into a sentient lifeform (shortly before I throw out the charger), but it will not need to grow legs. It already skitters around the universe powered by the little feet (and hands) of my family members. This is not to imply that I do not also lose my phone- regularly (like in an amusement park- thank you again, Holiday World staff).
If I make the mistake of setting it to vibrate, magical fairies, magnetic forces, and/or toddler power will be sure to bury it in some unfathomable location. Then I spend the evening walking around the house with the cordless phone listening for the quiet whisper vibration and praying that the battery doesn't die before it is located.
When the battery dies, the search really kicks into high gear as the audio clue phase ends. Now rather than following the digital noise, it has become a needle in a haystack.. or my backpack... or the car... or the toy basket.
I would be ashamed to admit the number of hours in 2009 I have spent looking for that radiation-emitting piece of plastic. When their kids were young, my mom and grandma never spent a single evening crawling around looking for a phone.
Cell phones turn me into a stream of consciousness machine. On a drive, I notice a change in the neighborhood, so I speed-dial Jim, or I call someone for an update on something that really could have waited. Nobody really wants to be tapped into my cerebral cortex, and just because I can call, usually doesn't mean I should.
My kids (even the baby) are drawn to the phone. Ranger sees it as an electronic game (even the calendars and system settings can be "played") and the baby sees it as a chew toy. I don't want to give it to either of them, but in a crisis it's an easy diversion.
Other people's cell phones network us all to the Matrix. Baby's early morning feeding turns into a request for online research help on the relationship between soy products and cancer. I should note here that while I am quite proud of my Google-fu, I am neither a nutritionist nor a medical practitioner, so there's always a lot of background research before I even begin to comprehend the question I am attempting to answer. Jim and I often append "In my PROFESSIONAL medical opinion to any results" in hopes that it will remind the person seeking the information that they called a keyboard monkey rather than an expert. It's easy to become an unpaid helpdesk just by answering the phone.
Our seven digit phone number is the same as that of a toll free mail order prescription company. This company serves only pensioners from a specific declining trade (let's say buggy whip makers), so the calls are occasional. When people misdial the local area code rather than the 800 prefix, our voicemail gets worried calls from elderly people wondering why their meds haven't arrived. The first time it happened, we ignored it. Then the caller left two more messages and sounded sincerely panicked, so Jim called her back. She didn't understand who we were and we seriously freaked her out. A day later, she left another message. I Googled our number and prescription and called the company myself. Sadly, she hadn't left an account number so I banged on the number pad like a monkey at an obelisk until I got a human being. I begged a customer service rep to call her back. They were resistant at first (because I didn't even know the woman), but I kept telling them how increasingly desperate her messages had become, and they decided to make an exception. A few weeks later we got a similar call from an older gentleman. The written instructions for getting through to the Rx call center without an account number are now kept under our phone.
Our lives are more complicated. The house I grew up in had a party line phone and it never rang because someone needed my mom to make an online hotel reservation in the next 20 minutes, give directions, or look up the side effects of a common drug. Nobody went online to research car seats because there were neither online nor car seats. Kids just laid on the back ledge of the giant cars and computers were mostly science fiction dreams.
My grandmother couldn’t even drive until the year I was born. Think how much less people would expect of you (in terms of daily tasks) if you didn’t drive.We live in a reshaped world and our elders often treat us as if we live in the (slightly) less complicated days of their childhoods.
Thanks to our placement in human history, we’re expected to keep house like Martha (without the benefit of her staff), manage our own household finances and retirements like Warren Buffet, maintain vehicles & households, raise children, and chauffeur to every activity that anyone ever claimed made kids smarter, faster, wiser, happier, more tolerant, and/or better looking. After that, single, "I'm every woman" Oprah tells us not to be schlumpadinkas in sweat pants and prominent mom bloggers publish tutorials on how not to wear mom jeans. [Note: I don't care what your jeans look like, if you have a rock, a toy, and an uneaten portion of sandwich in your pocket, they're mom jeans.]
I guess we should just cure cancer in our spare time.