A Parent’s Koan

I have a very strong bias against cellphones ~ so very strong. I’m against them on just about every level. And when money is tight, that monthly bill is the clockwork reminder of the corner we’ve backed ourselves into — a reminder like I used to give my grandmother who was still “renting” the rotary phone from the Big Bells when we could just buy a push-button phone for her to own.

At one point, I’d found a way to tunnel my way out: With sufficient technical knowledge to get it done, over time I set up an office phone system in the house. Desktop and wireless phones here and there ~ everyone with their own lines and extensions for pennies. There was certainly no escape from internet service at the time, so the phone system’s minuscule bandwidth requirements were negligible. Moreover, inside the house ~ and even between houses for anyone who wanted to participate ~ there was no problem calling one another freely and securely.

And really, how clever was it that my handicapped son ~ who’s somewhat of a recluse by nature ~ could reach us around the house by dialing an extension? And if anyone was away from the system, well, his call could forward on to their cellphones. I even did the work to write some software so he could send and receive text messages from his tablet or computer, ensuring he’d have every opportunity to communicate with his friends.

At some new clocks started ticking. My own cellphone was dying for months. A replacement wasn’t a priority during the pandemic, but there was an inevitable sense that that expense was going to come due. And somehow that triggered a process in my son, who’s relentless hint-dropping escalated toward nagging ~ and as we know, we call it “nagging” when we hear the complaints at precisely the wrong time.

We fought ~ and not for the first time. “Why do you even want a cellphone?!? You don’t go anywhere. You don’t talk to anyone. I’ve done all of these things to make sure you could communicate with anyone at anytime ~ what more can you possibly need?!? Why do we need another monthly bill for another toy?!?”

The wrong time ~ beside my own dying phone? My daughter is also on my plan, and I had just received notice that she blew through 32GB of the family-shared 30GB data in one month. The teachers were recalled back to school event to teach the remote students, but the bandwidth wasn’t ready ~ so she tethered to her phone and got her job done…

But my son? His muscles are progressively weakened and his tablet ~ as aged and slow as it is ~ is getting too heavy for him to handle. The text messaging system I set up? He doesn’t use it much, so I don’t make uptime a priority ~ but he’s afraid he’ll miss that one message. And lastly, of course, is that everyone has one but him ~ we must look down on him as a lesser person to reject the request.

The “solution?” There is no solution. I can tell you how it played out, though: I made the call to check new plans and lower my bill ~ four lines with more data for less than three lines and shared data before. I turned off a wireless hotspot I used to use a lot on business that’s declined in pandemic. I found myself a ~$100 phone to replace my years-old $600 phone, and — satisfied — I duplicated that purchase for my son.

These “practical koans” really don’t have solutions. It doesn’t matter how strongly I’m against the mobile technology, how it’s payed for and how it’s used ~ I didn’t escape it nor did I move anyone to think like me. I didn’t convince my son to stop thinking of “things” as a measure of anything. I didn’t convince my daughter to be mindful of her family when exhausting the data. If anything, I’ve only bought a little time, kicking the can down the road a bit until the next problem arises ~ like the two calls already with the phone company for screwing up the bills.

There were infinitely many choices to handle the situation, but really only one was going to happen ~ and I’ll make peace with that.

There is something about the reflective practice though: It was seeing my own biases and anger, and seeing my own failures and regret ~ but also seeing the resourcefulness in one’s approach as well as the deeper concerns beneath another’s words. There’s seeing my own thread in shaping this situation over 20+ years as well as seeing how it will all continue until circumstances change. And there’s acceptance ~ finding how I will tell this story that will uncover some meaning or wisdom, and maybe preserve some measure of my own dignity through these “first-world problems.”

No need to dwell… warm jasmine tea and the cool breeze rustling through the trees. Soon we’ll all be sending photos of the cicadas to everyone we know.

By Joe

Puzzle Wrestler & Mountain Herder. Math & Computer Nerd since the 80s. Longtime linux (current debian, ubuntu, raspian, centos, gentoo), currently fighting feebsd. Over-complicates networks for fun, occasionally secures them for profit. Develops own tools & services (cli, web services, and lately some android). Degrees in Math, Belts in Aikido. Zen, Motorcycle, Ham Radio, Homebrew (Ale, not Radio), Coffee & Tea, some Mandolin & Fiddle, MDA Advocacy (son with Duchenne), …

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *