January 15, 2009 in Idaho Voices

When you have a family, your cell phone needs a crisis setting

By The Spokesman-Review

Several years ago, it became apparent that using my home phone as a business phone wasn’t going to work.

I missed calls because my kids were on the phone, and on one memorable occasion a child woke me at midnight to say, “I forgot to tell you. Your editor called this afternoon. It’s urgent – he wants you to call him back right away.”

So, I bought a cell phone and can’t imagine life without it. It keeps me connected to both work and family. When I’m away from home, the kids and their schools can still reach me in case of emergency. And here is where the difficulty lies: It appears that my children and I have different definitions of what constitutes an emergency.

I have several saved messages to illustrate this point. One evening I got dinner ready and then headed out for an interview. I told 14-year-old Zack to toss a loaf of garlic bread in the oven at a certain time, and we’d eat dinner when I returned.

My phone began vibrating midway through the interview. In a case of motherly intuition I decided to ignore it. After the interview, I listened to my messages. Here’s the first one, verbatim: “Hey, Mom, it’s Zack and if you really want to save our house from burning into ashes, I think you should PICK UP THE PHONE. I’m not even joking, Mom. The whole house smells like garlic bread and I forgot to turn on the timer.”

Next message: “I suggest you pick up the phone RIGHT NOW. I would hate to have our house burn down and everything with it. I suggest you call me NOW or we’re going to have icky, black garlic bread. I would just like to know what to do. Pleeease pick up the phone!”

I returned his calls as I drove home. He’d already rescued the bread and saved our home from burning. I explained that if that house had actually been on fire that would constitute an emergency and he should call 911, not his mother. I also reminded him that he has a father, and that he could call his dad at work, too. “Like Dad knows about garlic bread,” Zack retorted.

With travel being so treacherous due to our wintery roads, I’m especially loath to answer my phone while driving. I have a hands-free headset, but I’ve been amazed to see other drivers slip- sliding through intersections with their phones pressed to their ears.

Trooper Joe Leibrecht of the Washington State Patrol confirms what most of us should already know. “Texting and conversing with a phone held to the ear clearly lessens one’s attention and ability to recognize and safely react to any hazard. Then, add the elements of snow, ice, slush, slick roads and surrounding motorists combating the same conditions, and the importance of dedicating one’s attention to operate the vehicle becomes even more critical.”

Tell that to 9-year-old Sam. I was trying to navigate during of one of our recent snowfalls when my phone starting ringing. Against my better judgment I answered. “Hi, Mommy, it’s Sam.” Long pause.

“Sam, is everything OK? Is this an emergency? The roads are really bad and I need to concentrate on driving.”

Another long pause, then a very small voice, “When are you coming home?”

“I just left five minutes ago. I’ll be back in an hour, is everything OK?”

“Yeah … I just really miss you.” Heavy sigh. “And Alex is watching Oprah and won’t let me watch SpongeBob.”

I added “watching ‘Oprah’ ” to my growing list of things that do not warrant phone calls. I did not add calling to say you love your mother. One of my favorite messages is from Sam. I listened to it repeatedly. “Hi, Mommy, it’s me, Sam.” Long pause followed by a deep sigh. “I just wanted to say that I love you very much.” Click.

Like them or loathe them, cell phones have made families feel more connected in many ways. And hopefully, the new laws prohibiting texting and requiring hands-free devices while driving will make traveling safer for all of us.

According to Trooper Leibrecht, “The Washington State Patrol has issued 803 hands-free violation infractions, and 1,475 hands-free violation warnings – July through Dec. 15, 2008.” In addition, the agency has issued 116 texting violation infractions, and 187 texting violation warnings between Jan. 1 and Dec. 15, 2008.

He said, “Even though people understand the risk that texting or holding a phone to the ear while driving is a distraction, I believe that the mere making of such act(s) illegal is the catalyst for compliance by the majority.”

Now, if I could just get the WSP issue citations to children who fail to comply with the “call me only in case of emergency” rule.

I’d love to have a trooper show up at my house and say, “I’m sorry, son. Calling your mother to complain about your brother hogging the X-Box is a violation of parental statue M-149. Your punishment will be daily compliant dishwasher-loading until your 18th birthday.”

Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com.

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