Monday, June 6, 2011


My parents are getting cell phones.

The news almost floored me. For much of my adult life, my parents have been virtually unreachable. They have a home phone, yes, but whenever they worked or traveled or went to dinner or stepped into the backyard, they were basically off the grid.

They didn't even... wait for it... have an answering machine.

I took it upon myself to rectify this one Christmas, purchasing them the same new model Will and I had recently bought for ourselves. Testing it a week later, I received the same frustrating series of endless rings.

"It doesn't work," Dad informed me later (when I happened to catch him on the phone) after several minutes of interrogation.

"What? It's brand new. Let me have a look at it."

"Well, the problem is, it picks up too soon," Mom explained, her voice startlingly loud on the other extension. "We need more than four rings to get to the phone."

"I'm sure that can be adjusted," I said. "I'm coming over."

"No, I'll work on it," Dad promised.

He's generally good at fixing things, but this particular project has been a decade in the making -- a decade during which I fielded dozens of phone calls from friends and family: Do you know when your parents will be home? When does your dad's flight get in? Can you tell your mom to call me before ten tonight? It was not unusual to find that one or two of the messages on my own machine were actually bits of information to be passed on to my parents.

Dad eventually did purchase a cell phone, but it was solely for emergencies, turned on only when he traveled and banished to his desk drawer for long periods of hibernation when he did not. "It's for your emergencies, then," I tried to reason. "If one of us had an emergency, you'd never know." It must have been difficult to refute this logic, but my parents offered their own puzzling bits of rationale -- the phone takes too long to charge, charging that phone is expensive, if you overcharge the phone the battery will need to be replaced and that's expensive, and sometimes it's hard to find the phone in the first place.

So when I heard the news at dinner on Friday, I squealed. "You're getting a cell phone? I mean" -- ignoring my Dad's raised finger of protest -- "a cell phone that will be turned on and that I'll be able to reach you on at any time?"

My mother considered this cautiously before replying, "Yes."

It was taking a moment for the information to sink in. I tried to find the catch. "Okay, so you're each going to have a cell phone and you're going to carry it with you? So this whole summer while you're traveling, we'll be able to check in with you?"

Will put his hand on my arm to steady me - in my excitement, I had nearly toppled a glass of water.

"Well, now," Dad grinned at me. "Let's not get carried away."

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