Wednesday, June 19, 2013

On Wrong Words, Right Times, Maternal Reinvention, and Divine Intervention


Okay, I know I’m late to the party.  Last cycle the Girlfriends talked about the right words at the right time.  I talked about something else.  Now I’m clinging to old ways, in more ways than one.

My daughter turned 18 last month. She graduated from high school and leaves for college (summer session) in eight days.  Did I mention she’s my baby?  

             Last Sunday, I had a rare chance to step back into old maternal shoes.  AT&T, it seems, doesn’t care if you’re 18, doesn’t care if you’ve got the credit card.  They want the account holder of record to sign on the dotted line for replacement (#3) of Steve Jobs’ prank on parents everywhere, the gift that keeps on giving.  Since when did iPhones become absolutely necessary for daily life?  It’s hard for me to argue too much: I have one (a gift?!) that I’m quite attached to.  I carry it around in an Otter cover that is, my kids tell me, a bit out of fashion, a bit on the bulky side.  

           “But it protects it!” I say, meaning so much more. 

Meaning all these things you take for granted, my lovely children of privilege, these weren’t items I grew up expecting or having.  Meaning, the world has changed and I’m fearful for you, fearful I may have spoiled you with my tendancy to err on the side of safety.  (We bought our teenage drivers new cars with the latest in side-curtain air bags and 5 star crash ratings.  The luxury they enjoyed was incidental to our need to know we’d done the best we could to protect them against the #1 cause of death in teens and the # 2 cause of anti-anxiety medication in parents.)
The iPhone sort of came along accidentally. It came as a celebration of being 16.  It turned into the guest that would not leave.  This gadget insinuated itself into all of our lives with its charming features, the photos we treasure, the music we adore, the texts saying “I’m safe!” Mine has my yoga apps and my Audible books.  I use the alarm.  I’ve come to rely on it.

            That said, I know it’s a luxury.  So, what’s a mother to do when her otherwise perfect daughter doesn’t use the suggested protective cover and breaks (and soaks) said iPhone for the third time?  I felt some sort of lesson was in order.  

She drove, I lectured.  Softly, but surely, I pressed my case: taking care of her things, there must be consequences. If this happened again, she would be on her own.  I spoke about my own phone, how I’d had it for two years thanks to the OTTER and if she wanted to keep hers, it really would behoove her to put it into a protective case and watch it like a hawk.

            We had other errands to run after the phone purchase.  She dropped me at the grocery where I raced through the crowded aisles, efficient, driven toward getting everything on the list.  I made it through Publix in record time.  It was only when I was asked to pay that I peered into my purse to discover the deluge.  Everything was sopping wet.  My water bottle had exploded.  My iPhone was telling me my daughter had called 3 times but when I pressed the screen nothing would work. 

            It just so happened I’d bought a bag of rice.  Thank God and a craving for risotto.

          I had left the house rather abruptly. Thus I was wearing yoga pants, teeshirt, no makeup, my hair scrunched into a frizzy bun.  I looked like a New Age bag lady.  There I sat in the summer heat, full shopping cart next to my crouched form, muttering and laughing to myself.  I fiddled with the Otter’s latch while simultaneously praying that reverse osmosis rice trick was working despite the impervious (but not impermeable) plastic casing whose merits I'd pressed just minutes earlier.

            Time was of the essence.  I knew my daughter couldn’t reach me.  When I saw her drive into the lot, I rushed out, flagging her down.  “Pull over!” I shouted frantically, handing her the bag with rice and phone.  “Can you get the cover off?  You won’t believe what happened!”

            On the way home, I was giggling.  She was too. 

I said “Well, there’s this biblical saying.  Pride goeth before a fall.”

            I think that was the real wisdom I was intended to impart.  Not that stewardship and responsibility aren’t important, but that straight A student of mine pretty much already knew that. 

       What she needed to hear was that no matter how mature you are, no matter how learned, there are times when life makes idiots of us all. (Apologies to The Bard.)  

        Forget consequences, remember this.  Just when you think you’ve got control, you find you don’t.  Better still, when the going gets tough and the tough go shopping, there’s nothing better than to laugh outright at your own silly self.  After all, in the end, there is only this: humor, frailty, human interdependence, and the joy of knowing there will always be something new that life has to teach us, whether we think you need it or not.

(Everyone she loves has been known to fall down, especially the author.)

Sheila Curran is the author of DIANA LIVELY IS FALLING DOWN


  1. Well done. Congrats to your beautiful daughter on this milestone and good luck to both of you!

  2. Oh, yes. Laughing here. That would sooo have happened to me!

    Love the way we're humbled in spite of ourselves. (Well, of course, I don't really love it, because I'd rather be perfect, but as that isn't likely to happen any time soon, I'd better remember to laugh at myself.)

    Great lesson, Sheila. Your daughter won't forget that one.

  3. Love this, Sheila! And LOVE the pic of your phone in the rice!! Ha!