My Children Will Never Know

When I was in junior high, my mom saw a bunch of boys that I was friends with buying Trojans in the local grocery store. Even though many of those pimply faced teens would never get the chance to use those condoms until long after they had expired, my mother panicked.

Deductive reasoning told her that if the boys in my grade were purchasing rubbers, then…

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We hadn’t had “The Talk” yet, and so, like a mad woman, she raced home to find me, only I wasn’t there.

As any bored thirteen-year-old would do on a Saturday afternoon, I had hopped on my bike and pedaled to a friend’s house. I’m sure I left a note of some kind, albeit one that didn’t reveal my destination since I often didn’t have an exact end in mind, but these were the days before cell phones, the days when it wasn’t unusual for kids to spend whole afternoons in the fresh air. Yet seeing how I didn’t live in a neighborhood so much as in the middle of a potato farm, my boundaries were less-defined. My mother could yell for me till the cows came home, and cows might literally show up before I would.

In this instance, my mother had only two choices: to wait for me to return (mind racing, envisioning worst-case scenarios) or to track me down like a bounty hunter.

With the determination and paranormal instinct that only a mother can possess, she got in her car.

I was a whole town over when she pulled up alongside me. By the time she had stopped and rolled down the window, my mother had worked herself up from a low simmer to a full boil.

“Get. In. The. Car.”

I’d heard that tone many a time: I was in dangerous territory.

“But my bike.”

I didn’t know what I had done, but I reasoned if I could ride back home, I’d buy myself some time. Hopefully, it would allow for my mother to calm down enough to realize that killing me wouldn’t benefit either one of us; instead she popped the trunk.

I struggled to fit my ten-speed in the back while she waited inside the vehicle, and once I had buckled up, it didn’t take long before she broke the silence.

“I saw those boys you’re friends with buying condoms at the store today. Condoms! What were they buying condoms for, Sara?!”

“I don’t know.”

“Don’t lie to me.”

“Mom, I’m not having sex if that’s what you think.”

“I know you’re not having sex. You know how I know? Because I’m your mother. I know everything.”

“The Talk” ended up being fairly short– the gist of it being that I was never, EVER, to have sex with those boys. I was able to reassure my mother of my virtuous ways (“Ew, Mom, gross!”), and seeing as how she didn’t really want to have “The Talk” any more than I did, we dropped the whole conversation, that is, until my sister came home later that evening and I got to retell the story over dinner in a dramatic rendering that left us both laughing. (Mom did not find my reenactment all that funny.)

Still, this is more than just a story about my mother’s psychic abilities, which I still believe she possesses today. Rather, this is a story about an experience that defined my adolescence.

Last year, my oldest daughter began sex-Ed in school. She was traumatized by some of what she learned, refusing to play with the boys at afternoon recess that day because, as she put it, “It’s just weird now, it’s like, I know their secrets.”  After she came home, and in the weeks that followed, there were lots of questions. I guess, in many ways, we’ve already begun “The Talk.” Still, if they are fortunate enough, my children will never know what it is like to have me hunt them down and find them with only sheer will, maternal instinct, and a little bit of luck.

Lately, I’ve been thinking of all the experiences that today’s children will never have.

Fewer and fewer kids are making mud pies or playing outside till the streetlights come on. When my children start roaming farther from home and I want to know where they are, I’ll probably just send a text. And by tracking their phones, I could know exactly where they are, letting a GPS take me there turn by turn, a thought that terrifies the teenager I used to be.

On the flip side though, my children will also be able to text me when they need a ride. They won’t sit outside the dentist’s office for hours plucking at the grass and wondering when their mom will finally remember she was supposed to get them. They won’t wait outside after play rehearsal watching one by one as their friends leave, the occasional mom or dad calling out from a minivan, “Do you need a ride?” They won’t hoof it home after swimming at a friend’s house, walking for miles in damp jean shorts that chafe the inside of their thighs, turning them an angry red. No. With phones at everyone’s fingertips, my children will probably Uber before they’ll scrounge for a ride.

Technology has made it so my children will never know what it is like to go to 7-11 in order to find out where the party’s at. When the parking lot of Sevs was empty, we didn’t get FOMO. We got Big Gulps. Then, we got back in our cars and drove from beach to beach trying to find the party for ourselves.

When I was a teen, we didn’t have group messages, we had three-way calling. If you were lucky, your family had a portable phone. If you weren’t, you stretched the cord from the kitchen to the bathroom to talk in privacy until your mother picked up the other line and told you to hang up.

We weren’t drug dealers or doctors, but nevertheless, we carried beepers and sent our boyfriends the first numeric text message: 143. And when our best friend stayed home sick, we took a quarter to the pay phone in school and dialed one of the many numbers we knew by heart to find out how she was.

We waited all night for the radio to play the perfect song to record on the mixed tape we were making for our Boo, and waited all week for our pictures to get developed at Genovese Drug Store. Out of an entire roll, we were lucky to get two or three good ones, pictures that wouldn’t go on Instagram, but ended up in our scrapbook next to collages we had made from Seventeen magazine. That was our #aesthetic.

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My children will never spend the first week of school making covers for their textbooks from brown shopping bags. They’ll never know card catalogues or what it’s like to find information without Google. They’ll never peck out their first papers on a typewriter, feeling the agony of every mistake. While I would much rather write a research paper today than when I sat at a microfiche machine, there are some things I experienced growing up that I hope will remain the same.

……………………..

I hope my children will know what it’s like to have someone ask them out face-to-face. I hope they will know what it feels like to hold a sweaty hand in a darkened movie theater, wondering if tonight will be their first kiss.

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{via Gifer.com}

And even though I work in a public high school and vomit a little in my mouth each time I witness a make-out session in the halls, I hope they will have someone who waits at their locker and walks them to class someday. They don’t need an elaborate promposal, a grotesque gesture designed to get the most likes on social media, but a simple, heartfelt request that makes their cheeks blush and their heart flutter before they answer yes.

I want my children to see their friends’ faces illuminated by bonfires, not screens. I want them to know what it feels like to spend hours on the phone talking with a loved one. I want their relationships to take place in real life, but fewer and fewer these days do.

Still, when I recently chaperoned the homecoming dance at the high school where I teach, I realized, as more and more kids showed up to dance the night away, that it hasn’t all changed. As I watched the awkward encounters of boys and girls and listened to the shouts as the DJ played a favorite song, their movements becoming more frenetic, the gymnasium hotter, the air less sweet, my friend yelled over the music to me, “I’m glad they still do this. I’m glad that technology hasn’t taken away everything.”

Looking out at the sea of bodies on the dance floor, I thought about my oldest daughter who in four short years would be here, singing along with her friends to the song that marks the end of every dance. As the students swayed, belting out the lyrics of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’, I couldn’t agree more.

 

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Human Connection: The Life Hack We Can’t Live Without

The fifth episode in the third and final season of the Netflix series Love written by Judd Apatow is titled “Bertie’s Birthday.”

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As the episode begins, we find Bertie waking up in the dark to Facetime with her family in the land down under. Bertie presents them with the illusion that she’s going to be doing lots of fun things with her friends in L.A. for her birthday. They’ll go to trendy bars and probably see famous people, but we soon learn that both her roommate and her boyfriend already have plans and Bertie spends most of her birthday desperately seeking someone to hang out with. Even her coworkers make excuses for why they can’t get a drink with her after work, and it isn’t until Chris, a friend of a friend, writes on her Facebook wall that she can get a free piece of cake at the restaurant where he waits tables, that she finds something to do.

Still, it’s a fairly sad picture when Bertie walks into the restaurant alone, sits at a table alone, and looks down at her single slice of cake with a single candle in it.

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{via Netflix}

So when Chris gets off work and invites her to join him for an underground wrestling tournament, obviously, she agrees to go. But first, they need to stop for gas.

For me, it’s this small scene at the gas station, this brief dialogue exchange, that made the episode memorable.

Chris steps outside of the car and closes the door. Popping his head back in through the opened window, he asks Bertie if she needs anything from inside, to which she jokingly answers, “Chewing tobacco. Lots of it.”

“Is this weird?” Chris asks. “I like to pay inside. I try to find human interaction wherever I can in L.A.”

Bertie tells Chris that she likes that idea, in fact, she might do it herself next time, to which Chris replies, “Right? Life Hack, Bitch!”

A few days after watching the show, I walked into the library to pick up a book I’d placed on hold that had come in. My husband had reminded me that the library called, which meant that there was an automated message on our answering machine from them.

I found the shelves that housed the holds, then searched alphabetically for the first two letters of my last name. Spotting the book, I grabbed it and walked to the circulation counter to check out.

I scanned my library card, got the book checked out myself, printed my receipt, and then said, “Thank you” to the two librarians behind the counter; one was doing something on her phone, the other was leaning against the wall, staring blankly at nothing.

Upon hearing my voice, the woman looked up from her device.

“Isn’t that nice?” She asked the other. “We didn’t even do anything and she thanked us.”

I smiled at them both, and as I carried my book in hand, I felt like I was in The Twilight Zone.

Was it really that unusual for someone to say thank you? It’s not just good manners, but it’s a part of our culture to thank someone when they are providing a service. True, they didn’t really do any of the work, but does that mean that we shouldn’t acknowledge one another? In fact, why hadn’t either of them greeted me?

Through the convenience of our digitalized world, we have become so inhuman that we fail to adhere to the norms of human interaction even when we are in one another’s presence.

We have self-checkout stands everywhere from the Home Depot to the Post Office. We have apps to make our dinner reservations and then we text our babysitter to find out if she’s free. We post our greatest joys and deepest sorrows on social media, and rather than picking up the phone, we IM or PM or DM. I teach to a room full of students who stare at a screen they keep hidden in their laps, and though sitting in the same class, they would rather send one another funny memes than actually talk.

In “Buddhism 101,” an episode of Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations, Jack Kornfield, one of America’s leading Buddhist teachers, talks about what it means to live an awakened life, which according to Kornfield, means to be here in the reality of the present, in the now, which is really all we have. He says, “We can go through our lives kind of half asleep, or we can be more present for one another, for our life, for what matters in our heart.”

What matters? People matter. But the only way that people are going to know that they matter is if we tell them. So we have to start by seeing them. By acknowledging that they’re there, we communicate that they matter.

Kornfield says that, “Our Western culture has produced a society suffering from epidemic loneliness.” Sadly, I think he’s right. We’re all connected online, but we’ve stopped connecting IRL.

“When you look at our culture… you see one person in a car, big houses with one person in a room. Instead of having extended families, villages, communities where people are really engaged with one another, we’re engaged by texting one another…[Our] distance from one another has grown over the years…In some ways we’re much more prosperous, but in other ways, we’re really more lonely and isolated.”

A few weeks ago, we hosted Mary Latham, a former student of mine who is traveling the country collecting stories of human kindness. For the five days she stayed with us, we talked…and talked…and talked.

We talked while on a walk in a spring snow shower. We talked in the car as we drove to Lake Tahoe and Virginia City and home from dinner. And on Saturday night, we talked on my couch till one in the morning.

My husband, who had gone to sleep long before us, asked me the next morning what time I had come to bed.

“Wow. When was the last time you did that?”

It had been far too long.

I remember being in high school, attending a youth group ski trip for a church I didn’t belong to. All of us stayed up late into the night talking about things I thought at the time were deeply philosophical and profound. It was real conversation—without awkwardness, without judgement, without offense.

I remember spending hours upon hours on the phone with my high school boyfriend. I’d wake up with the receiver still cradled under my head without remembrance of the last thing either of us had said.

Growing up, I remember the playful banter between me and my girlfriends—over bonfires, in a college dorm room, at the beach.

Long before LOL and the emoji face with tears of joy, there was real laughter, real tears, real joy.

After Mary left us, she went on to talk to more people. In California. In Oregon. In Washington. Her entire mission revolves around connecting with people through talk. And while I hope that she got some good stories from visiting Reno, the person who really benefitted from her visit was me.

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Author Steve Almond said in one of his Dear Sugar podcasts that, “your purpose in life is to establish human connection with people who are important to you.” But I’d argue, that our purpose is just to establish human connection. Period.

The other day, I got a text from a friend I work with. Not a super close friend, but a friend nonetheless. I knew I shouldn’t text her back since I was already driving home, but I also knew that she’d recently experienced a loss, that she was going through a lot, and so, I did the unimaginable: I called her instead.

As may be expected these days, she didn’t answer, but I left her a voicemail and she eventually called back. The next day, she popped her head in my classroom and we chatted some more. Before she left, I told her we should get together one of these days. Take a walk. Talk.

“I’d like that,” she said.

A life hack can be a way to do things more efficiently, but it can also be a clever solution to a tricky problem. If, as Kornfield says, the problem is epidemic loneliness, then the solution—the life hack—is human interaction. Luckily, people are everywhere. All we really need to do is get them to look up. Sometimes, that’s as simple as going inside to pay for your gas, as simple as picking up the phone, as simple as saying Thank You.

at the end of the day all this
means nothing
this page
where you’re sitting
your degree
your job
the money
nothing even matters
except love and human connection

                                                                                        -Rupi Kaur, Milk and Honey

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What They Don’t Teach Teachers

Recently, I administered the writing portion of the End-of-Course Exam for my Sophomores. A few weeks later, I stood before a room of Juniors to proctor the ACT. If you haven’t guessed, we’ve entered that fun time of the school year where one attempts to teach in between all the testing that takes place.

When you are training to become a teacher, proctoring exams is not something they teach you. You don’t practice reading aloud mind-numbing scripts or circulating a room for hours ensuring that kids are bubbling in the right section, that their number two pencils are sharp, and that nobody barfs on his exam.

There are many things they don’t teach future teachers—things that, if they did, might make them reconsider the profession long before they start posting their paychecks on social media.

And maybe that’s why. Still, I can’t help thinking that novice teachers might benefit from some realistic preparation for the career they’re about to embark on.

Here’s what else they don’t teach teachers:

They don’t teach you how to breathe through your mouth when you are stuck in a windowless classroom that reeks of B.O. and where the use of scented fragrance items like Glade Plug-ins and perfumed sprays have been banned by the district because it might trigger a student’s allergic reaction.

You know what I’m allergic to? Overactive pubescent sweat glands and a lack of deodorant, and you might be too. Better to find out now while there’s still time.

They don’t teach you how to pee on a strict schedule. Much like Pavlov’s dogs salivated at the sound of a bell, teachers hear a bell and it signals their full bladders that it’s time to go, so it would make sense that during any teacher preparation program, future educators were not allowed to use the restroom from 7:30 AM till 3 in the afternoon.

A fun side-effect to this kind of rigorous urinary training is how often you’ll exercise your right to pee at free will when you aren’t at school.

This feast-or-famine mentality isn’t just confined to the water closet though. Follow a herd of hungry teachers to the local Port-of-Subs on a professional development day, and you’ll see what I mean.

They don’t teach you how to pack your lunch. Every. Damn. Day.

If you thought living off PB&J and Top Ramen ended in college, you were mistaken. There will be weeks when you survive on half a package of saltine crackers and dried out baby carrots—and not because it is a new diet trend.

In the week leading up to payday, teacher lunches get very, very sad.

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{via sad desk lunch}

I’m sure there’s a few wanna-be teachers out there who naively think they’ll just go down to the cafeteria for the hot lunch special. But with only thirty minutes, you’ve got to make sure you call that parent; answer that email; run a few copies; explain to those five kids who just walked in what they’ll be missing this afternoon as they leave early for their baseball game, track meet, or dentist appointment— And make sure you get a chance to use the restroom.

Shit. Was that the bell already?

On the flip side though, consuming that expired yogurt from that back of your mini-fridge might help you ward off whatever flu/virus has been circulating the school for the past six months straight.

Or… it might give you diarrhea.

If I was in charge of preparing teachers for the job, I’d make sure that each time they were about to teach, none of the technology worked.

I love sitting in on interviews where the applicant shows a sample lesson plan they developed in their undergrad program.

“It says here that each student gets out his or her Chromebook. Can you tell me what this lesson would look like with a dried out Expo marker and a copy of Huck Finn where the last 30 pages have fallen out?”

But just to be sure that they knew what they were getting into, if I was working to prepare teachers for the job, I’d make it like that one episode of The Cosby Show where Cliff Huxtable tries to teach Theo a lesson in financial responsibility by giving him Monopoly money and charging him rent. I’d make sure that rookie teachers knew how they’d live on that first-year salary once the student loans started rolling in. It wouldn’t take long before they realized why I ate a brown banana for breakfast and have a hole in  my shoe.

Of course, not everything would be designed to discourage teachers from the profession. There are many perks to working in education.

Shoot, it isn’t every job where you still get to take those awkward school photos straight into your fifties. Year after year, you can collect proof of how this job has aged you.

And let’s not forget summers off! You know, the summers that every non-educator wants to remind you of each time you mention your career.

Summer sure does come in handy for working a second job, lesson planning for the next year, taking professional development classes, and getting rid of that relentless twitch that developed after putting in the average 10 hours a day that most teachers do.

With a return date of July 31st this year though, I might still be twitching.

Now that I think about it, maybe they should leave teacher preparation programs alone. I guess there’s plenty of time to learn how to break up fights and prom grind sessions whilst on-the-job.

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Everything My Children Know, They Learned from YouTube

When I was a kid, I used to wake up to Saturday morning cartoons. Long before there were DVRs that allowed you to fast-forward through the advertisements, I would see commercials for a new toy or game and yell out “I want that!” hoping that my mother would hear and buy it for me for Christmas or my birthday, the main two occasions in life where one was bestowed with such items.

Back when she was a toddler, Saturday morning cartoons were the routine for my eldest daughter too. We’d wake up to Dora or The Wonder Pets and occasionally, Blue’s Clues. But then we got an Ipad, and ever since, it has become the main source of entertainment—and the main source of conflict—in our home.

Shopping in Wal-Mart the other day, my daughter begs me, “Can I go look at the toys, please?” I agreed as I was only a few aisles away. When I finished grabbing what I needed, I found her. She eagerly showed me the Animal Jams in her hands.

What are they?

“Animal Jams!” And she proceeded to tell me about them in such detail that I knew it wasn’t something she stumbled across haphazardly.

Where did she learn about them?

YouTube.

My four year-old paraded around the house the other day giving hashtags to everything, including her own name. “Hashtag Abree”…”Hashtag Fruit Gushers”…

Abree, do you even know what a hashtag is?

“Yeah, it’s like on Family Fun Pack when they say ‘hashtag down below.’”

Hmmmm…Family Fun Pack, a vlog my children watch on YouTube. “Down below” must be a reference to “comment down below” which is at the end of every YouTube video, and for good measure, she added in the hashtag, which she clearly picked up also watching YouTube.

Whether air bags or spirit animals, 90% of the time, my children have first learned about it on YouTube.

The first words they utter in the morning are, “Can we go on the Ipad?” Those words are echoed the minute they get home at the end of the day as well.

They bicker over who holds the Ipad, who picks which videos to watch; if timed right, it will lead to a full-on melt-down. And yet…sometimes, when they are both snuggled in my bed watching the Ipad together, their little heads sharing a pillow, their faces illuminated, giggling simultaneously, I witness a sweet moment between siblings.

The number one rule in my house is that there is no fighting or crying over the Ipad. The number one loss of privilege in my house is the loss of the Ipad. The number one motivator in my house is equally the Ipad. You want to go on the Ipad? You better do your reading. You did your reading? Good. You better practice your karate. 

We have banned certain YouTube channels based on how annoying the people’s voices are, and quite frankly, there are a lot(Cookie Swirl C…hee hee hee.)

Still, the Ipad, especially YouTube, is my children’s own little form of crack.

Once upon a time, kids used to play with toys, whereas now they watch adults do it on YouTube. That’s right, adults.

Recently, my children have become obsessed with family vloggers, and I am dumbfounded. Why do you want to watch this family go to the grocery store? To the movies? To the DMV Are my children going to grow up to be creepy little voyeurs? My husband teases them when they are running to the bathroom. “Wait! Let me get my phone and record it so we can put it on YouTube.”

They beg us to set up challenges for them like the ones they watch on YouTube: The Sour Candy Challenge, The Eat-it or Wear-it Challenge, The Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge. OK, so maybe not that last one.

How about the Go-Without-the-Ipad-for-a-Month Challenge? Or the Clean-Your-Room Challenge? Ooh, I know…The Read-a-Book-without-being-Coerced-or-Bribed Challenge.

Sometimes they record their own videos, which I’m ok with because they are actually doing something.

Sometimes my daughter will try to craft something that she saw on YouTube, like when she “customized” her My Little Pony and I ended up with fluorescent pink paint all over the inside of my freezer. (Think: Pinterest fails for children.) But again, at least she was doing something.

And sometimes the Ipad does help to teach us things. Like the other day when I was drinking a Gatorade and my daughter asked what exactly electrolytes are. “Grab the Ipad, let’s Google it.” Or when my husband and our youngest were watching a National Geographic video of a cheetah running in slow motion.

And I guess they learn things from YouTube too, although I don’t know that I love what they learn, such as the entire month where they wouldn’t stop singing “It’s Raining Tacos.”

Maybe our parents were equally frustrated with Saturday morning cartoons and the advertisements that accompanied them. Maybe the soundtrack for Super Mario Brothers made them want to pour Krazy Glue in their ears like the father’s voice on Smelly Belly TV does to my husband. Maybe this is just the parenting problem of this generation and we have to suck it up and deal with it. But if given the opportunity, my kids would watch the Ipad till their eyeballs bleed, and I just can’t let that happen.

As the parent, I decide when they get to watch, how long they get to watch, and if I overhear one thing that I deem to be inappropriate, they immediately have to shut it off. But that’s hoping I hear it. How many times are they watching in another room where I don’t hear it?

Having this technology at their fingertips is scary. When my daughter used the microphone feature to Google “cute kitties” I quickly snatched the Ipad for fear what results that might yield. After all, my friend’s son searched “boys coloring pages” and somehow ended up looking at pictures of Baywatch Babes. Even letting my daughter have her own board on my Pinterest account worries me. What other images pop up when she’s searching for fuse bead patterns?   

Just as it was easy for our parents to let the TV do the babysitting, the Ipad becomes a convenience at times too. If my kids are immersed in YouTube, I can get dinner on the table lickety-split. Make them shut it off, and suddenly I have four extra hands who want to “help cook” or I have a small human clinging to my leg while a slightly larger human needs my help getting fourteen things down from her closet.

However, if the Ipad really is their crack, then I have to just say no.

Recently my cousin’s wife posted this picture on Facebook with the caption, “Ahhhh! Vacation. Same sh*t – different place.” 13912342_10210304509317910_8448687192448344204_n-2

All of the comments were cries of frustration from parents like me.

At the very least, it’s nice to know I’m not alone.

Maybe we need a support group that meets regularly in church basements. We could share stories of our children’s relapses and commiserate over steaming cups of coffee.

I’ll be the first to admit it: My name is Sara and my children are YouTube junkies.

 

A Life Without Emojis

Let’s get something straight: I love the written word. I love to read it; I love to write it. I am that person who re-reads emails I’ve composed before I hit send, and then again after the person I’ve emailed has replied. I am that wife who writes my husband letters to better explain myself after we’ve argued. The person who gets thank you cards in response to my thank you cards (a vicious cycle).

Let’s get something else straight: I am a little bit of a penny-pincher. I don’t like to say I’m cheap, because I can be very generous. I also don’t always spend money wisely. I’m not someone who budgets well and I don’t cut coupons (although I have tried many, many times to be that person).  That being said, I was raised by a single mother who was raised as one of seven daughters. I was raised knowing that money was tight, sometimes tighter than others. I was raised wearing hand-me-down clothes and sometimes going without. So in my adult life, I always eat our leftovers, I buy second-hand furniture, and I find it difficult to replace things that aren’t broken: my dishwasher, my washing machine, my refrigerator, my cell phone, my car. While a new one would be nice, and certainly do a more efficient job, I just can’t do it. So what if after a vigorous spin cycle I have to find the top of the agitator somewhere in the pile of wet clothes and pop it back into place? Is it really that hard to fill ice cube trays now that the built-in water and ice dispenser has gone kaput? But sometimes when I pick my cell phone up after it has clattered to the floor, I actually hope that the screen will be cracked this time, that way I’ll have to get a new phone.

My Iphone 4 is, for all intents and purposes, functioning just fine. Yes, there are some apps that are no longer compatible with the antiquated operating system, but overall, it works. Yet for some reason, I have never been able to send emojis with my phone. I’ve tried. Believe me. While this wasn’t initially a problem, I’m starting to feel that I am not learning a language that everyone I know communicates in. I don’t have the luxury of choosing the string of pictures that will best accompany my texts. While others are blowing me kisses and sending me electronic cocktails and fist-pumps, I am left replying with 🙂

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got. Besides, obviously, 😦

For a person who loves communication, especially written communication, it is frustrating to feel so limited. My words- at least when I’m texting- just aren’t enough. And I find myself wondering, how many different races of Santa are there?

Recently, I discovered that while I receive most emojis, my outmoded phone doesn’t compute all emojis. When that happens, what I end up with is alien. Literally, the emoji is an alien. For the longest time, I was trying to figure out why so many people were enamored with aliens.  And how it was that these aliens fit within the context of a TGIF text alongside a glass of wine, a woman dancing in a red dress, and a party hat.

Wine, dancing, party hat, alien? I would shrug my shoulders and move on. After all, you can’t question one’s choice of emojis. There’s some unwritten etiquette rule that says so.

Then one day around Christmastime, my friend texted me excitedly. She was ready to “break out black Santa.” I got two emojis: white Santa and an alien. I was confused. After a series of texts back and forth, she sends me a screen shot of her phone with the text she’d sent me and there, dark as night, was black Santa. Was my phone a racist? Did it not want me to see the black Santa? I thought he was darling in his red suit and white beard.

It didn’t take long to realize that for every alien I’ve gotten, I’ve missed something else. But what exactly was I missing? It’s like having the secret message from Little Orphan Annie without the decoder ring. How will I know that I’m supposed to drink my Ovaltine?

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It’s been many months since Christmas, and while we’ve talked about getting new phones, (I’ve even gone so far as putting them in a virtual shopping cart) I’ve yet to make the purchase. I’m sure I’ll break eventually, that is, if my phone doesn’t break first.

Or perhaps we’ll get them next Christmas when (black) Santa brings them.