“I was thinking the other day about how we survived as kids without cell phones. I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s – not just before the age of the almighty cellular device but really before home computers, beepers, or even walkie talkies that had a range more than just a few houses down. Heck, most of us were still stringing together two cans to see if we could make that work or even pulling out our printed version of ‘Encyclopedia Britannica’ to figure out how to make smoke signals so that we didn’t have to actually hop on our bikes and ride across town to get our friends’ attention. But really, that’s how we found each other – by the mound of bikes and skateboards on somebody’s lawn. You knew just where your friends were and who was there by the tangled mess of bicycle spokes and tossed aside jackets that everybody was forced to wear while running out of the house when the sun came up, only to return some 12 hours later when it went down. And, *gasp*, our parents didn’t know where we were every. single. second. unless we left an actual note by the rotary phone in the kitchen. They couldn’t track us on ‘Snap-Maps’ or ‘Find Your Friends.’ No, they had to pull out the rolodex and call around to our friends’ parents, but guess what? They actually knew them back then. Like, whether they were actually friends or not, they had at least met on a handful of occasions, usually at the school bake sale or when they got out of the car and walked to the door to pick up their kid in person.
Now, our kids (and most of us) are slaves to the little modern convenience and spend more time with our heads down scrolling than we are engaging with the people around us. I’m guilty of it. My kids are guilty of it. I’m sure you’re guilty of it from time to time. It’s just the way the world has become. It’s how we communicate now. It’s how we stay informed. And boy, do we stay informed.
So, imagine my surprise when at dinner one night, my 16-year-old daughter collected all of our phones. I remember as she pointed to each one of us and put out her hand, palm up, as a signal to hand them over. No lie, there was some confusion at first. Why did she have her hand out? Did she want a high-five? Was she looking for money? Was it code for something else? Why was she talking to us instead of counting her Snap-Chat streaks? Was YouTube broken? No Wi-Fi? There had to be something wrong. If she took our phones wouldn’t the world stop? How would she know what her friends were doing? Or what they were wearing? Or who was fighting with who and who was friends again? What if somebody ‘dropped an addy’ and she missed it?
Seeing as we’re all smarter than to upset a hormonal female teenager, we closed our apps and stacked them into her hand when she told us to ‘hand them over.’ I asked her why. She responded with seven, slow words: ‘You-guys-are-on-them-too-much.’ Say what? Us guys? Us? The budding Instagram model thinks WE’RE on our phones too much? Maybe hers wasn’t charged considering the last time she stole my charger I threatened to throw it away and so now she lives at 3%.
She placed them on the table, screen down and then made eye contact with us. I mean actual eye contact. She has gray eyes. Who knew? I haven’t seen them in so long I thought they were blue, but nope – gray. And, once I saw those gorgeous pupils of hers, I did the only thing a mom like me could do – I stared at her. For the next hour. Yes, friends, for the next 60, glorious minutes, I memorized her face, giggled at her giggle, and hung onto every-single-word. She can name every bone in the skeletal system, you know. Twice. Faster the second time. She knows most of the periodic table. She’s thinking about being a nurse when she grows up. Maybe a cosmetologist. Either one she will be fabulous at. She can rap all the words to, ‘My Posse’s On Broadway.’ She tells funny jokes. She knows a bunch of random trivia. Did I mention her eyes are gray? Her cheekbones are higher than I remember. But then again, the last time she let me stare at her like that, she was 10.
I wish she was still 10.
Because if she was, my husband would still be alive. All my kids would still be home. Our house would still be full of chaos and noise and laughter and lots of gymnastics. And if I knew then that just three years later our life would be thrown off it’s axis by his sudden terminal pancreatic cancer diagnosis, I would have been more present. I would have found a way to be comfortable sitting in silence more. I would have played more games. I would have stayed up later talking with my husband when he wanted to, but I was just so tired. I would have loved harder. I would have hugged my kids more. I would have not complained when I had three Christmas programs to go to at three different schools. I would have made more snacks. I would have not worried so much about cleaning the house or folding laundry. I wouldn’t have been so insecure. I would have tried more recipes and had more family dinners. I would have not been so rushed. I would have spent more time walking to get ice cream on a hot summer night and I would have made more snow angels when the weather got cold. I would have counted more stars and had more late nights by a firepit, just being together. Just simply being together.
And, I would have put my phone down more. Maybe she feels the same way. Maybe the loss of her dad helped her realize that. Maybe she learned the importance of small moments and not missing them. Maybe she knows at 16 what it took me until I was 45 to figure out – that there is nothing more important than being completely present with the people you love – completely present – because you never know when they will be completely gone.
Sometimes, I wish I didn’t know the value of that message. I wish it didn’t take losing him to figure it out. But, since I do, I feel like I have to tell you this. Please love each other before it’s too late. Tell them. Show them. Play the games. Count the stars. Make more messes. Stop complaining. Put the phones down. Stay up later. Hug way more often. Tell all the stories. Make the memories. And above all, let it all go and laugh. Oh, and take lots of pictures – with your camera and your heart. I promise you, you can’t go wrong with any of that. And, thanks, K, for reminding me. I’m sorry you know how it feels, too.”
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This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Diana Register of Meridian, Idaho. Her book “Grief Life” is available in print and kindle. You can find more of her books here, and her podcast here. Connect with Diana on her author Facebook page, and Instagram.
Read more powerful stories from Diana:
‘I saw this picture of my teen daughter and her boyfriend. I cringed. I yelled. I demanded she take it off social media.’: ‘Infuriated’ mom changes her mind after she recalls ‘young love’ with her late husband
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