23 May

Blazing the Texting Trail

For generations, parents have been taking note of first steps, first words, and first days of school. But today’s parents also witness a whole new breed of “digital firsts” that our great, great grandparents could never have even imagined.

I saw a “digital first” today for two of our three kids. I picked up my iPhone to check email and noticed it was covered in smudgy fingerprints, which means one of the kids had been playing with it – probably launching angry birds at innocent cartoon pigs. But when I slid the phone’s unlock bar open, a screen popped up showing a text message trail between our 10-year-old son and his 8 year-old brother.

For the record, our kids don’t have phones of their own yet, which – believe  it or not – means they’re fast becoming part of the phone-less minority among an increasingly tech-savvy elementary school crowd.

But this week we allowed them to start playing an app called “Words with Friends”. They use my iPhone and the family iPad to battle each other in this virtual game of Scrabble. But this high-tech version of the classic game also allows them to send text messages to each other while they play.

So when I spotted the text trail between the boys, I knew I was seeing their first few steps into texting terrain. For about three seconds, I thought “Awww, look. It’s their very first text message.” It was adorable for about three seconds, until I read down through the trail. Here’s the transcript of their digital exchange:

“Cool”

“Yeah, good”

“Fart”

“Hey fart to you”

“Toot toot”

“ha! ha! ha! ha!”

“Are you there?”

“I’m very mad. I don’t have good letters.”

“Well poo to you”

“Poo to you, too.”

It’s the kind of texting trail that really makes a mother proud. And it reminded me that not all technological advances elevate the nature of human communication. I’m guessing Robert Frost probably never wrote the words “poo to you” when he was 8 years old.

But to be fair, I can’t blame it all on texting. This same conversation could have easily taken place between the brothers in real life. Words like “poo” and “fart” are comedy gold for boys this age.

This first texting trail makes me wonder what other digital firsts might be on the horizon. Their first Facebook status update? First YouTube video upload? First tweet? Once it begins, is there any way to stuff the digital genie back in the bottle?

Something tells me the answer is no. And that’s what makes me and so many other parents a tad more nervous than our great, great grandparents probably were.

Recently I heard author and social media expert John Acuff say that posting a photo online is like getting a digital tattoo. Once something is out on the Internet, it’s there for life and not even an expensive laser can erase that temporary case of bad judgment.

As Acuff points out on his blog, “Once you post it, you can never delete it. It’s on there forever, traveling across the world on servers you will never have access to.”

He goes on to say that kids don’t realize that college admissions counselors and future employers will be background checking them online (and seeing all those digital tattoos) for years to come.

So as much as I love all things tech, Tom and I are doing our best to keep the floodgates of technology closed a little longer for our kids. In today’s digital world, it’s just far too easy to get in over your head.

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13 May

The Rejection Letter

Today I got a rejection letter for a book manuscript. It hurt. It wasn’t the first one and won’t be the last, but it still hurt. I keep waiting to develop the thick skin all the writing advice books say you need to survive in this business, but mine feels as tender as ever. Wounded pride and self-doubt spring eternal.

I should have done a better job hiding the hurt from the kids, but they burst into my room to tell me about the new level they reached on their computer game and the tears and the red, sniffly nose were too obvious.

“What’s wrong, Mom?” Jack asked.

“It’s nothing, Jack. I’ll be okay,” I said.

“Don’t you want to tell me about it?” he asked, borrowing a line I use on him.

“It’s just some bad news I got about my book,” I said. “The publisher I sent it to doesn’t want to publish it.”

“What? That’s crazy. I read those stories and they’re good,” Adam said.

“Yeah, I read them, too, Mom, and I liked them,” agreed Jack.

Wanting to be part of the discussion, 5-year-old Kate chimed in. “Well, Mom, maybe you can just make your book more exciting,” she said, trying to fix things for me.

“Kate, those stories are about Mom’s real life. It’s not like she can just spice them up,” argued Adam. “Besides, you didn’t even read them.”

“But that’s only because I can’t read yet!” Kate fired back.

“It’s okay,” I said, interrupting the budding argument. “I’m sad about it right now but I’ll be okay and I’ll try again.”

And I will try again but not because my skin is any thicker and not because I have any hope that the next rejection won’t sting just as much.

When I try again it’ll be because I believe in the work and because I want the kids to one day hold a book in their hands that has their mom’s name on it and their childhood stories in it. I’ll try because not trying would say more about me than the failure. And I’ll try because I want the kids to go after their own dreams one day. I don’t want them to quit because that’s what they saw me do.

I think what writers need most is not a thick skin but rather the strength or insanity to let themselves get hurt over and over again – to be a thin-skinned masochist willing to ride the waves of disappointment in hopes that the little island of opportunity will come into view any moment.

Listening to the kids debate my professional problem did put things in perspective, though. I look at them, healthy and happy and growing, and I feel like the worst kind of stingy jerk to want anything more than that. My “non-spicy” life is so blessed. I know it’s wrong to indulge in a pity party when there’s so much around me that’s right. And yet, doing work that is personal means the failures feel personal, too. They cut deep, and there’s no barrier thick enough to block it out.

My thin skin is likely a permanent condition. It’s what makes me want to write when, particularly on tough days, learning Portuguese or wrestling alligators would be so much simpler and easier on the ego.

The best I can hope for is to stay just crazy and masochistic enough to try it all over again and watch and wait for that tiny island to appear on the horizon.


06 May

The Dream Car

Now that our oldest son has officially hit double-digits in age, he’s thinking of his future – his driving future. His sixteenth birthday is still six years away (thankfully), but suddenly cars are very cool.

“Mom, I decided what kind of car I want when I’m 16,” he announced recently at dinner.

“That’s great, Adam. But you do realize you’ll have to save up your own money, right? Whatever you save up, Dad and I will match it and we’ll use that money to buy a used car,” I said.

“Yeah, I know,” he said. “The two cars I like best are the Ford Focus and the Ferrari.”

“A Ferrari?” I asked. “As in Ferrari, the sports car?”

“Yep, that’s the one,” he said. “It goes really fast.”

“Well, since one of your choices costs about twenty-thousand dollars and the other one costs more than two-hundred thousand, Dad and I vote for the Ford,” I said.

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll just get the Ferrari after I make it into the NBA.”

“Good plan,” I said.

Now that we’ve got that settled, all that’s left to do is save a lot of money, practice a lot of basketball and wait for sweet sixteen to roll around.

In the meantime, there’s a lot of father and son bonding going on over all things Motor Trend. Tom loves a trip to the car dealership like kids love a trip to the ice cream shop. And now his firstborn son is equally eager to wander around the showroom floor with him.

I stopped going to car dealerships with Tom a long time ago because he was such a “new car tease”. When we began dating, Tom loved to drive slowly down the aisles of cars parked on dealership lots. When one caught his eye, we’d get out and walk around it and Tom would study the new car sticker on the window.

Then an eager salesman would come ask if we needed any help, and the dance would begin. He’d tell Tom about the engine. Tom would ask about the horsepower. Then there’d be the inevitable back and forth tango about leather versus upholstery, the sun roof, the stereo sound, heated seats, gas mileage, and on and on.

If the salesperson really knew his cylinders from his pistons, Tom would agree to a test drive. I’d sit in the passenger seat and inhale that wonderful new car smell and run my hand along the shiny chrome trim of the console. If Tom really liked the car, sometimes he’d sit down at the salesman’s desk afterward and crunch numbers as if a deal was about to take place.

But then we’d get back into our own car, take it through a car wash, and Tom would go on to shop another day. I finally figured out that, for him, it was about the thrill of the hunt.

So I wasn’t the least bit worried when father and son went off to car shop a few weeks ago because I knew how it would end.  What blew me away was when they actually came home with a new SUV! Okay, it’s technically a used SUV, but it still smells new – whereas my minivan smells like old chocolate milk and stale McDonald’s.

Tom said it was a great deal, and I’m more than happy to help him drive it. It reeks of “cool mom” whereas my minivan just reeks. The new SUV may not be a Lamborghini, but I’m planning to get one of those after I land that international modeling contract. It’s good to have a dream.

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