Write or Call

I love a good long plane ride. The thought of hours cramped into an airplane horrifies many, but to me, a long-haul flight over the Atlantic or further is a gift of time and privacy. The hum of the airplane lulls me to extreme focus. I read, thoroughly. I write, prolifically. I’m in the zone. And then, after a few in_the_zonehours of productivity, I plug into the entertainment system and watch movies or catch up on TV series I rarely watch elsewhere. One after another, until we land. No phone calls. No texts or messages. Nobody calling me from the kitchen, or screaming “Mama!” from upstairs.

The thing about a flight like this, though, is that once you land and disembark from the sealed tube of delicious quiet, the world smacks you in the face. Portable devices begin to bing and beep, passengers are roused from the inward calm of their flight to face a bombardment of calls and messages and news of the outside world.

A few weeks ago I enjoyed one of those epic journeys, a 12-hour day-time flight and as expected, I was hit with the bushel of unread messages as soon as I landed. I eliminated the ones I could easily identify as a spam that snuck through the filter, or as one of the newsletters that get less attention when I’m traveling and screen time is limited. (My appetite for reading never matches my on-line stamina and after a trip like this I’m inspired to purge the overload of subscriptions I’ve too ambitiously taken on.) Then I scanned what was left, assessing which ones were mission critical, and then I saw the emboldened letters of my daughter’s name. Short-pants had written me an email message. I opened it right away.

The message contained four or five well crafted paragraphs telling me about her day. How a boy she might be a little sweet on had stared at her in class. Her favorite teacher gave an interesting homework assignment. She made up an equation: the boy + the teacher + the subject she loves = her smiling all the way home from school. How she missed me but knows I’m away doing the work I love to do. It startled me a bit, how articulate her phrases, the absence of any spelling mistakes or punctuation errors, capital letters where there were supposed to be caps. It was a grown-up message.
Over the next few days, we wrote back and forth. A message or two each day, each one from her rich with descriptions of not only her activities, but her observations – some of them rather keen insights – about why things happened and how she felt about them. She’s always been good with words, reading like a fiend since she was a peanut, writing charming little notes, winning a spelling bee, but something has shifted. It’s no longer cute and precocious. It’s thoughtful and reflective, the words of a lovely young woman.

~ ~ ~

Every day, at about the same time, my phone rings. Even if I’m not in the mood to be on the phone – I’m more of a writer than a talker – I answer cheerfully. Buddy-roo walks out of the school and her first instinct is to turn on her telephone and give me a call. I want her to feel like that call is always welcome, so unless I’m truly in the thick of something else, I’ll answer. She chatters away, slightly breathless as she walks up the hill toward our home from school, filling me in on who told whom what in the courtyard, and how much homework she has, and what she had for lunch. Much of it is banal, but I ask as many questions as I can, to keep the exchange going. I want her to create a habit of telling me what’s happening in her life.

Buddy-roo experiences highs and lows at maximum velocity. She’s having the best day ever or else her life is a catastrophe. One day, after a tearful call that lasted a good portion of her walk home, she turned her key in the door, dropped her heavy backpack on the floor and threw herself on the couch.

“My friends all think I’m too dramatic!”

I don’t disagree with her friends, but I figured they’d already made the point. I didn’t pile anything on top of it. What I don’t want to do is keep her from telling me what she’s feeling, even if what she’s feeling seems exaggerated. Who knows how long she will keep open this doorway locked_into me, showing me her raw thoughts and feelings as they occur. Dismissing her ups and downs as drama, right now, would surely close the door and lock it tight. So I listen and ask questions that might make her think beyond the hailstorm that she perceives is pounding upon her. Okay, and I hint a little, that maybe her friends are on to something. But mostly, I try to be there to answer her call, while she’s still dialing.

Short-pants hardly touches her telephone. An occasional text, but calling is not her thing. I had to give her lessons about how to talk on the phone, otherwise she just sits there breathing while you do all the work. Getting Buddy-roo to write a quick email – let alone a thank-you note to someone who’s given her a present – is like pulling teeth, but she’s expert at chatting away on the telephone. They are products of the same parents and the same environment, and yet, so different. As babies, toddlers and now as they crash into their adolescence, the things that make them distinct from each other become that much more apparent, more palatable.

One writes, the other calls. But at least they both want to tell me what’s happening in their lives. I’ll take that while I can get it, and relish every word.

5 Responses to “Write or Call”

  • Andy Parker Says:

    Nice piece.

    It’s the sort–I think I’ve said this before–that makes me wonder about what sort of conversations our parents had about us when we were growing up.

    We know the drums they beat, of course. For better and worse. I have memories of precious moments, and awful ones.

    The conversations they had behind the scenes as it were? With each other, and with friends?

    These experiences you talked about in your post. My first thought is to wish I knew where and how and about what they marveled. Then I realize I know. That the answer is everything. At least everything they noticed as they did their best to raise me, which is what we do with our kids, ourselves.

  • Lee Dunne Says:

    Loved this one!

  • Amanda Says:

    I get this, not the air travel part, but all the rest. It’s thorny figuring out how to be available, getting what you need, and splitting the difference. B and U have been on a texting odyssey, but I’ve been stung at how abruptly she can lose interest, Ave on the other hand is all in.

    Strange, amazing times and then before we know it, a switch is flipped.

    Beautifully done.

  • Elizabeth Says:

    Thanks for this post. I travel for work very often and I try to call every day while I’m gone, but while I can get my 4yo daughter to recount every part of her day, my 8yo hates talking on the phone. However, he will text me and show me pictures, etc. It’s hard to always be available, and we can always count on Skype or FaceTime for homework help. I often wonder how to manage them growing up in many ways without me, but always knowing that I’m right there, always there, just for them.

  • kunyi Says:

    in our family we have the benefit of ‘ceileigh dailies’- which started as my niece writing to her mom, dad, about her day…sometimes a short para, sometimes a reflection of a book, a movie, quite in-depth or a short “and i liked it’. What she ate, who she saw, what she felt… and they’re DAILY. then her grand-ma got added, and then me, and then a cousin of mine. We’re spread out across the globe. her dailies spark a few ‘reply-alls’ about our own day-what we ate, what we’re reading, some encouragement. It’s connected all of us so much more than would have imagined. it’s so wonderful to have a peek into people’s lives and minds… and what they’re eating. lucky you. lucky us.
    p.s., and i feel the same way about plane or train travel.

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